This trend is only going to snowball with the Bruins taking the ice today against the Tampa Bay Lighting in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals — especially with the Celtics having been eliminated and the Red Sox stuck in neutral.
An admission: I am one such bandwagon fan. I have been faithfully ignoring the Bruins for the last seven months, but now that I have caught a whiff of playoff hockey I find myself very much drawn to it. Whatever you think of the NHL, its playoff games, with their sudden-death overtimes, have a sort of intensity that is hard to find in any other sport. And the Bruins run so far has been captivating, even to the usually hockey-averse, what with the team's comeback from a 2-0 deficit against the perpetually hated Montreal Canadiens, followed by a thorough exorcism, in the form of a 4-0 sweep, of last year's demons against the slightly less hated Philadelphia Flyers.
So, as a service to my fellow bandwagon members — and it's getting pretty crowded on here (whose hand was that?) — here are three ways to stop all but the most obnoxious Bruins fans from seeing you as an unwelcome interloper:
1. Acknowledge your situation
Put yourself in the shoes of an ardent, longtime Bruins fan. Your team hasn't won a championship since 1972 and hasn't even come close since 1992. For the last decade, Boston has been celebrating a string of unprecedented sporting success — among its other major teams (all of which, by the way, are far more popular than your beloved Bruins).
It's understandable, then, that this hypothetical fan might not be pleased to suddenly be surrounded by pseudo-fans who think Zdeno Chara is premier of some former Soviet Bloc state. The best defense against this reaction? Acknowledge that you're a visitor.
Example: You are approached by a friend of yours who has Cam Neely's face tattooed on his chest. "I didn't realize you liked hockey," he says with a scowl, gripping a hockey stick that seems to have materialized out of thin air a bit too quickly.
Good: You respond, "I'm not usually into hockey, but I started watching the B's in the playoffs and have gotten sucked in. They're just a lot of fun."
Bad: You respond, "YA DUDE BRUINS FOR LIFE! U-S-A! U-S-A!"
2. Don't make anything but the blandest statements about the game in question
Everyone who follows a team closely has a bit of armchair analyst in them. During a game, they'll make various observations, predictions, and criticisms about what's going on on the field, court, or ice. To take a purely hypothetical example from a sport with which I'm more familiar: "Sure, I'm nervous. But the Celtics do have a seven-point lead with nine minutes left. And no way will a team with this much veteran leadership collapse catastrophically down the stretch of an elimination game."
To earn the right to make such insightful comments during a game, you need to have followed a team for a long time. You, the bandwagon Bruins fan, have not been following the Bruins for a long time. So any bit of armchair analysis in which you partake will 1) face a higher threshold for success, given that you will likely be surrounded by skeptical real Bruins fans; and b) be unlikely to contain all that much incisiveness or even relevance, given that you are a neophyte.
Nope. It's just not worth it. To paraphrase a quote that Google is attributing to everyone from Samuel Johnson to Abraham Lincoln, 'tis better to remain silent about the Bruins and be thought a hockey novice than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.
Example: You are watching the game in a large group and there is a gap in the conversation.
Good: You say, "Anyone up for some Papa Gino's?"
Bad: You say, "Oh man, the Bruins' forecheck is really zoning out the Flyers' blue line goalie icing. Am I right?" You are met with angry stares. The silence deepens into something primordial.
3. If all goes well, don't over-celebrate
Let's say the Bruins get to the Finals and win it all. If this happens, it will be important to keep in mind a key distinction: For long-suffering Bruins fans, this is an ecstatic, emotional moment. For you, it's a cool thing that happened which will be soon supplanted by the next cool thing that happens — like seeing a dog with a puffy tail, for example. The quickest way to earn the ire of Bruins fans, even in this most glorious of moments, will be to fake your fandom by over-celebrating.
Example: They did it! They beat the Canucks in six! "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" begins playing at a high decibel level, even though there is no sound-producing equipment in sight. You are with some Bruins fans celebrating on the Mass. Ave. bridge. They are drunk off of victory (and alcohol), and decide that the most reasonable thing to do given the circumstances is jump in the river, swim down to the TD Garden, and break in for a victory lap.
Good: You give a round of high-fives and say, "Hey, congrats guys. I'm really happy for you. I'm going to call it a night."
Bad: You join them.
Globe file photo: Bruins fans on May 6.