Drip, fizzle, pfft. Such was the general feeling last night at the TD Garden, where the Bruins flamed out in a 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that, on many levels, left a great deal to be desired.
So now what?
The Bruins have 12 games left, folks, and that is a very short period of time to conduct an awful lot of business. General manager Peter Chiarelli held a conference call with season-ticket holders yesterday to discuss the current plight of the franchise, and one canít help but acknowledge the damage this season has wrought. That was true even before Shawn Thornton dropped the gloves last night and took on Matt Cooke in what seemed like the start of a Bruins restoration.
And by the end of the night, the Bruins were somehow in worse shape than they started.
In the bigger picture beyond Cooke, this goes back to before the trading deadline. The Bruins finished last season with the best record in the Eastern Conference and reached Game 7 of the conference semis before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes. Before the season even started, the Bruins emphasized the postseason over the regular season, never once considering that they would be fighting for their playoff lives (and their self-respect) on or near St. Patrickís Day.
Then the Bruins traded Phil Kessel for draft picks. Then people started getting hurt. Then the Bruins had trouble scoring goals, night after night after night, and then Cooke knocked Marc Savard for a loop with what was, unquestionably, a dirty hit drenched with malice.
Along the way, the trading deadline came and went, the Bís sending off Derek Morris and bringing in Dennis Seidenberg in moves that made it look as if they were running to stand still.
Lest there be any doubt, the Bruins recognize the problems this season has created. The conference call with Chiarelli might not have been scheduled otherwise. The disappointment of the trading deadline approximately coincided with that period during which season-ticket holders are asked to renew their investment, and itís reasonable to assume that Bruins fans sucked back into the fold last season now are opting out.
Now comes the Cooke affair, an incident that hurt the Bruins' credibility on the ice as much as the trading deadline did the front office. Barring a completely unforeseen and dramatic turnaround this spring, the Bruins will celebrate the anniversary of their last Stanley Cup championship. They wonít do so by hoisting another Cup. The momentum that began with Game 6 of the Montreal series during the spring of 2008 now has been lost entirely, and the Bruins actually seem to be moving backward again, that Toronto pick (acquired for Kessel) be damned.
Letís be candid here. On almost every level, speaking solely in terms of sports and business, this season has been something close to a disaster. Last night only made things worse.
So hereís the question: can the Bruins fix this in 12 games? Is that even possible? Independent of whether the Cooke affair was a success Ė and it wasnít, nor could it have been Ė the Bruins were going to wake up today with the weight of the season on their shoulders. As it turned out, the weight is even a little heavier. The Bruins face the Rangers on Sunday, and coach Claude Julienís team holds a mere three-point lead over the Rangers and Atlanta Thrashers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
We all know how sports work, and we understand the unpredictable nature of postseason play, particularly in the NHL. At this stage, whether the Bruins can even get there remains in serious doubt. But after all that has happened this season, from the Kessel trade to the injuries to the debilitating hit on Savard, the Bruins still have 12 games to try and make it right, 12 games to make it into the postseason, 12 games to at least give themselves a chance at convincing a defecting fan base that it is worth sticking around.
Suddenly, the Bruins arenít playing for just this season now.
Theyíre playing for next year too.
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