It had been the closest series in NHL playoff history coming in, so did we already know that Wednesday's Game 7 between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins would go to overtime? Yup.
Zdeno Chara looked like the hapless extra in a Steven Seagal movie fight, Patrice Bergeron was playing with an "upper-body injury" that could have been a concussion, Brad Marchand had a bloodied mouth from a miscalculated Fosbury Flop and Tim Thomas looked just, well, pooped.
It was a reverse-jinx theory that even some of the most superstitious types had finally abandoned, even as the playoffs began. The theory: Maybe it was the best thing for the Washington Capitals to enter the playoffs as a low seed this time around. No more "If this team doesn't win a Cup, the whole season will be a bust" beast of a burden expectations-wise.
A hockey coach by the name of Bowman once told me -- and I'm paraphrasing here: "The best games of a playoff series almost always come at the very beginning and very end. The middle games, both teams get a little tired, take a little bit of a breather, especially the team up in the series."
Hey Boston and Washington, what took you so long? Welcome, finally, to the Postseason of Hate.
Regular season series: Capitals win, 3-1
In the misspent days of my television-watching youth in the 1950s -- this is so long ago that the remote control consisted of getting off the couch, crossing the room and turning the dial to one of the five other channels -- my favorite show was the after-school classic, The Mickey Mouse Club. (This Disney reference is only tangential to hockey, unlike Wayne Gretzky's 1984 off-the-cuff assessment of the Devils as a Mickey Mouse organization, and, of course, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, but please stick with me.) The show's best day was Wednesday, known as Anything Can Happen Day. It's a memory, like Proust's madeleine, that flooded over me like hot Zamboni water recently during a chat with Predators coach Barry Trotz.
The ballots came on Thursday. Well, not real ballots. Like almost everything else that used to be on paper, the NHL awards that the Professional Hockey Writers' Association votes on are now part of the digital realm.
VANCOUVER -- British Columbia is still beautiful, as one February walk through its largest city confirms. No burning cars, no broken store windows, no police officers with billy clubs held high, no foolish young men flexing phony muscles for pictures that probably will put some of them behind bars.
Opposed to what he called the "out of control" growth of the federal government, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas declined an invitation to join his teammates at the White House on Monday.
You get plenty of correspondence in this business, and my natural guilt complex makes me always want to give at least a sentence or two in reply. You take the time to write, I'll take the time to respond, even to the haters. Of course, when I blow up and become world famous (any day now, any day) that might change.
1. Sidney Crosby and the concussion epidemic. There are many years when you could argue that Crosby has been the focal point of hockey. This is another of those years, unfortunately for less than sanguine reasons. The Penguins' captain bracketed 2011 from Day 1 until the December reoccurrence of his concussion symptoms that have made this something other than a Merry Christmas season.
Mike Milbury, a former National Hockey League player, coach and executive, is accused of assault and battery on a child stemming from an incident at a youth hockey game.
The Boston Bruins knew that they were in for a tough challenge turning their Stanley Cup championship into a strong start to the 2011-12 regular season. Proof of the unfortunately dubbed "Stanley Cup Hangover" was staring at them in form of the 2010 Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks who struggled all of last season before making the playoffs on the final day when the Dallas Stars lost. So the awareness was there for the coaching staff and the Bruins organization as a whole.
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"What did you do on your summer vacation?"
Boston Bruins stories in the SI Vault
The rest of the country must be sick of us in Boston. We have all the champions. We have all the trophies. Sorry. No brag, just fact.
The pictures from downtown of the aftermath of their Game 7 defeat showed only too well the kind of pressure, the kind of all-encompassing attention the Vancouver Canucks faced in these Stanley Cup playoffs.
Again. That feeling. You, the Canucks fan, should have been expecting it. There on the ice at Rogers Arena the Boston Bruins were passing the Stanley Cup: Zdeno Chara to Mark Recchi to Patrice Bergeron, each of them letting out a "YEAAAAH!"
Police battle unruly fans after Stanley Cup loss in Vancouver. KIRO reports.
Shortly after the Bruins arrived at Rogers Arena Wednesday afternoon, injured Boston winger Nathan Horton walked out of the tunnel with a water bottle in hand. On the bench, he glanced to his left, to his right, and surreptitiously squeezed the contents of the bottle onto the Vancouver ice. Every last drop, because if there was something in the water in Boston, where the Bruins thumped the Canucks into submission and outscored them 17-3 in three games, then maybe they could use it on the road.
BOSTON -- And so the hockey world goes one more time to Vancouver, where the locals have seen their share of big, pressure-packed games in the last 16 months.
SOUTH YARMOUTH, Mass. -- As the last clinks of spoons digging for goodly bits of clam in empty chowder bowls sounded -- meaning closing time was nigh -- Gerry Manning summed the overall sentiment of the Chowd Crowd for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final:
VANCOUVER -- All eyes were going to be on Roberto Luongo. Whether he liked it or not, the Vancouver goalie would be the fulcrum of the series. After two substantial losses in Boston, he returned home, needing to prove, yet again, that his psyche isn't made of porcelain. It's not the first time the goalie shouldered that pressure; it wasn't even the first time he felt it this spring.
An unexpected visitor ambled into the Boston Bruins' dressing room after their 4-0 win in Game 4 on Wednesday night. Nathan Horton, who some 50 hours earlier had been lying motionless on the ice after taking a crushing hit from Aaron Rome, came carrying the bomber jacket the team awards to the night's hero, and, of course, he was wearing a smile. It was a most welcome sight to the Bruins, whose last vision of their teammate was of him being taken off the ice immobilized on a stretcher.
BOSTON -- A pall had been cast over TD Garden just five minutes into Game 3. Near center ice laid Bruins winger Nathan Horton, stunned and motionless, after absorbing a late and devastating hit by Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome.
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- This beautiful city deserves a Stanley Cup and it certainly feels like the chalice will be delivered sometime soon.
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Naturally, this is what it would take to get them talking about something else. Alexandre Burrows knew it; his father even reminded him this week. If everyone had to talk about his son, Rodney Burrows would prefer it have nothing to do with that now-infamous (though according to the NHL, still inconclusive) bite on Bruins center Patrice Bergeron.
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Three weeks ago, after the Bruins had lost the opening game of the Eastern Conference finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston center David Krejci seemed exasperated by the unceasing questions regarding the team's impotent power play.
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- It was only Game 1, and yet it quickly developed as many storylines as a soap opera: a bitter duel between top goaltenders, crushing hip checks, shoves, shouts. Maybe even a chomp.
Season series: Boston wins, 1-0
They threw little mini tennis racket-looking thingies on the St. Pete Times Forum ice following the Lightning's 5-4 win in Game 6 Wednesday night. Now it's the Bruins' final chance to hold serve in the Eastern Conference finals.
This was a weird game. The Lightning scored 69 seconds into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on a nice two-on-one passing play from Steven Stamkos to Simon Gagne. But then Bruins' netminder Tim Thomas took over and played brilliantly, holding the Lightning in check in an eventual 3-1 Boston win that gave the B's a 3-2 series lead.
TAMPA -- On Saturday afternoon, the Lightning turned it around as the Bruins struggled with turning the puck over. After a solid Game 3, in which Boston's sound neutral zone game stifled the Lightning attack, their sharpness seemed to begin wearing down.
TAMPA -- The obvious thing the Bruins took away from Thursday night's game was the win. But no less important is the knowledge that victory could be achieved in the system they've laid out for themselves all season. It was the kind of game that the Bruins have learned to live by this season, a hard-fought victory on the road marked by a strong forecheck and responsibility in the neutral zone.
TAMPA, Fla. -- After Tuesday's pond hockey exhibition between the Bruins and Lightning -- a wild 6-5 affair that was as entertaining as it was uncharacteristic for both clubs -- it was just a matter of time before the children would be called in from the great outdoors and put back on the structured dimensions of the rink. As the Bruins skated off with a 2-0 win Thursday night, pulling ahead in the Eastern Conference final series 2-1, it was through adhering to adult hockey -- more responsible hockey.
After losing Game 1 on home ice with a rather tepid effort, everyone expected a much more determined outing by the Bruins on Tuesday. What they got was the Tyler Seguin show.
BOSTON -- As it turns out, the week hiatus before the start of the Eastern Conference finals really didn't seem to change very much at all.
BOSTON -- Neither the Bruins nor the Lightning have suited up for a game since last Friday, making today Day 7 of the impromptu Eastern Conference spring break. Thanks to (yet another) three-game comeback in the West by the Red Wings, who eventually succumbed to San Jose on Thursday night, Boston and Tampa Bay have been suspended in a holding pattern for the last week.
Regular season series: Bruins win 3-1
BOSTON -- Forget the questions about the choke, that double-dose of 3-0 collapse that left the Bruins with a horrendous reference point for their franchise until Friday night.
It's rare that an NHL game feels like a one-on-one confrontation. But, in this Game 2 in Philadelphia, with the hometown Flyers down 1-0 in the series, their signature standout was James Van Riemsdyk. He scored 29 seconds into the game, beating Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas before he could even get limber. Before the period was half over, Van Riemsdyk scored again and the Flyers were looking to roll, with JVR netting two on the Flyers' first eight shots on goal.
1. Tim Thomas, Bruins: The Boston goaltender registered a career-best 52 saves and now has an 8-0 lifetime mark in Philly. Those are some scary numbers. What a performance!
Get this: there's a goaltending controversy in Philadelphia. Go figure that this time of year, right?
The Montreal Canadiens have not been the Flying Frenchmen for decades, but they still have cornered the market in déjà vu.
1. Tim Thomas, Bruins: Thomas made 44 saves, while teammates Michael Ryder and Zdeno Chara made one each. If the Bruins ever need an emergency goalie, Ryder's sliding-glove save on Tomas Plekanec in the first period was Exhibit A-Z in the case for him.
MONTREAL -- Maybe Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, acknowledged friend of the planet, simply was pointing to the depleted ozone layer on the eve of Earth Day.
1. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins -- Tim Thomas made some huge saves in the end to preserve Boston's must-win, but the play of Bergeron went a long way toward giving him a lead from which to work. Bergeron assisted on two Bruins goals and finished a plus-3 for the night; he was also credited with four hits and won 10-of-17 faceoffs (59 percent). Bergeron showed leadership when, right after the Bruins killed off an early too-many-men penalty, he fed David Krejci in front of the net to give Boston its first lead of the series -- and the B's never lost it.
MONTREAL -- On some streets corners in parts of this glistening hockey city, the "Stop" in the red octagonal signs, apparently too anglicized for some tastes, has been spray-painted over with the word Arrêt, a more proper French word. This is mentioned not to stick a toe into the linguistic morass that haunts Montreal but as an example of the protean nature of its stop signs.
I live in a hockey town. Certainly the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics are wildly popular and successful. The Sox have their own Nation and seem almost global at times. The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four seasons in this century, and the Celtics stand proud as the signature franchise in the NBA.
Montreal linemates Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez, who developed a sharp chemistry when they were teammates for the New Jersey Devils, showed off that chemistry Thursday night, combining for both goals and leading the Canadiens to a 2-0 victory over the Bruins in Boston.
Regular season series: Canadiens won, 4-2-0
The quiet is more refreshing than eerie.
With the stretch drive rapidly evolving, here are the races to keep an eye on at the top and bottom of each conference's bracket, regardless of your rooting interest.
There was a time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. You have your Brontosaurus, your Triceratops, your Tyrannosaurus rex. In our blessed year of 2011, another dinosaur roams NHL arenas: M-Rex.
MONTREAL -- A push in January came to a shove in March. And for a few minutes on Tuesday night, there were some in the stunned crowd of 21,273 that thought Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty might be dead.
So much for saving moves and fueling Trade Deadline fever by waiting until Monday. Instead, this year has already seen teams get out in front of the deadline and make significant trades. February has been busy indeed, with prominent players moving. Thanks for all of your mail and suggestions the past couple of weeks, but here is what has transpired thus far and what we might expect moving forward.
This is connect-the-dots time for the NHL, and the picture is not exactly pretty.
The people have spoken. Here is a sampling of deals, scenarios and questions I've received from readers after last week's column. Thanks for your passion.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- When it comes to big booming shots, Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara proves that Big Z stands for ztrong. Very ztrong.
Sorry, but the expiration date on the Winter Classic has come and gone.
So what did you learn about your team on opening weekend?
Traipsing around training camps can be a tiresome process. The storylines are essentially the same in each market and they only take on significance for those involved (fantasy gamers notwithstanding): Rookies hoping to prove they belong, veterans trying to show they've still got something to offer and goalies looking to assert themselves for more playing time. With slight variations, take 30 rosters and insert names and you have camps across the continent covered...until the introduction of injury as the unknown element in the equation.
When rumors were swirling over the summer that Boston was shopping Marc Savard, I contacted an assistant GM for a team that could have used an offensively gifted pivot. "Would your club be interested?" I asked.
BOSTON (AP) -- The Boston Bruins signed forward Blake Wheeler to a one-year contract on Friday.
There's a learning curve involved with becoming an effective NHL GM. For some, of course, that curve is steeper than it is for others.
In one short week, the NHL's focus moves from the positive side of projected futures to in-the-moment business realities of paydays for proven players. Whereas the draft is an exercise in hope, free agency is all about immediate help, and as is the case more often these days, those divergent themes run together for several teams, especially the two that picked at the top of the draft: the Oilers and Bruins.
LOS ANGELES -- On the eve of the NHL Entry Draft, a teenage girl standing steps from the Staples Center was waving a homemade sign professing her love for Taylor. Of course, this is L.A., so the Taylor in question was unequivocally Taylor Lautner, one of the stars of Twilight: Eclipse, which enjoyed its star-studded premiere across the street at the Nokia Theater. It definitely was not Taylor Hall, the favorite to be selected No. 1 at tonight's draft.
BOSTON (AP) -- The Bruins signed defenseman Johnny Boychuk to a two-year contract extension on Thursday.
PHILADELPHIA -- For the Chicago Blackhawks, the security threat level is distinctly orange.
CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane, prince of the city, has a hairstyle that has spawned an officially licensed Mullet Mania T-shirt -- $19.99 on your NHL website -- if not a thousand imitators across Chicagoland. When the Blackhawks' star winger first started growing those hairs down the back of his neck, he announced that he wanted a little Billy Ray Cyrus in the back, mixed in with a little Vanilla Ice over the ears; but he couldn't have guessed that when the Hawks played their first Stanley Cup final game since 1992, the match would have a little Mario Lemieux mixed in with a healthy heaping of Red Light Racicot.
PHILADELPHIA -- In the 2010 NHL playoffs, Cinderella does not ride a coach, but a magic carpet.
Give the Philadelphia Flyers a tightrope. Send them out on the ledge. Show them the precipice of destruction. And then watch them shine. It would have been enough for the Flyers to make some history just by coming back from a 3-0 deficit in games to win a series against the Boston Bruins, 4-3, but on Friday, they also spotted the Bruins three goals, then scored four times to pull off an improbable 4-3 victory in the final game of their Eastern conference semifinal series.
PHILADELPHIA -- The video board at the Wachovia Center said it all before the game. As the Flyers took the ice for warmups, they could read a poster pressed up against the glass that read: "1942 Toronto Maple Leafs ... 1975 New York Islanders ... 2010 Philadelphia Flyers!" Perhaps a couple days premature, the thought was and has been on everybody's mind. Since Philadelphia pulled off two improbable wins, a 5-4 overtime thriller and a 4-0 drubbing in Boston, there's been that sense that history might be made here. Apart from the '42 Leafs and '75 Isles, only three other teams have even forced a Game 7. Now, after a 2-1 win over the Bruins Wednesday night, you can add the 2010 Flyers to the list of come-from-behind, never-say-die teams.
The Philadelphia Flyers will tell you that they never lost faith. But that, of course, is the public face of any team that finds itself down three games to none in a best-of-seven series.
The plight of Philadelphia's goaltending emerges once again.
1. Ville Leino, Flyers. The former Finnish league scoring champ had two points on the night, including a sure-handed deflection of a Chris Pronger blast 6:41 into the first that proved to be the game-winner. But it was a single, remarkable shift midway through the second that was the highlight of the night's action. With the Flyers nursing that one-goal lead, Leino put on a clinic of win-or-go-home desire. He won the draw, carried the puck into the Bruins zone, worked the cycle, attempted three shots and won four separate battles for the puck against hapless Boston defenders. Daniel Briere and Kimmo Timonen both touched the puck before Scott Hartnell finally batted it past Tuukka Rask for the insurance marker, but that goal never would have happened without this desperate individual effort.
PHILADELPHIA -- May sweeps is for network television, not whatever channel the NHL is on, it seems. Thanks to the game-winning goal by Simon Gagne, a Flyers' game-time decision just hours before the 7 p.m. puck-drop, Philadelphia lives to fight another day, defeating the Bruins, 5-4, in overtime Friday night at the Wachovia Center, and avoiding their first swift exit since the 1997 Stanley Cup Final (to the Detroit Red Wings).
This was the series that the Vancouver Canucks wanted. All season long, they craved a shot at redemption versus the Chicago Blackhawks -- the team that ousted them in the Western Conference Semi-Finals a year ago. Be careful what you wish for.
Another game, another short bench for Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien. But what's that to the reigning Jack Adams award-winning coach? It doesn't seem to matter how quickly his players are dropping (center David Krejci and defenseman Adam McQuaid are the latest since Marco Sturm tore his ACL and MCL on his first shift of Game 1; they left the game in the first period and didn't return), it almost seems like Julien and his players don't even seem to realize it. As in any great system, personnel seems to matter less the more the group can play as a whole, and that's what the Bruins banked on, as they beat the Flyers, 4-1, in Game 3 Wednesday night.
Milan Lucic, the Boston Bruins' hulking winger, a guy who looks like he was born with shoulder pads built into his skin, hasn't had the easiest of seasons, but his game-winning goal on Monday will do wonders in making his frustration go away. Lucic's tally with 2:57 left gave the Bruins a 3-2 win in Game 2 and a 2-0 series lead heading back to Philadelphia.
What is it about the Stanley Cup playoffs that seem to make fairy tales comes true?
Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres: A three-goal lead heading into the third period should be as sound as the pound, but the Sabres have seen this movie before. Boston has owned the final stanza in this series, outscoring Buffalo 6-0 and outplaying it by a wide margin. No surprise then that it was more of the same tonight. Miller could have played Words With Friends through the first two periods but he was in the weeds during the third as the Bruins blitzed him with 14 shots in the first 10 minutes alone. A late goal by Johnny Boychuk snapped his shutout bid, but that was hardly the point. The Sabres bent, but he refused to break.
Maybe it was just the emotions of a double-OT loss that led Lindy Ruff to lambaste the officials in the aftermath of Buffalo's Game 4 defeat, but expect the Sabres coach to preach a different sermon ahead of tonight's must-win Game 5.
I'm not San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan, so I'm going to do what all good sports writers do when they have to give advice: I'm going to pretend I'm him. And the first thing I'm going to do with my team facing what now amounts to a best-of-three series and a serious challenge from a team that may well add its name to the long list of clubs the have beaten the Sharks when it matters most, is rent a movie.
Welcome to my town, Boston, Massachusetts. It's quite simply the best sports city in the United States of America. Especially this week.
Michal Handzus, Kings: Drew Doughty's four-point night tied a franchise record for defensemen set by Paul Coffey in 1992, but he'll have to settle for an honorable mention. Instead, the nod goes to Handzus for the textbook two-way game that carried the Kings to a 5-3 win at Staples Center on Monday Night. The veteran center chipped in with two goals, an assist, four shots, three takeaways and a brilliant defensive effort that helped limit Henrik Sedin to a single assist.
Welcome to my town, Boston, Massachusetts. It's quite simply the best sports city in the United States. Especially this week.
Across North America and even in some pockets of hockey-heavy Boston, the perception seems to be that if there is an advantage for Buffalo in its first-round series with the Bruins, it's that the Sabres have Ryan Miller, an experienced goalie, legitimate Vezina Trophy candidate and, according to some, a possible Hart Trophy-winner as NHL MVP.
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MORE BRACKETS: Michael Farber | Darren Eliot | Kostya Kennedy | Jim Kelley | Allan Muir | Sarah Kwak
MORE BRACKETS: Michael Farber | Kostya Kennedy | Brian Cazeneuve | Jim Kelley | Allan Muir | Sarah Kwak
It was, without a doubt, the most heavily-hyped match in what's been a listless season for the Boston Bruins. For the price of admission, a boisterously disenchanted fan base wanted to see the hometowners (hard to call 'em heroes at this juncture) wrest two points from the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and have someone, anyone, exact a little revenge for Matt Cooke's near decapitation of Marc Savard the last time the two sides met. Not necessarily in that order.
Because the hockey gods have a wicked sense of humor, the 1970 Stanley Cup champions -- a.k.a. the Big Bad Bruins -- are being honored at the new Garden in Boston prior to the game Thursday between the Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins -- a.k.a. Armageddon on Ice.
Some random thoughts on the fly -- Toronto to Detroit, if I recall my itinerary -- on the record-setting, yawn-inducing 2010 NHL trade deadline:
With hockey underway at the Olympic Games, there's a pause in the NHL schedule. With pause comes reflection. Looking back on my preseason predictions, well, let's just say I've done better in years past. Self-flagellation aside, here's a look at what has happened and why -- I think this is called exception reporting in the corporate world...
BOSTON -- From the perfect weather here at Fenway Park, to the perfect pass to Marco Sturm right in front of the Philadelphia Flyers net, the perfect finish for most of the 38,112 fans packed in here, the 2010 Winter Classic was yet another storybook event (RECAP).
BOSTON -- Three months ago, this Winter Classic matchup between the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers was supposed to be a fight for first place in the Eastern Conference. Things, alas, don't always go as planned.
It's been a while since we dipped into the old mailbag, and you've sent in a batch of good questions and comments lately. So, here we go...