Easter weekend with the Boston Bruins

Posted 2014/04/21 By Benti


I had all intentions of going into the weekend trying to take in all the tiny details of it and come out the other side of it with a running diary. This past weekend had plenty going for it. Personally, it was a trip down  from my current home in D.C down to Southern Virginia to spend Easter with my girlfriends family. This meant a fairly long road-trip through miserable I-95 traffic, family gatherings and the such which all make for such wonderful stories The biggest issue is that this was all taking place over the first weekend of the NHL Playoffs for the Boston Bruins.

Friday, right near the end of the drive from D.C to parts unknown was the beginning of this years chapter of the Boston Bruins chase for the Stanley Cup. I had originally had all intentions of writing about the weekend as a displaced Bruins fan, lost without a way to watch his beloved Bruins while putting in time to make friends with someone else’s family over the holiday weekend.

A funny thing happened though. I wasn’t separated from the Bruins. There’s an app for everything now. With the exception of a stretch of road where their was no service where I audibly freaked out causing my girlfriend to laugh hysterically, I was able to watch the first period of the Bruins first game on Friday night. After missing the second period to bring bags in and eat a late dinner, I was able to watch the final period of that game with my girlfriend’s father. Certainly not the dragged away from the Bruins weekend I had feared.

I probably could have done without Friday night’s game. While an extremely good hockey game filled with what can only be described as “playoff hockey”, it certainly was building towards a gut kick moment. Tied 0-0 late in the third period, both Boston and Detroit had traded blows and chances right in front of each other’s goal-keepers. In fact, seconds before the Bruins best chance of the game, both my girlfriend’s father and I decided that this game was ending on some dumb rolling puck or dirty chance in front of the net. That’s how all these hockey games end in the playoffs. There was no way Milan Lucic’s tip-in was going in, even though I still have no idea how it did not.

Shortly after, both of us looked like idiots as Paval Datsyuk did Paval Datsyuk things and reminded hockey fans everywhere that he is a wizard. If there was one positive about the goal, is that even my girlfriends father described Datsyuk as a wizard. I can get along with this guy.

So Saturday came along and I was dragged shopping, something I will joke as my punishment for wanting to watch hockey on Friday night. Then Easter Sunday came, and I was convinced that game two was going to be the game I would miss. Considering what happened on Friday night, it was a shame as Sunday was going to be the team’s biggest game of the season. Losing the first two when the underdog is certainly bad, but understandable. As the favorite and the President’s Trophy winner? It would have been unacceptable. I was dreading the moment of the day where I would be sitting on my hands just hoping that the Bruins would play a better game.

But we got home from brunch at 3:00 and we watched the first period at home. Then, we left between intermissions, and I watched the second and third periods while beginning to travel back to Washington D.C. In those times, I watched the Bruins turn the tables from their Friday night effort. The Bruins first goal was a combination of right place/right time and finally pouncing on a Jimmy Howard mistake, something they failed to do on Friday night. The second goal was a result of the Bruins finally getting behind the aggressive Howard and putting one of his failures to cover the puck into the back of the net.

In the process, the Bruins reestablished themselves as a physical presence in the playoffs. It felt like there was punishment for any player wearing white and red going for a puck in the corner. It got so bad for poor Brendan Smith that he tried to fight Zdeno Chara with humorous results. He was just so fed up with the abuse.

When Chara finished a power-play goal on the doorstep in the third period, the game was pretty much over. All the fears of the weekend, from the singular fan who thought he would miss the whole weekend, to the fans that hit all the panic buttons after the game one loss were extinguished. There are still 15 more wins to go for the ultimate prize, but it certainly was a fun weekend to begin the playoffs.

It was filled with family, food, and hockey. Hard to complain about any kind of weekend like that.

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Bruins practice

In 2008-2009, the Boston Bruins were the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, but nobody in the fan-base was really all that confident in their ability to win it because the Boston Bruins had historically kicked the fans in the nuts whenever they chose to get too confident.

In 2009-2010, the Bruins struggled all season long, turned it on late and reached the playoffs as the Eastern Conferences’s sixth seed, only nobody who was a fan of the Bruins were all that confident about the teams chances because they struggled all season long.  The next year, fans still lacked confidence; a combination of playing Montreal and the aforementioned kick to the nuts caused some tension. Of course, the Bruins won it all that year and everything was supposed to be calmer.

Nope. The next two postseasons featured Bruins teams that started the season firing on all cylinders before struggling down the stretch for numerous reasons and they entered the postseason with tempered expectations. The first time, they lost to Washington in the first round of the playoffs. The one after that, last year, the Bruins struggled to take down Toronto, were all but eliminated, before basically ripping off nine and a third games of perfect hockey to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Despite their efforts in the final two games of the Cup Finals, all signs point now to a Bruins team that the fanbase can be confident in entering the postseason. The demons of the long wait between cup victories is over and the poor efforts of the Bruins in the regular season were a thing of the past. In 2013-2014, the Boston Bruins were the best team in hockey. It was not wire to wire, but there was always a sense that the Bruins could flip the switch whenever they wanted to and prove that they were the best. As the season progressed, they got better and played better as a team. The Bruins team that will take the ice tonight is very likely the best this Bruins team could be at any point in the season, so why isn’t the fan-base overly confident like they should be?

Two major factors. One, the playoffs are a merciless bitch. The second confidence is had is when two pucks bounce the other way and suddenly the team is an a two games to none hole in the first round. The other factor? The team they are facing. The Detroit Red Wings took it to the Bruins in this season, they have been playing playoff hockey for essentially a month and the Bruins goalie, Tuukka Rask, has his worst career stats against the Detroit Red Wings.

Ultimately, its probably better this way. As I live in Washington and have numerous friends who are fans of the sports-teams, I have been joking with them how it must be nice to not have any playoff stress this season. Typically, stress is a terrible thing to have, but in the case of the NHL playoffs, it’s lively. Caring about something so much that you can’t sleep after a triple-overtime loss in the playoffs has a weird way of making you feel alive. Every rush up and down the ice has so much possibility and tension, that each rush could be the rush that flips the entire playoffs on its end. Fans can’t be confident about any team, because one seeds lose can lose, all it takes are lucky bounces and a hot goalie.

The playoffs started two nights ago, but the real playoffs start tonight for Bruins fans. Nobody is confident in anything, but that’s the way it should be.

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Rondo and Stevens

I want to tell three stories about the 2013-2014 Boston Celtics. Two are so closely related, they are essentially the same story.

One story is the night on January 17th, the day that Celtics point-guard Rajon Rondo returned to the Boston Celtics line-up. That was a fun night. It started with Rondo’s cryptic tweet the Monday before the Friday the 17th tip-off:


This made his return a mystery. Did that mean that Rondo was coming back? The seconds would have perfectly coincided with the time of his surgery one-year prior and the date of his potential return to the Celtics line-up. Maybe that’s what it meant. Further, how good would Rondo look if he were to return? How many minutes would Rondo play, and further, was his return enough, perhaps, to sneak the Boston Celtics into the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference?

The last part of that did not happen. It turns out the early success of the Celtics was rather flukey and they were simply a bad team on its way to the lottery. Rondo did return that night, however, and only played in limited minutes. The build-up to that moment was ripe with anticipation and when he was the last member of the Celtics announced in the starting line-up with the prefix “The Captain” there was certainly still enough surprise in the air that Rondo was named the captain of the Boston Celtics.

The team had officially turned over the reigns of the to their still young point-guard, but the closure from the previous era still wasn’t over. That came a week later and is the second story of the Boston Celtics season. The return of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Boston was probably the best moment of the season. EVen from miles away and watching on television, the amount of emotion just streaming from the television was easy to feel. Besides the perfect video tributes and the awesome intros for the two in the pre-game and the absolutely perfect way the game ended – a Kevin Garnett steal to seal the game for Brooklyn – it also highlighted that weird disconnect between the fan-base and this season. Every time Pierce or KG took a shot, the crowd was ready to erupt with excitement to cheer them on. The only problem was, they were still playing for Brooklyn. There wasn’t a moment where Pierce ripped off his black 34 jersey, Doc Rivers came out of the locker room and Paul jumped into his arms and begged him to never leave him again. Nope, the fans were rooting for Brooklyn players because of the connection to those players.

Which leads to the final-story of the season. On April 2nd, the Celtics played their last game in Washington for the 2014 season. I live in Washington and was able to secure tickets to the game and I went with my friend Sully. The goal for the night? Have a few beverages, watch a basketball game that was hopefully enjoyable, and head home for the night. At this point in the season, every loss the Celtics could earn was for the benefit of the team in its chase for a top draft pick.

Even knowing this, I couldn’t stop cheering. When Rajon Rondo opened the game wearing his signature “big-game” headband, I immediately became excited about the potential for a “headband game”. When Rondo torched a Wizard off the dribble one possession, I cheered as it was simultaneously a great play and yet another reason why the Celtics should never trade Rajon Rondo. When Brad Stevens rolled out a lineup that featured essentially three point-guards, I wondered aloud what Brad Stevens was doing.

I couldn’t stop cheering for the Celtics, even though I knew a Wizards win was the best thing that could have happened. Right there, that should tell how much this season sucked.

Which is not to say this season did not have positives. Jared Sullinger began his transformation into the poor-man’s Kevin Love, which means if the Celtics lose out on the lottery he will likely be the key piece in any trade. Players like Phil Pressey and Chris Johnson proved they could either be nice role players on a future great team or pieces of a larger trade puzzle. Brad Stevens won over the team and legitimately appears to be a great NBA head-coach. There were positives.

But the negatives, OH THE NEGATIVES. The Celtics first pick, Kelly Olynyk, never really put in a singular performance to justify the summer-league hype. Avery Bradley could never stay healthy, and Jeff Green, well Jeff Green could have his own post about everything negative about Jeff Green.

Even though the goal of the season essentially was “lose”, it was always hard to root for a loss. To the end, we are still fans of the team. While losing now may be a win for the future, it hurts in the present to watch my basketball team lose.

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Bruins group hug

There are three main reasons that the Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup Finals last season. First and foremost, the Chicago Blackhawks were the better teams. President’s Trophy winners in the regular season, the Blackhawks did not face many challenges along the way until their second round series, and even then, didn’t truly struggle until they met Boston in the final. Boston wasn’t helped by their general health and noticeable slow-down of their captain Zdeno Chara. That is the number two reason. The third reason has to do with the fact that they sort of smoked and mirrored their way to the final after the first round series, but that is a story for another post.

In general though, Chara slowed because he didn’t receive nearly enough time off during the shortened and condensed season and it showed in every series except the Eastern Conference Final. Teams with skill and speed were able to beat the Bruins blue-line and it posed many problems for the team.

Those problems are still evident today, which is why Montreal has sort of had the Bruins number in recent match-ups. It’s nothing particularly new for the Bruins to have these issues, but the issue could be magnified by having poorly rested players come playoff time.

Yet, Zdeno Chara hasn’t had any rest. He’s played 75 of a potential 78 games this season and went over to Russia to play in the Olympics. Similar numbers are the case for guys like Patrice Bergeron (every game played including a major role in the Olympics) and goalie Tuukka Rask. In a playoff system where lucky bounces can make huge differences in who wins, the two biggest factors for playoff success have been hot goaltending and general team health. The Bruins could easily have both, but they are teetering towards sacrificing both in a chase for the President’s Trophy.

With four games left, here is what I would like to see the Boston Bruins do this final week:

  1. Sit Zdeno Chara for three of the four games. Let him play the game on Saturday against Buffalo or something. In a perfect world, he wouldn’t play a single game the rest of the way, but the Bruins probably wouldn’t want him being “cold” going into the playoffs or some BS like that. If he plays the Saturday game, it gives him ample rest and he doesn’t actually have to travel with the team the rest of the way as Saturday is the last home game of the season. The only issue is that a certain Boston sportswriter would probably say that him not traveling with the team shows that he isn’t the leader of the Bruins and should have the “C” stripped. Let’s just say that sportswriter rhymes with “Mimmy Jurphy”.
  2. Chad Johnson should start the rest of the way. Again, in the grand scheme of things a President’s Trophy is only a stupid banner that Washington probably hangs in the Verizon Center. The Bruins don’t need Tuukka Rask and quite frankly, Chad Johnson can be good enough. Justin Aucoin gave a better break-down of Chad Johnson’s play this season over at Day’s of Yorr, but to summarize it, Johnson hasn’t just been a surprise, but has been effective. Johnson can go the rest of the way, especially considering that he probably won’t see the light of the day the rest of the season.
  3. Let Patrice Bergeron play the rest of the season. Okay I don’t want to give that previously aforementioned sports-writer more ammunition for his asinine arguments, but Patrice Bergeron probably deserves this. Bergeron hasn’t missed a game all-season, didn’t miss a game during the Olympics and is on pace to “iron-man” the season after suffering through a punctured lung in the Stanley Cup Finals. If any Bruin was unbreakable, it’s Patrice Bergeron. There is a reason he is next in line to take the captaincy when Zdeno Chara retires. Bergeron epitomizes everything about being a Bruin. The least he can get is the bolded 82 next on his hockey card.
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