It’s May, right?
Judging both by the laissez-faire din of the crowd at the TD Garden Thursday night and the droll Ned Martin approach of NBC Sports Network’s Dave Strader on play-by-play, you couldn’t help but compare the atmosphere at Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Bruins and Rangers to your average February tilt against the Blue Jackets. It’s the second time in three playoff games that some have complained of a less-than-boisterous fan base, likely lulled to sleep Thursday night after a first period that played like a “No, I love you more” spat between a couple.
For the second straight game, the Bruins took an overtime win when Brad Marchand took a sweet dish from Game 7 hero Patrice Bergeron and scored on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for a 3-2 win and a 1-0 series lead. For the second straight game, the Garden erupted in celebratory glee. Just over 72 hours earlier, the same seats were emptying in surrender with the Bruins down to the Maple Leafs, 4-1, and only 10 minutes remaining in their season. New life emerged Thursday, a second chance at moving on in the quest for the Stanley Cup.
In the end, the Bruins and Rangers delivered compelling drama in a game that most would argue the Bruins dominated, with enough posts hit on the evening to compose a commercial jingle. Lundqvist wasn’t at his best, allowing Zdeno’s Chara’s second-period slap shot to trickle past the goal line, and called out his teammates for failing in the extra frame. ("Have I played bad in overtime? No. Can I score? No. Is it frustrating? Yes.") Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, and Dougie Hamilton gave fresh, young legs that clearly invigorated the Bruins, the direct opposite of what the Bruins got out of Jaromir Jagr, the 41-year-old legend who is clearly out of sync when he isn’t out of gas.
Maybe that was the case in the crowd as well, particularly in the wake of Monday’s epic comeback against the Leafs. Game 5 against Toronto can be excused in some part that it was a Friday night game with a CEO crowd. And it’s not as if the Bruins and Rangers gave them anything to rock the roof off with to kick things off in Game 1. If we learned anything though, it’s that the Bruins should be able to win this series more handily than we may have initially thought. The Rangers’ power play makes Boston’s look dominant, which it bordered on Thursday with one goal and an impressive barrage in overtime. Yes, the Rangers block shots as advertised (how do you think Dan Girardi feels today) and Lundqvist probably just had an off-night coming off back-to-back shutouts against the Capitals. But the Bruins were better. Much better.
And the crowd should be too on Sunday. Now that the band is starting to play the way we know they’re capable of, perhaps there will be less Mr. Hyde and frustration over which team takes the ice on any given night. No Game 7 hangover to speak of.
‘‘I really thought our guys turned the page on that historical game,’’ coach Claude Julien said. ‘‘At the same time, they wanted to take what was necessary to start the series, and that was momentum, the good feeling that we have from that game.’’
Will there be a Game 1 hangover? Game 2? Perhaps the inconsistencies that plague this team will come back to haunt them, but on night 1, it was indeed a more concerted effort against the Rangers. For one game.
Until Sunday then. May 19. The Bruins may be starting to act like they know what time of year it is. Let’s the rest of us follow suit, shall we?
Oh, Brooksie. Not that John Tortorella needs any introduction, but for those Bruins fans who may be arriving late to the party, let's just say you're in for an entertaining run here with the Rangers' coach, whose postgame press conferences have become the stuff of legend in the hockey world. Whether it's his heated exchanges with New York Post writer Larry Brooks (who fancies himself "funny"), or his chastising a beat reporter for asking him an open question, the Boston native is a mixture of Bill Belichick with a dash of Lee Elia for added spice.
Here's Tortorella's press conference following Sunday's 1-0 win over the Capitals in Game 6. It's a classic on par with the best of them. I wish I could end all my meetings like this.
It's a rule, dummy.
No, he's not talking about the Sedins, rather Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins' "two $#%^& stars."
I don't want to coach his team, but just shut up.
Here's a particularly lengthy Tortorella press conference.
Here's an even lengthier one.
No stupid questions!!
Tortorella on Joe Thornton. Big fan.
Sure, it's be easier if the Bruins can wrap this up in four, but please let it go seven.
“We make it tough on ourselves. We’ve always had trouble with that killer instinct.” – Claude Julien, Bruins head coach.
“They’re going to break the $#@*&^% window.” – Tony Amonte, Comcast SportsNet.
Let’s face it, Mr. Amonte may have been under different circumstances, attempting to deliver postgame reaction as hundreds of elated Bruins fans pounded on the Causeway Street studio glass behind him, but he wasn’t the only one to let the expletives fly during an evening that summoned a range of emotions.
Anticipation. Optimism. Frustration. Anger. Confusion. Hope. Jubilation. Shock. Beer.
The Boston Bruins are inexplicably moving on to face the New York Rangers after Monday night’s ridiculous comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a 5-4 overtime win that will go down among the greatest games in Boston history, and serve as the ultimate reminder of just how damned heart-stopping and frustrating this crew can be.
Why? Why must it always come to this? Under Claude Julien, the Bruins have defined themselves as the ultimate do-or-die situational franchise. They play careful. They play cute. They play with a sense of purpose that frustrates the opposition, not to mention a fan base that has its share of potential scapegoats to blame when things ultimately end in heartache.
Then, when it matters most, these Bruins, they deliver.
The Bruins had scored three goals over their last eight periods against the Leafs before their trio in 10 minutes Monday night, tying the game at four, and putting the stake into the hearts of Toronto fans, only to twist it into the wound when Patrice Bergeron scored the game-winner at 6:05 into overtime. The resurgence came out of nowhere, particularly for a Bruins team that had, at one point during the evening, fewer shots than the drink menu at teddy bear tea time. Unless the smelling salt delivery truck simply can not arrive prior to 9 p.m., why can’t urgency show its face to some degree at some point before 9:18 into the third period?
Much like the Celtics’ valiant comeback against the Knicks in Game 6 a little over a week ago, the Bruins’ effort in Game 7 indeed displayed the determination and grit that makes a champion, never counting themselves out despite the hurdle in front of them. Unlike the Celtics, the Bruins completed the task. We’re only left wondering what might have been had the Celtics actually showed to be any semblance of a professional basketball team for three quarters.
The Bruins save their best for Game 7. They save it for the third period, and for 19:09 into the final stanza. They are all heart and a heart attack waiting to happen.
"It was a fun ending,” Bergeron said.
It certainly was, and it was the latest display of just how good this team can be when it decides to wake up. For much of the night, Tuukka Rask was pedestrian, but when it mattered most, the goalie was huge. Bergeron, roasted during an afternoon sports talk drive show Monday for not being able to score, emerges from his underperforming linemates to score the equalizer and the game-winner. Claude doesn’t have to call his local realtor.
Over the span of 10 game minutes, the Bruins went from potentially cleaning house to cleaning their skates for another round. Julien and Peter Chiarelli are safe, it is the Maple Leafs asking all the questions today, and the thought of Toronto revisiting trade talks with Vancouver for Roberto Luongo is salivating. Ten minutes changed the courses of two franchises, one in the peak prime of its roster members, the other, a young collection on the rise. That doesn’t make the collapse any more comforting for Leafs fans. Red Sox fans know all too well.
In Boston, perhaps we should treat Monday’s win a little like Lou Brown’s message to Willie Mays Hayes in “Major League,” after the young outfielder made a basket catch: “Nice catch, Hayes. Don’t ever $#@*&^% do it again.”
It was a fun ending. Getting there though required all sorts of stamina, desire, and faith. It’s never easy with the Bruins, we know that by now. But at least they show us that they can finish the job, and not simply inflict too little, too late.
Just enough, always late. But you know, a lead isn’t a bad thing to play with, fellas.
"It feels real good right now [but] when you're looking at the clock wind down with how the period went at 4-1, you start thinking to yourself 'is this the end of this group right here?'” Milan Lucic said. “Because it probably would have been if we didn't win this game. You gotta have bounces, you gotta have luck, you gotta have everything go your way and that's what happened in the last 10 minutes of the third period."
That’s what happened, all right. Holy $#*&.
On the bright side, it looks like Dallas may only be getting a second-round pick for Jaromir Jagr.
The conditional draft choice becomes a first-rounder should the Bruins advance to the Eastern Conference final, but suddenly, and perhaps expectedly, that prospect has become the well of water on the desert horizon. Here we are. Seven. Again.
The Bruins are forced to host the Maple Leafs in Game 7 Monday night thanks to their inability to show any spark of life for five of the six periods they’ve played since Friday night. Only in the third period of Game 5 at a lifeless Garden did the Bruins show some spark, an energy that hoped to translate into Game 6 Sunday night in Toronto. Instead, the Bruins became the team we became accustomed to during the stretch run of the regular season; a plodding, indecisive offensive enigma, now with its back to the wall for an eighth time under head coach Claude Julien.
The Bruins are 3-4 in the Julien era in Game 7’s, all three wins coming during the Cup run in 2011. The four losses include last year’s oust at the hands of the Capitals, 2009’s loss to the Hurricanes, 2008’s disappointment against the Canadiens, and, of course, the series which most resembles this current state of affairs, 2010’s epic 3-0 collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Red Sox overcame deficits of 0-3 and 1-3 during both their World Series runs of 2004 and ’07, respectively. Can the Bruins perform the same trend in reverse over the same stretch of three years?
Julien may have his name etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup, but his presence on it is likely the only thing saving his job. Eight game sevens in six years might be a sign that you’re team is in the playoffs consistently. It might even serve as a sign that your team is good enough to force the opposition to the brink. With Julien’s Bruins, it serves as the ultimate reminder that this team refuses to finish off opponents until there’s no more wiggle room remaining. And even then, the Bruins have only been successful 43 percent of the time. All in 2011. All with Tim Thomas in net.
Without Thomas, the Bruins are 0-4 in Game 7’s under Julien, and Rask is 0-1 despite the 3-0 lead his teammates awarded him against the Flyers three years ago. Something about too many men as well.
If the Bruins lose Game 7 against the lesser Leafs, Julien will indeed be at the forefront of fan criticism. Chants of “Fire Claude” will sprinkle from the nosebleeds and filter online message boards with a fervency not seen since…well, last week.
Julien’s stubbornness in how he approaches each game may be one of his best qualities in that it speaks to the faith he has in certain aspects and pairings on his roster. It’s also his ultimate undoing. Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, and Brad Marchand will trot out Monday night together as always despite the least production of any line this side of the DMV. Marchand has been lost, and Seguin a complete train wreck against Toronto, despite the trio’s success during the regular season. What’s the harm in mixing it up when it clearly is DOA? The less-than-desirable answer? Claude.
“I have no comments on my lines,” Julien said after Sunday’s 2-1 loss in Game 6 in Toronto. “I’m not talking about certain lines. I’m talking about our whole team as a Jekyll and Hyde hockey club. You see when we play well how good we can be. Tonight, poor puck management never gave us a chance to win. It’s as simple as that.”
Meh, not really. You could argue that the Bruins have managed to even show up for two of the six games in this series; Games 1 and 3, both wins for Boston. The Game 4 overtime win was a thrilling game, but it too showed off many of the Bruins’ deficiencies, and took a hat trick from David Krejci, and late mastery on the part of Rask to pull it out. Since Krejci’s overtime goal on Wednesday, the Bruins have played like they lost the team dog. The Maple Leafs have life, a resurgence the Bruins awarded them by failing to put them away, by confoundingly refusing to park themselves in front of James Reimer and sink the incessant rebounds bouncing off the Toronto netminder. Now, Reimer has a confidence the Bruins are more than familiar with, instilling a similar sense in Braden Holtby last spring against Washington. Outside of the Bruins’ top line, Boston is terrible offensively, a trait that has probably reached its nadir under Julien-led squads. The call for a more offensive-minded coach to take over behind the bench isn’t a crazy thought.
Then again, remember, some thought Julien should lose his job in the waning days of the 2010-11 regular season. Many questioned whether he was right for the job, and whether Thomas was simply a nice story in sheep’s clothing as the Bruins faced the Canadiens in a deciding Game 7 two years ago. If the Bruins lost that overtime decision, we’re not debating the future of Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli. Both are already long gone, and the Bruins are still clamoring for their first Cup since 1972.
Game 7’s were kind to the Bruins in 2011. Otherwise, they’ve been a lost cause under Julien with at least one more on tap against the Leafs Monday. If they lose, it will be Claude on the hot seat, and realistically, for the first time in years of fan frustration, it may be time for the Bruins to feel it’s best to part ways.
Has it really reached that point? For all the good Julien has done for this franchise, his approach can only do so much good. Unfortunately, he can’t bottle the magic from 2011, and even if he could, the pixie dust from that run is somewhere in Colorado preparing for the Olympics in Sochi. The last time a Bruins team without Thomas in net won a Game 7 was in 1994 against the Canadiens. It's up to Rask for a second time. It's up to Julien for an eighth.
One more time Monday. Game 7. We’re used to this by now, and unfortunately, more often than not, know exactly how it plays out. Winning hides the problems. Losing creates a host more of them.
One year ago this month, a 23-year-old Will Middlebrooks got the call to the major leagues when incumbent Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis landed on the disabled list. The kid went on to slug six home runs in May, batting .316 with a .922 OPS along the way, and might have as well written on the proverbial wall himself that Youkilis’ time in Boston was nearing its end.
Yet, since Youkilis was traded to the Chicago White Sox last June 24, Middlebrooks has hit only .213 over parts of two seasons, last year ending prematurely with a wrist injury. This season, gaping holes have emerged in Middlebrooks approach at the plate. The free-swinger’s discipline wasn’t exactly a mystery, but in his second season, teams have used it to their overwhelming advantage, pitching Middlebrooks away, away, away, with the likelihood that the batter is going to give into temptation at some point (Twins starter Kevin Correia, interestingly enough went mostly inside on Middlebrooks Thursday night, resulting in a second-inning double). His .608 OPS is lowest on the team, and only Chicago’s Jeff Keppinger has a lower number (.397!) among American League third basemen.
Middlebrooks’ struggles have followed him into the field as well. Over the weekend in Texas, the third baseman had a pair of miscues, and added another Thursday during a 5-3 loss to the Twins, Boston’s sixth loss in its last seven games. And because the surprising Sox have come back to Earth – Friday is the first day the Sox have had to share first place with New York and Baltimore since the beginning of April – the dings in the armor have shown some needed polish. Or Bullfrog. Whatever suits you.
Chief among the issues from an offensive standpoint is what the Red Sox should expect out of Middlebrooks going forward. Among the many questions Boston had entering the 2013 season, its third baseman appeared on very few radars as a topic of discussion despite having played only 75 games at the big league level. Middlebrooks burst onto the scene in 2012, and is now taking his big boy lumps, which could simply mean an adjustment at the major league level, or a sign that there’s still seasoning in the works for the 24-year-old.
Middlebrooks is indeed a favorite among the media and fans, and that includes himself. There’s a playful cockiness about Middlebrooks that goes over well when he’s backing it up at the plate, but makes you pause when the talk comes with no receipt. He tends to remind of Dustin Pedroia without the chip on his shoulder, a confidence bred from lauding rather than doubt.
Since slugging three home runs in Toronto on April 7, Middlebrooks is batting only .154, with frustration mounting and whispers sure to follow about a solution. If Middlebrooks can’t work through this slump, does the possibility of sending him to Pawtucket exist, not as punishment, but as hope that his regains the proper level of professional confidence he needs in the majors? And are the Red Sox ready to hope the magic of Pedro Ciraco can tend bar in the meantime?
There really is no easy solution except to wait and hope that Middlebrooks busts back into the kind of player the Red Sox assumed they were getting heading into the season. But for all the early success the kid had upon his arrival, there certainly were a lot of assumptions about his game that just simply aren’t living up to the hype these days.
“I’m not going to change my routine,” Middlebrooks said recently. “I’m not going to change my approach. I’m not going to change my bats.
“I’m not overmatched. I’m not getting beat by the pitchers, I’m beating myself. It’s just something I’ve got to get through. It won’t be a problem.”
It is a problem. So far.
The magnification of those digits appears larger based on the circumstances, of course, but that is indeed the scoring line for Bruins forward Tyler Seguin through four games of the playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a series Boston now leads, 3-1, thanks to Wednesday night’s pulsating overtime victory led by David Krejci’s hat trick and Tuukka Rask’s sleight of hand in net.
Seguin was once again a non-factor. He could have put the game away with only seconds remaining in regulation, but once again displayed his inability to finish and bury the puck on Leafs goalie James Reimer, who, much like Rask, elevated his game after a somewhat, shall we say, bouncy start. Seguin ended the evening with only one shot on net, and appeared tentative enough on the Bruins’ four-minute power play that he reminded of an old friend who boasted a similar characteristic.
That’s not good, right?
Seguin’s failures in this series are, of course, intensified based on the fact that he’s playing in his hometown, and that Phil Kessel, the player whom his name will be linked to for his entire career, has been a dynamic, speedy force for Toronto with a pair of goals and an assist against his former team. Once Kryptonite to his scoring touch, the Bruins have had their hands full slowing Kessel’s line while the Leafs have completely corralled Seguin, who, as Jack Edwards noted during Wednesday night’s telecast, was noticeably frustrated at the morning skate as he rifled shots on net.
At least there was some improvement from his linemates in the 4-3 win. Patrice Bergeron scored his first goal of the series in the second period, cutting Toronto’s lead to 2-1, and Brad Marchand assisted on Krejci’s first goal of the evening, tying the game at two. Seguin’s highlight reel featured merely an ill-fated one-on-one decision to drive to the net. He leads the Bruins with 18 shots on net this series, every next one looking more and more haphazard and rushed than the one before.
Needs to be better.
Thanks to the New England Hockey Journal’s Jesse Connolly for this little tidbit: In the first five periods of his playoff career, which includes that jaw-dropping Saturday evening against the Lightning in 2011, Seguin had six points – three goals and three assists. Periods.
Since then, he has four playoff points – two goals and two assists – in 22-plus games.
If promise delivered results, then expectation has wildly disappointed.
While Seguin has been invisible and Dougie Hamilton spits sunflower seeds in the rafters, Kessel has reinvigorated his reputation with his play. Labeled a selfish player with an aversion to playing defense, Kessel would never have worked in Claude Julien’s system, which I suppose will one day raise the question as to whether or not we’ll say the same of Seguin, or if Claude will be around to witness that day.
It’s unfair to judge Seguin’s development after a shortened season, but his 32-point campaign was uneven, particularly coming off the fire trail of dominance he left overseas during the lockout. Seguin is 21 now. At 21, Steven Stamkos already had three 90-plus point seasons under his belt. Taylor Hall had a 50-point season this year despite playing in 45 games. But from a statistical standpoint, it’s too early to get caught up in what Seguin lacks, particularly on a team that spreads offense like Valentine’s Day cards in the first grade. Everybody gets a little.
But in these playoffs, the Bruins need Seguin to be more dynamic. Instead, he’s been timid, hesitant, and detrimental to his linemates’ success.
Krejci, Nathan Horton, and Milan Lucic have been unstoppable against the Leafs. But if the Bruins want to keep playing, they need more out of their second unit. Bergeron and Marchand delivered on that note in Game 4 against the Leafs, a game that may not have only swung this series Boston’s way, but opened eyes around the league that the Bruins are as physical as anyone else out there, and may once again be coming at you with some magic between the pipes.
If only Seguin could find some in his own hands.
Back in January, fresh off Kevin Garnett’s bizarrely hysterical taunting of Carmelo Anthony, allegedly telling the Knicks forward that his wife “tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios,” fans at the TD Garden reacted to the scenario, toting boxes of the cereal along the next time the Celtics and Knicks met in Boston. Most were promptly halted by security and had their General Mills paraphernalia confiscated in the name of bad taste.
Maybe it was all in good fun, but allowing the cereal box brigade to have their way might have even been a tad hypocritical, seeing as the Celtics were once the target of some of the most despicable fan taunting in 2002, when a New Jersey Nets fan brought a sign to a Game 5 playoff game against the Celtics, asking someone to “please stab Paul Pierce,” of course referencing the 2000 nightclub incident in which Pierce was stabbed a dozen times. Classy.
Which brings us to last night in Toronto, where the Bruins and Maple Leafs played Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series, won convincingly by the Bruins, 5-2, when a Maple Leafs fan, presumably possessing as much intelligence as a Marmaduke strip pressed into reverse on Silly Putty, took the act of taunting to a new level by making light of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Look, we can debate the intent of malice on this piece of Samsonite, but I’m of the thought that the kid is just in need of some maturity and sensibility. Unfortunately, we don’t know the name of the young chap, and can’t really tell by the images whether or not he was at the game as part of a party, so let’s theoretically question them too: Nobody told this jamoke this might be a bad idea?
Nobody in the surrounding area outside Air Canada Centre (which, we must say, was quite the scene) might have suggested to this slug that making fun of “Boston Strong,” the mantra that has inspired thousands to donate and support the victims of April 15, was about a good an idea as the Blue Jays signing B.J. Ryan?
To be fair, a good number of the fans surrounding poster boy appear somewhat disinterested, but we can’t be sure whether that’s out of embarrassment for their fellow fan or Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer’s rebound dance. But according to CBC’s Carly Argo, “there are unconfirmed reports that some fans inside the Air Canada Centre were chanting "Toronto stronger" during Monday’s game.” The sign in question even made its way onto the ACC jumbotron at one point before the camera quickly panned away.
Montreal, Vancouver, sure. We expect this sort of thing.
Et tu, Toronto?
As one Canucks fan asked on a team message board, “Is it really much different than Boston using it with their team's logo in the background?”
In other words, is destroying the downtown area of your city really much different than kicking the couch after losing Game 7?
Every city has its share of morons. Newsflash: We have them here too. So to classify an entire fan base over one ill-advised sign is a knee-jerk reaction that has little place in reality. But the anger over this loser’s decision is very much justified, coming only three weeks after attacks that shook Boston and affected and ended lives forever. Seems prime for some good ol’ fashioned hockey ribbing, no?
Most Toronto fans derided the sign and its message, which is, of course, as heartening a reaction as one would hope for. But the nameless fan still got his attention, even if we don’t know who he is. Call it an error in judgment by someone too young and dumb to understand the overwhelming significance of what he was taunting. Haven’t we all been there?
But the Toronto idiocy came only two days after the Bruins had Jeff Bauman, the Marathon bystander who lost both his legs in the attack, wave the banner in an emotionally moving pregame moment at the Garden prior to Game 2. It was, in one moment, a symbol of resiliency of the city and all those affected by what transpired, the very meaning of what Boston Strong is supposed to convey.
Or, as one commenter put it on CBSBostonSports.com, “Ok SO the Bruins have been exploiting this for a week, bringing in people that were affected by the bomb to the games and everything. So why can the Bruins build excitement over their team using this event but other teams can't? #BOSTONCRYBABIES”
When it comes down to it, some fans are simply like Rice Krispies. No taste at all.
New Yorkers and Torontonians need some love.
It’s hard to say in which city you’ll find Boston wedged deeper into the sports psyches of the general public. In New York, Knicks fans are fraught with angst over the very real possibility that their basketball team could become the first in NBA history to blow a 3-0 playoff series lead to the Celtics, only nine years after the Red Sox dismissed the Yankees in a similarly embarrassing fashion in the ALCS. North of the border, Toronto’s baseball team has started the season as an overhyped, rebuilt, disaster. The Blue Jays are dwindling in last place in the AL East, already 10 ½ games behind the 20-8 Red Sox (on a 116-win pace, by the way), while the team’s broadcasters sling accusations that Clay Buchholz’s success this season must come down to Crisco.
If that’s the case, get R.A. Dickey a jar, stat. The Jays pitching staff, which possesses the 28th-best ERA in baseball, could use a Costco membership for all the lard they’ll need to turn things around.
But while New York could be in some serious need of comfort by Sunday, following a potential Game 7, Toronto is just a bit needier right now and in need of comfort and protection from the meanies from Boston. It’s been a tough week, after all; the Sox demoralized the Jays by taking two of three from John Gibbons’ crew in front of about 14 fans each night at the former SkyDome, and also had to witness the Maple Leafs, in their first NHL playoffs since 2004, get overwhelmed in Game 1 against the Bruins, 4-1 winners Wednesday night.
The young pup Leafs may have proven that they simply aren’t ready for prime time. Phil Kessel was reportedly in the Toronto lineup Wednesday, though nobody would have known it. James Reimer, fooled by black seats and blue butts, looked every bit the goalie making his first playoff spot that the Bruins couldn’t manage to prove a year ago against the Capitals’ Braden Holtby. And the next puck the Maple Leafs manage to get out of their own zone will probably result in a parade down University Avenue.
The Red Sox do not return to Toronto until August, and who knows what might happen by then. Josh Beckett may even have a win over there in Los Angeles. But the Bruins-Leafs series shifts to Hogtown come next week, when the Bruins can attempt to wrap things up in four should they win Saturday night in Boston and Monday night on the road. That’s not to get ahead of ourselves at any stretch of the imagination, of course, but merely a reflection of the way that woe-is-me Toronto fans are probably visualizing things playing out.
It’s OK, Toronto. You’re a fine city and all, but we can’t help that John Farrell would rather hone his baseball craft here than there. It’s not exactly our fault that Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton should be yours. We gave you two years of Roger Clemens while you re-paid the favor with two-plus maddening months of Tomas Kaberle. We’re cool, right?
The Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, the Blue Jays haven’t seen the World Series trophy since Joe Carter went deep, and the Toronto Raptors…wait, they still exist? Then again, the Argonauts are Grey Cup champions, so there’s that. The feeling must be kind of like when the Cannons won their title, I suppose. Kinda neat-o.
It’s been a tough run for Toronto, and Boston isn’t making it any easier of late. For that, we’re sorry.
Then again, it’s not like we’re just floating by either. Andrew Ference is now suspended for Game 2, and Buchholz has to now prove to the rest of the baseball world that he’s not cheating, thanks to the accusations of a borderline pitcher/author and a once-again Hall of Fame denial. You’ll still want to root for Boston Friday night though. If the Celtics can pull this off, New York is really going to need a hug.
So, sorry that we’re in your heads. Again.
Good morning, pulse. Welcome back.
Where ya been?
The Boston Bruins kicked off the 2013 NHL playoffs with an impressive 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night, looking nothing like the team that lingered through the second half of the shortened season, and every bit like a team playing with some purpose and passion. Again.
Time will tell whether Game 1 was a signal that the heartbeat that drives these Bruins has returned to the Hub or if these young Leafs simply aren’t ready for prime time, but for one night, let’s call it a push. The Bruins took advantage of the Leafs’ mistakes and turnovers, and battered Toronto goalie James Reimer, who may or may not have been hearing “Luongo” chants from the crowd by the end of the evening.
But when Wade Redden is leading the charge, you have to assume things are going well.
Claude Julien went with experience over youth in Game 1, electing to go with veteran defenseman Redden while Dougie Hamiltion watched his first NHL playoff experience from the rafters. Of course, it paid off when Redden scored Boston’s first goal of the game, tying the game at 1 in the first, then nearly adding a second tally with seconds remaining in the period when Nathan Horton deflected his shot for a 2-1 lead.
Redden had scored only once since the Bruins acquired him last month, and most recently had been known as a forgotten soul in New York, where he was banished to the AHL. When the Bruins plucked him from St. Louis for a conditional draft pick, the best that could be said about the deal was that Redden and Zdeno Chara would old line buddies during their days in Ottawa. Expecting more than dressing room camaraderie seemed a stretch.
But...well, Wade Redden. Playoff hero.
“It’s been a long road. Obviously, the position I was in, a lot of uncertainties,” Redden said after his first playoff game since 2009. “But I kept working and kept believing. It’s great to be here now and have the chance, and I’m going to try to make the most of it.”
On that note, the Bruins certainly took advantage of every opportunity while the Leafs wilted in the raucous atmosphere of the Garden. In the game’s first five minutes, everything that Bruins fans worried about their team heading into the postseason rang true when Boston found itself in a 1-0 deficit after James van Riemsdyk’s power play goal. But instead of instantly going into panic mode, which is what the Bruins of the last half of this season might have done, they found the energy that was so missing most nights that they took the ice. They attacked Reimer, who had 36 saves on 40 shots, while his counterpart at the other end of the ice, Tuukka Rask, turned away every chance the Leafs tossed his way after the first period hiccup.
In his first playoff start since that night against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, Rask was workmanlike, but hardly tested all evening. Overmatched and intimidated, the young Leafs appeared lost after Horton’s score, unsure of how to play with a deficit while the playoff-tested Bruins ran over them. Good for night one. But the way they left the regular season behind, it’s only fair to question if Boston can do the same with any sort of consistency moving forward in the series.
We do remember the Bruins won Game 1 against the Capitals last spring, right?
“This series is not over,” Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul said. “There is plenty of belief in here.”
As there should be. Yet, they’re panicking already in Toronto, where it’s been nine years since a night like Wednesday. Hockey success plays in Toronto the way baseball success plays on the north side of Chicago, or football success in Buffalo; it’s a foreign concept with not much confidence in tow. The Bruins did little to change that out of the chute.
The Cup run may be in its infancy, but it sure was nice to run into an old friend on Wednesday.
If we meet that intensity three more times, maybe there will be reason to wonder if we might not see it 12 more times after that. It’s been a long while since we saw the Bruins look as good as they did against the Leafs.
Back at it Saturday. Wade Redden is ready.
Whatever level of conviction you may want to apply, there indeed seems to be a dearth of positive mojo within the fandom of the Boston Bruins as they get set to open the 2013 NHL playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night. The Bruins head into the postseason only 6-7-1 over the last month, and the last time Boston beat a playoff team was way back on April 2, a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators.
It gets worse. From a scoring standpoint, the Bruins make the second-half Celtics look unstoppable. In 12 of its last 16 games, Boston has managed to score only a pair of goals, and the Bruins have won a grand total of three times over that stretch. The power play remains stuck in neutral, and the penalty-kill, which at one point was among this team’s strengths, has deteriorated into a crutch.
Flipping a switch is one thing. Asking this jumbled mess of offensive prowess to instantly morph into something they haven’t come close to being for the last two months is something else entirely.
The Bruins will go as far as Tuukka Rask can take them is the general refrain in picking the Bruins to win their first playoff series in two years, but what can Bruins fans reasonably expect? Rask isn’t Tim Thomas of 2011, and as we saw last spring, even Tim Thomas couldn’t be that guy again against the Washington Capitals, who downed the Bruins in seven games, each decision coming down to a single goal on either side. A year later, offense is still at a premium, and the signs that it might miraculously appear in time for the party seem like grasping at the short straws that Claude Julien utilizes to pick his line combinations.
After disappearing for the bulk of the shortened season, Milan Lucic reemerged for the stretch run at the end of the season, playing with a purpose that the Bruins had been missing. But to expect Lucic to be the force we all expect him to be seems foolhardy, especially when we remember his postseason run during the Stanley Cup year, which is to say an APB was submitted for his whereabouts most nights. Nathan Horton, slated to return to the ice tonight, has an impressive postseason resume, but hasn’t exactly been the dependable scorer the Bruins figured he might be this season, free from concussion symptoms and heading into free agency this summer. Tyler Seguin should be a force, yet his seeming insistence to not drive to the net has become maddening. Jaromir Jagr, such an encouraging addition at the trading deadline, has shown only flashes that he can be the missing piece that will extend this season into June. The way the Bruins plodded through the last month showed little urgency, flat-lining in the season’s biggest contests against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and failing to even capture the emotional energy in the days following the Boston Marathon bombings.
This may be Toronto’s first playoff appearance since 1945 (or something like that), but the Maple Leafs may just be the envy of the rest of the NHL, landing the schizophrenic Bruins in the first round.
“It isn’t the long shot some are making it out to be,” writes the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons. “The Leafs have a better power play than the Bruins, kill penalties better, have more offensive weapons especially if Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri play on three different lines. The question for Toronto is different than the question for Boston: Can the Leafs leave their lousy ending behind and find a new energy for the playoffs? If they do that, and can play the kind of hockey Randy Carlyle preached loudly at practice Tuesday, it isn’t out of the question that they go toe-to-toe with the Bruins.”
Not only is it not out of the question, Bruins fans should be prepared for it to go the distance.
The Maple Leafs have had their own late-season issues as well, and when it comes to the intangible of experience, only James van Riemsdyk has any level of what it’s like to go on a deep run. Kessel leaves his Prozac at home when he faces the Bruins, and James Reimer has allowed three or more goals in five of his last 11 games, including four against the Canadiens in his season finale.
But to expect Rask to be the primary reason the Bruins have a chance at the Cup is foolhardy. If the Bruins play at the level we’ve become accustomed to over the last six to eight weeks, no goalie should have that impossible burden thrust upon him. Two years ago, it took three Game 7’s to become the class of the NHL, an accomplishment that took domination in net, and maybe even a little luck.
That team also got angry in the end, a trait that led to an attitude adjustment that would ultimately define them.
We haven’t seen any semblance of that with this team. Frankly, since February, we haven’t seen much at all with this team.
Maple Leafs in seven.
The most concerning thing to be said about Clay Buchholz’s start to the 2013 season is that his ERA has ballooned each of his last three starts.
From 0.41 to 0.90 to 1.19, where it stands now after winning his American League-leading fifth game of the young season Thursday night against the Houston Astros, 7-2. Pfft. That's almost triple what it once was a week-and-a-half ago. Time for alarm?
It has been some kind of start for Buchholz and teammate Jon Lester, who are a combined 9-0 this month. On the flip side, that means in games in which starters 3-5 have taken the mound, the Sox are a so-so 6-7, but albeit an encouraging sub-.500 considering how well Ryan Dempster has looked for the most part and the potential for John Lackey to be a more-than-decent fifth starter when he returns.
Clearly, the theory that manager John Farrell could get into the psyche of both Buchholz and Lester, following disappointing seasons for both under the Bobby Valentine regime, is proving true. But as well as Lester has rebounded, it is Buchholz who has been dazzling out of the gate.
In 2012, Buchholz won his fifth game on June 1. In his 17-win season of 2010, he won game No. 5 on May 19.
Buchholz has pitched at least seven innings in each of his first five starts and has yet to allow more than two earned runs in a game. The last pitcher to do that was Livan Hernandez in 2002. Hernandez would only go on to a 12-16 record for the San Francisco Giants, however.
The last Red Sox pitcher to have an ERA lower than Buchholz after his first five starts was Roger Clemens in 1991, when the Rocket went 18-10 with a 2.62 ERA, numbers good enough for his third Cy Young Award. One year earlier, perhaps Clemens’ finest in a Red Sox uniform, he went 4-1 with a 3.09 ERA for April.
And while we’re on the subject of unfairly comparing Buchholz’s start to that of the greatest pitchers to don the Boston uniform over the last generation, Pedro Martinez was 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA during the first month of 1999, and 5-0 with a 1.27 ERA during the first month of 2000. That two-year stretch, of course, is widely regarded among the greatest for a pitcher in the modern era.
Buchholz is right there with him.
Buchholz has allowed five earned runs all season, which to give it some perspective, is one run fewer than Alfredo Aceves surrendered in the third inning alone on Tuesday against Oakland. He leads the league in innings pitched (37 2/3), and is second to Yu Darvish in strikeouts (Darvish’s 49 to Buchholz’s 39). No AL pitcher with 30 or more innings pitched has allowed fewer earned runs.
“Yeah, things are going right right now,” Buchholz said. “When a ball’s hit, even a hard ball, it seems like it’s right at somebody. That doesn’t happen like that all the time, so you have to savor it while it is.”
“Past couple of years I’ve been a slow starter. It feels good to get out there and following up spring training with a little bit of confidence and not feeling like there’s anything that I have to fix.”
It’s foolhardy to suggest that each Buchholz start brings with it the electricity that Martinez brought to the ballpark, or the potential for greatness each time Clemens took the hill, but in these early stages, he’s become appointment viewing.
In 2004, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez went 6-2 combined during the first month of the season. In 2002, Derek Lowe and Martinez went 7-2. Bruce Hurst and Clemens went 8-0 to begin the 1988 campaign. Buchholz and Lester have combined to win more April games than three of the best Boston one-two punches over the last 25 years.
Lester can make it an even 10 with his start in Toronto on Tuesday, which would cap off as an impressive start to a Boston rotation’s season as anyone can remember. But April can also tease and ultimately break your heart. It has to be noted that Boston’s 15-7 start is the team’s best since 1994 (a 17-7 April), the year of the baseball strike (Les Expos, never forget) when Boston finished the shortened season 54-61, 17 games behind the Yankees.
How that team got off to that start though is anyone’s guess. Clemens was uneven in the first month, Danny Darwin somehow got off to a 4-1 record with a stratospheric ERA, Frank Viola was a puddle before undergoing Tommy John surgery after only six starts, and Aaron Sele was the early-season staff ace, going 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA over April. If this Red Sox starting staff is keeping pace with that schizophrenic group, it’s not so risky to figure loftier aspirations are ahead.
Maybe we’ll even have the chance to mention Lester and/or Buchholz in the same breath as Clemens and Martinez. For the time being, we’ll just keep the comparisons at a whisper.
That was one disastrous evening on the local professional sports docket.
For the second time in four days, all three of Boston’s in-season teams were in action within the realm of the same hours, and if you thought Saturday was disappointing after the Celtics fell to the Knicks in Game 1 of the Eastern quarterfinals and the Bruins lost – again – to the Penguins, leaving Daniel Nava and the Red Sox to bring up the lone, salvaging victory, then, well, Tuesday had its own semblance of frustration, confusion, and haplessness to deliver.
In order of most concerning, the Celtics collapsed in the second half their Eastern quarterfinal series against the Knicks, and fell 87-71, as New York now takes a 2-0 lead into Friday night’s Game 3 in Boston. Pretty sure Kevin Garnett came into the game with two fouls on him already, which might be a new rule we’re missing, but his teammates were, in a word, pathetic offensively after halftime. Boston scored 23 points in the third and fourth quarters, setting a franchise low for a half, and made only seven of 36 shots.
In the fourth quarter, the Celtics scored eight points. On its side, that’s ∞, the universal symbol for an infinity of futility.
We can play the “Would they be better with Rondo” game if you don’t feel like picking up the nearest pen and stabbing it into your cornea for something less painful, but this is essentially the Celtics team that fans have been dealt. They’ll likely make it a series still, but there’s little from the first two games that gives anyone hope that this team can get past the first round. Though it was the hope in the weeks leading up to the postseason, a deep run seems foolhardy.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the Bruins continued their impressive tailspin into the playoffs with a mind-numbing 5-2 loss to the soon-to-be-golfing Flyers. In their six losses, the Bruins have scored a total of 10 goals, a sure sign of their offensive ineptitude. Seemingly every goal is a result of a scramble around the net, including last night when Wade Redden scored his first Boston goal to tie the game at 1 in the first period. Things got worse.
The playoffs begin in a week, and the Bruins are in freefall. It all fell apart last night, from the tandem of Anton Khubodin and Tuukka Rask to defensive breakdowns to…well, Zdeno Chara.
Chara’s goal on his own net pretty much sums up how things are going for the Bruins right now. Boston could have taken the opportunity to leapfrog Montreal for the division lead with a win Tuesday, but yet, the rivals remain with 59 points each, setting the Bruins up with either Ottawa or Toronto for a first-round matchup based on the current standings. Those are both pretty good opponents for the Bruins we were used to seeing for most of this season. But something is seriously wrong with this group, and based on its talent level, offensive firepower should not be a concern. Is the system broken then? Tim Thomas played mirage to many of the Bruins’ deficiencies during the Cup run two years ago. Asking Rask to do the same isn’t realistic. Maybe the approach simply needs to change in the offseason.
Finally, at Fenway Park, Alfredo Aceves gave us one of the most futile innings a baseball fan will ever see when he allowed six runs to Oakland, including two balks and a throwing error. The Sox lost, 13-0, the game called after seven innings at a damp, raw Fenway, and Aceves seemed to blame the game on everything from the strike zone to his teammates’ failure to hit behind him. The Sox did manage a measly three hits against the ageless Bartolo Colon (Stephen Drew, 0-2, .368 OPS), who is now 3-0 on the season for Oakland, but this was clearly a game in which Aceves lost whatever bit of mind he still possesses, and a possible precursor to his imminent release. With John Lackey and Daniel Bard on the mend, and after what we witnessed from Allen Webster Sunday night, is there really a need for the rumbling volcanic potential with Aceves? If Tuesday wasn’t the final straw, the man has incriminating photos of John Farrell or someone.
One night. Three demoralizing losses.
There have been better nights to be a Boston sports fan, but Tuesday brought with it a sense of doom for the Celtics season, and the franchise going forward, the Bruins’ ability to rekindle the magic of 2011, and jobs coming and going on the Red Sox, the only team of the three to lose Tuesday in the 617 area code under dark and cold foreboding skies that eventually put both teams and fans out of their misery earlier than originally anticipated.
They’ll be the first ones out of the gate Wednesday (4:05 p.m.) to try and rebound Boston from one of the worst sports evenings in recent memory.
All three teams will be back in action, in town, on the same day again come Sunday (Knicks-Celtics, 1 p.m., Astros-Red Sox, 1:35 p.m., Senators-Bruins, 7 p.m.). Mulligan.
Old buddy Josh Beckett pitched in Baltimore Saturday.
Allen Webster pitched in Boston Sunday.
One start went just as you might expect. The other provided an encouraging glimpse into the perhaps-potent future of the Red Sox rotation.
While it’s clear that Carl Crawford (.338, .427 OBP), Nick Punto (.990 OPS), and Adrian Gonzalez (1.008 OPS, and in his comfort zone now, back on a team where he’s removed from the microscope of pressure and accountability) have gotten off to hot starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers, just 8-10 thus far on the season, Beckett is now 0-3 with a 4.68 ERA after his effort against the Orioles, in which Baltimore rocked the former Red Sox ace for eight hits, three walks, and six runs over 5 2/3 innings. Beckett has won only twice since the blockbuster trade to the Dodgers last August, and only three times since last July 15, his final victory in a Red Sox uniform. He has allowed six home runs over 25 innings this season, a stat that the Los Angeles’ Times Dylan Hernandez calls his “Joe Blanton imitation.”
It hasn’t all been Beckett’s fault. In his third start of the season, he was electric against Arizona, allowing just one run over 8 1/3 innings in which he struck out nine, and the offense supporting him has been increasingly lacking. But if the last two-plus years have taught us anything, those starts are the exception rather than the rule for Beckett, the one-time ace who seemingly is content with his freefall into obscurity.
Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Webster, who came to Boston along with Rubby De La Rosa and a host of others in last summer’s trade with Los Angeles, impressed in his debut Sunday night against the Royals, allowing two earned runs over six innings of work, and topping 97 miles per hour on the gun three times during the course of his 84 pitches. In Pawtucket, the kid had pitched 10 innings over two starts and allowed only one run while striking out 12, a precursor to the excitement that percolated when the Red Sox announced that he would get the nod in the second game of Sunday’s day-night doubleheader.
Webster did nothing to deny him another start, and it’s a given that most fans would jump at the chance to plug him in again for the confounding Alfredo Aceves until John Lackey returns from the disabled list. He’s more electric than Felix Doubront, for sure, but Felix Morales’ return is also going to muddy a crowded bullpen, which could spark the end for Andrew Miller. Webster’s impressive start may turn out to be little more than a serviceable moment for the time being, unless he pitches at a level in Pawtucket that gives John Farrell and Ben Cherington little option but to utilize him every fifth day.
Meanwhile, De La Rosa has struggled a bit in Triple-A this season, posting a 13.50 ERA over 6 2/3 innings on a pitch count that will go through the end of the month. The 24-year-old was, for the most part, the more ballyhooed name at the time of the trade, but remains raw. What Sox fans were able to witness on Sunday was the very first reward from the Beckett-Punto-Gonzalez-Crawford dump; a flame-throwing starter making his first major league mark at the age of 23. Of course, the sensible odds are that you’re more apt to see him pitch down 95 more than in the Fens this season, but the potential for stardom is salivating, and his first foray with the big boys did not disappoint.
Then there’s Beckett, making $15.8 million this season and next. At the age of 33, his best days are clearly behind him, and his Baseball Reference list of similar pitchers by age reads like a who’s who of untapped potential: Chuck Dobson. Ben McDonald. Mark Prior, athletes who flirted with greatness for a short time, but were never able to hang onto it for the long term, or simply fell apart whether it was due to injury or makeup. With Beckett, it’s as little bit of both.
Even before we had witnessed what Webster might be able to deliver at the pro level, the trade was already a success, the Red Sox have ridden themselves of divisive members of a clubhouse gone awry, freeing themselves of cash, and obtaining two pitching prospects that could provide serious dividends in the near future. Never since the Derek Lowe-Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb deal have we witnessed such a coup.
Even despite the hot starts for Gonzalez, Crawford, and yes, Punto, the deal keeps getting better for the 12-6 Sox, a surprising start following a dismal 2012, and one that is highlighted by its starting pitching, which leads the AL with a 2.53 ERA, tied for the lead with Oakland and New York with 9 wins from starters, and is second overall to Texas with a 1.16 WHIP. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have been the best 1-2 punch in the league this side of Texas’ Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, and Ryan Dempster has been mostly encouraging, even without a win to his name. The fact that the team can’t find a permanent spot for Webster after what he showed on Sunday is only one more sign that points to the strength of this team.
It’s difficult to mock the Dodgers if only because every Red Sox fan should be eternally grateful for Magic Johnson and Co., looking to make a splash, only to take a bath with the ace they thought they might be landing.
They got the same guy Boston fans were all too used to on Saturday.
A day later, Boston had its first giggle over what could be many last laughs down the road.
Wednesday night at the Garden had all the emotion you could hope for.
Then, the Bruins took the ice.
Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to question the Bruins’ effort against the Buffalo Sabres in the wake of the raw display at the Garden, highlighted by Rene Rancourt prompting a sellout crowd to sing the National Anthem in unison, resulting in perhaps the most genuine and moving banner prior to any sporting event, including 17,565 presumed fist pumps as well. For the first time since Monday’s bombings, Boston had its first public gathering, and the uplifting pregame scene only added another volume to the book that details the strength and resolve of this city.
As for the Bruins, yes they picked up a point in Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Sabres, clinched a playoff spot, and leaped ahead of the floundering Montreal Canadiens for the division lead with a game in hand. Not a bad evening all around on the surface of things.
So, it’s hard to point the finger over a point they were 27 seconds away from gaining if not for the ill-timed delay of game penalty on Andrew Ference. But even with three days off, the Bruins appeared more a plodding third period team than one playing with a sense of purpose. Ryan Miller made 41 saves for Buffalo, but the Bruins made a healthy amount of those easier than they would have liked. Milan Lucic played 10:53 and didn’t have a single shot, yet another performance that had Bruins fans at a continued loss for words. Tyler Seguin and Daniel Paille each had four shots in 14:49 and 13:24 of ice time, respectively. Among forwards, neither came even close to the time Claude Julien gave to Gregory Campbell (18:32, zero shots).
But that’s really a question that has passed its prime time. I could more succinctly explain the compound mixture for JuJubees than I could what crossed Julien’s mind when it comes to shuffling lines. Much like their still-stagnant power play, the Bruins get plenty of offensive opportunities, but too often look like a mule with a spinning wheel (nobody knows how they got it, and danged if they know how to use it) with the puck in their hands. That’s why Chris Kelly’s second-period score was a bit encouraging, in that his second attempt to score on Miller wasn’t your garden-variety slap at the pads, which was otherwise commonplace on Wednesday, yet a quick lift of the puck that showed a keen awareness of Miller’s position in the crease.
Still, the Bruins’ failure to put games away in the third period is becoming a percolating concern, if not a defining epidemic.
Wednesday’s loss was the 12th time in the last 16 games that the Bruins have managed to score two or fewer regulation goals. They are 7-7-2 over that stretch which began with a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 17, days following a loss to the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins in which they held a one-goal lead late into the third.
Those Penguins come into Boston Friday night for an anticipated showdown, complete with Jarome Iginla, who jilted the Bruins last month after Peter Chiarelli acquired the forward from Calgary. Iginla has produced a 2-4-6 line for his new team thus far, comparable to Jaromir Jagr’s 1-6-7 with the Bruins, and both contests, neither of which Jagr or Iginla has been a part of, between the two teams this season have been nail-biters, with the Bruins coming up just a little short in each. Unfortunately, that seems to be a recurring refrain when Boston faces teams other than Pittsburgh too.
After the scene in the Garden Wednesday, the Bruins’ deficiencies would be easy to dismiss, if they weren’t so familiar or a harbinger.
"We wanted to go out there and win that hockey game. I'm disappointed that we didn't," Kelly said. "We wanted to give the city something to be happy about."
Even in defeat, they did. Securing a playoff spot and leaping in front of the Canadiens isn’t a bad way to spend a lost opportunity either, especially during an evening that emotionally defined the people and fans of Boston. There is no denying the passion and determination that fills the stands, whether it be at the Garden, Fenway Park, or Gillette Stadium.
With the postseason less than two weeks away, it’d be nice to see more of the same from the Bruins.
The timestamp on the email reads 2:36 p.m.
I had just finished a piece from the finish line of the Boston Marathon, where at the three-hour mark of the fabled race, runners spoke not merely of their accomplishments, but the crowd and volunteer support that drove them. There was Australia native Jodi Obourne, who wore her country’s name on her chest with pride to the cheering delight of thousands along the race route, still in the glow of fellow countryman Adam Scott's historic win at the Masters a day earlier. There was San Francisco’s Taylor Ahlgren, who had lost a bet and was forced to run the marathon in a zebra costume, as the throngs cheered him on with the moniker “Zebra Man.” There was Portsmouth N.H.’s Eric Beidelman, who helped raise more than $200,000 for the Run Tri Ride to End Alzheimer's by running the marathon.
They spoke of the crowd, mostly, and why its presence makes the Boston Marathon the best race in the world. They relayed why Boston is special among all races, the premier event on any marathon runner’s calendar, and an omnipresent “to-do” for those aspiring to be one of those navigating his or her way from Hopkinton to Boston.
I sent it off at 2:36 then made my way back to the finish line to soak up more of the atmosphere; families reuniting and elated friends celebrating.
The instant aftermath of the Boylston Street bombings was one of both immediate response and mass confusion. And that was only in the immediate vicinity. One can only imagine the disorder in the blocks and turns yet to approach the turn from Mass. Ave.
Of the 23,326 runners who started the race in Hopkinton, 17,584 finished before the race was stopped. Another 4,496 crossed the 40-kilometer mark, but did not cross the finish line, and beyond that, another 1,246 remained, either having dropped out, or stopped along the way.
Portland Ore. native Claire Carder was about a half-mile from the finish line when the 60-year-old was told her quest to finish a marathon in a 47th state would come to an abrupt end.
“They called everybody off the course,” she told The Oregonian. “It was word of mouth.”
These are the personal stories that rarely make the headlines, yet they are no less significant than the men and women who happen to run faster than everybody else. Lives and livelihood were both taken in one, swift 15-second period that has altered our mentality and approach to daily life. Again.
It may be menial in the grand scheme, but almost 6,000 people had a dream denied Monday. Their quest was halted not by weakness of their legs, but the cowardice and evil of whomever is responsible for the despicable bombings. I’m not a runner, nor do I ever strive to be, so I don’t completely get it, but it’s difficult to deny the fabric and camaraderie that makes up a running community. Hell, I’ve had to leave the room when running friends get started because I simply can’t think of anything more boring or foreign to discuss at length. That doesn’t deny a runner his or her passion and drive.
But somebody did just that on Monday.
As they were denied, so were we. Blind runners, handicapped runners, runners running for various hospitals and disease research, runners clad in ridiculous outfits, and that crazy kid running the marathon on stilts to raise money for Shriner’s Hospital. Their triumphs faded into incompletion and uncertainty, halted along the course like a herd of cows. The marathon was suddenly and eerily over. So was their quest for it.
What happens next? If you have an answer to that question, you’re lying. After I began to process the severity of yesterday to some degree, I had a flashback to that glorious summer day two years ago when a million people packed the downtown streets of Boston to celebrate the Bruins’ Stanley Cup championship. I held my then-three-year-old son on my shoulders with the only fear resulting from the teenager that attempted to pickpocket me in the middle of the dozen-deep crowd.
What if they win again? What if the Celtics, Red Sox, or Patriots win again? How can we celebrate? Will we be able to revel without the fear of Monday altering our notable celebrations? Can we let what happened on Boylston Street interfere?
What will become of the Boston Marathon under heightened awareness? We simply don’t know. We can't know. It is a bridge to be crossed at some indeterminable point as authorities continue to sift through mountains of evidence. Maybe spectators will be denied certain liberties that had become the norm, but it’s hard to imagine the determination of the athletes ever being affected, even in the wake of tragedy.
Thousands of runners had their personal triumphs swiped away from them yesterday, just one more upsetting aspect of an event that ripped open Boston’s heart, revealing both sorrow and grief and heroism and resolve.
Once I finally returned to my laptop in the media center, I sifted through my already endless email. Among the messages was a response from my finish line piece, it having finished the copy editing process and published.
The timestamp was 2:51 p.m.; one minute after the first bomb went off.
In 60 seconds, the account had changed. Thousands of lives had changed. And Boston, as resolute a town as you’ll ever see, hinged on the boundary of fear and determination.
Only one can win, and you’d damn well better believe it’ll be the latter.
Over the years, our fine friends in Sweden have given us ABBA, Ace of Base, Dolph Lundgren, meatballs, and, perhaps most importantly, Malaco, the confectionary company that popularized Swedish Fish and sour watermelon slices.
It’s time for a boycott, Boston.
Stop driving your Volvos. Skip that weekend trip to IKEA. Brew some Green Mountain instead of your morning Gevalia. The Boston Bruins’ offensive woes have become a matter of national security, and Sweden, of all things, is standing in the way.
On Thursday, the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation blocked Carl “The Yeti” Soderberg from joining the Bruins, despite the fact that the elusive forward had signed a deal with Boston earlier in the week. The release by his Swedish team, Linkoping, then the league, seemed like it would be only a matter of protocol. Apparently not.
As it turns out, Sweden wants Soderberg to play in the World Championships in May. Neat. Look, Sweden, it’s cute and all that you’ll be one of the host countries, but too damned bad. Had any of you actually watched the Bruins plod through Thursday night’s game against the Islanders as if they were skating in drying cement you’d understand the urgency of bringing the guy to Boston. You might even have some level of sympathy for the cause.
According to the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter (translated via Google): “The Board has decided this evening to Carl's outlets in the squad and we want him to represent Sweden, says Hockey League vice-president Peter Forsberg told Aftonbladet…According to the agreement we have with the NHL, there is a clause which states that a player who has been selected in the national team should not play in the NHL. It is a matter of principle for us we release on this can start an avalanche of transitions after the season, says Peter Forsberg told Aftonbladet.Defying Soderberg covenant may mean that he does not get to play future international championships.”
What is this? Sweden or East Germany?
For his part, Soderberg has already taken on the role of defiant countryman and said he won’t play for Team Sweden. According to expressen.se (again, in translation): “He has refused to coach Pär Mårts. And he has made it clear through the contract that has been developed for the transition to the Boston Bruins in the NHL. Par (Mårts) talked to him last week and I've even seen the document which Carl has written and where it says that he does not want to play in the World Cup, says Tre Kronor general manager Tommy Boustedt.”
That same article includes a Q&A with Tre Kronor general manager Tommy Boustedt:
Will Carl Soderberg banned from future games in the Tre Kronor if he goes over to Boston and NHL?
- I can not speculate because it's a race issue, but definitely he breaks the rules.It's that simple, says Boustedt.
Sad news for Carl Soderberg?
- Of course it is, but at the same time our board has a responsibility to Swedish ice hockey because there's something called precedent. It can get all dams to crack unless rules are followed, says Boustedt.
Tommy Boustedt believe that the NHL is behind the Swedish Ice Hockey Association decision.
- Sweden is in negotiations with the NHL on a new NHL contract and neither the NHL or we want the negotiations to fail. Sweden is outside North America, the largest supplier of players and they want to have a good cooperation with us and we also believe in cooperation, he said.
- I suspect that Boston would like to proceed with this and we do not expect the matter been resolved, but we are awaiting what happens.
Here’s what’s going to happen, Mr. Boustedt: Soderberg, who scored 31 goals with 29 assists this season for Linkoping, is going to catch the next flight from Sweden to Logan, and he’s going to suit up and learn to adjust his game to the smaller ice surface in time for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Get it? The Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s the one with the trophy. A big one (thank you, Jeremy Jacobs). He’s not going to play for whatever participation award you guys hand out overseas, he’s going to play for the most historic championship trophy in professional sports. Sorry he doesn’t want to play for you though. That’s gotta sting. The Sedins may very well be available pretty early on in May, though.
Obviously, this could all be resolved with a little more greasing of the skids, but it’s just downright stupid that Sweden has to make this into an international affair. The Bruins have a contract in place. Soderberg – finally – wants to play for said contract in place. And the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation is what’s holding things up? Sweeten the deal then with a fruit basket, an autographed photo of Blades, and game tape of Milan Lucic over the past 25 games just in order to convey the utmost urgency of getting Soderberg in here. You know how nobody can resist puppy slideshows? The Swedish won't be able to resist letting Soderberg come to Boston after watching Lucic for more than seven or eight shifts.
Nobody really knows what to expect from Soderberg, and frankly, it’s up in the air as to what Claude Julien decides to do with him (Claude, is it too hard to have a Tyler Seguin-David Krejci-Jaromir Jagr top line? Please? Please?) is anyone’s guess as well. But heck if Sweden is going to block him from potentially helping out down the stretch and into the playoffs.
The days of communism are over, Sweden. Soderberg is a free man, all grown up, and can do and play where he wants. Sorry. Those are the rules we play by here in America, land of the free, or have you not received the memo? Sorry he doesn’t want to play for you, but keep trying to force that issue. I’m sure things will work out splendidly.
And so, just as it has been since 2007, when the Bruins acquired his rights for Hannu Toivonen, Soderberg will be a Bruin. Someday.
Vancouver clearly isn't over losing the Stanley Cup.
The following tweet was sent out Thursday night by Northlands Golf Course, a course located in the metro Vancouver area.
That, of course, is the hit Anton Volchenkov laid on Bruins forward Brad Marchand during Wednesday night's game in New Jersey. Volchenkov received a four-game suspension Thursday from the NHL, while the Marchand, an agitator who has drawn the ire of the rest of the league, is out indefinitely with what the Bruins deemed a "mild concussion."
Sweet offer, Northlands.
The golf course soon deleted the tweet.
After 794 games, 820 if you include the postseason, the most transparent falsehood in Boston sports will come to an end Wednesday night, weather permitting, and it will come wrapped complete with a rousing apathy.
The Red Sox’ sellout streak, a longtime farce perpetrated by the front office as a means of winning some sort of popularity contest that only it cared about, is finally over, barring any last-minute 7,000-ticket purchase from the Sox’ pals across the street over at Ace Tickets. But that’s not going to happen. The lie will mercifully come to an end on a drizzly evening at Fenway Park against the Baltimore Orioles.
Does anybody outside of 4 Yawkey Way care? In the least?
Of course, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino will predictably pander to the masses by telling the fans what a sense of pride they should have in one of sport’s longest-standing periods of packing the house. The embedded are already defending the streak, arguing that the “distribution” of tickets shouldn’t be a factor in determining how fake the sellout boast truly was. The Red Sox will tell those who doubt the genuine nature of the streak that they simply don’t understand the wild intricacies of what constitutes a “sellout.” Silly mortals.
I mean, call me stupid, but if you walk up to the box office during the game, have your choice of seats, and even better, are instructed to take the tickets for free, calling that game a “sellout” is a bit of a dubious approach. But much like the Liverpool-NASCAR-LeBron dynamics, I'm clearly too daft to comprehend the complexities of such remedial explanations by the Red Sox.
“I can understand the confusion,’’ Sam Kennedy, the team’s executive vice president, said last year, when a Globe report proved the much-ballyhooed pride of the team to be a complete fabrication. “But we operate by a definition that is commonly practiced throughout Major League Baseball and professional sports.’’
Ah, yes, the “distribution.”
Look, nobody is telling you anything new by saying that the sellout streak was a lie that rolled over from year to year. Who knows when the streak actually ended, but my guess is sometime around 2008. If that’s the case, we’ve been strung along on a fib for five years by the powers that be, which may seem a small matter, but in the grander scheme, it sort of makes you wonder where else the falsehoods have come from. Like Carl Crawford was a baseball decision, and not the result of a focus group survey.
But the good news is that it’s finally over, even if nobody cared about it to begin with. Sure, Larry, Tom, and John will clink champagne glasses in the owner’s box tonight to celebrate the wool held over the crowd’s eyes, but when the attendance is announced over the loudspeakers, the fact that the game is not a sellout should go over with about as much reaction as a harmless first-inning pop-up. But you know, the Red Sox being the Red Sox, there will be some urge to recognize the streak and have the fans give themselves a round of applause, giving glee to the gullible and nauseating the majority with common sense.
No longer do we have to hear about it. No longer do we have to mock it.
Gone will be the days when you couldn’t secure a ticket to a Red Sox game without paying the exorbitant fees over face value thanks to the legalized scalping that has infiltrated nearly every ticketed event this side of high school homecoming games. Red Sox fans still pay the highest prices in the major leagues, but for the time being, it is they who are having their way with the secondary market, where many prices remain below face value. Call it a little nugget of sweet revenge, if you will.
The fans, after all, are the ones who have finally won. Fed up with being insulted, lied to by the Red Sox brass, and hoodwinked into inferior marketing ploys, Boston fans delivered their message, and thus put an abrupt end to what Lucchino and Kennedy held so dear, for whatever reason.
Fans never had pride in the streak. Fans were fed up by it, forced to turn away from going to the ballpark thanks to skyrocketing prices and the “scarcity” of tickets. Where exactly is the pride in that?
The 2013 season has already begun with the most likeable Red Sox team in years, and it continues with an acknowledgement long overdue. Hallelujah.
Goodbye, sellout streak.
As much as you might want to tell yourself otherwise, it’s not really difficult to choose a favorite Fenway opener.
There was the 1992 opener when a handful of us skipped our senior year high school classes (sorry Mrs. Dougal) to wait in line on Yawkey Way for standing room tickets. One of us accidentally dropped our sunglasses on the field during batting practice, and Brady Anderson tossed them into the stands haphazardly instead of simply handing them back. Frank Viola got rocked, lasted only three innings, and the Red Sox fell to the Orioles, 8-6. I also purchased the cassingle for XTC’s "Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" at Strawberries. Big day.
I was in Boston University’s journalism graduate program in 1999, when I made the last-second decision to skip afternoon classes and ran around the corner, purchasing a single grandstand seat just in time for pregame introductions. Troy O’Leary homered twice, and Bret Saberhagen got the win as the Sox shut out the White Sox, 6-0. Later in the evening, my girlfriend (now wife) and her roommates made fun of me for going solo. I think they were watching “Suddenly Susan” or something at the time.
One year earlier, it was the infamous Good Friday opener, when the Red Sox deemed the sale of beer unholy, leading to an early-morning onslaught of the bars and taverns in the immediate area, all open early for suds relief. We made it through the eighth, and the return of Dennis Eckersley, but with the Sox down 5-2, made the ignorant, youthful decision to fight for a cab earlier rather than later. It was only when our ride pulled up to our Medford digs, and we saw our neighbors across the street high-fiving each other that we learned what had happened.
“Mo won it with a grand slam,” they exclaimed.
“We were just there,” I whined.
“Well, you [expletive] up.”
To date, that may have been one of the greatest Opening Days that Fenway Park had ever witnessed, even I didn’t. But clearly, nothing will ever top 2005, when the Red Sox received their World Series rings, and Mariano Rivera tipped his cap to the crowd, a genuine, unscripted moment that even the lame Terry Cashman couldn’t ruin.
Isn’t that perfect? For all the pomp, circumstance, and Broadway-style shenanigans the Red Sox brass continually insist to top themselves with when it comes to the home opener, the most memorable image came in a split-second of self-effacing humor from the enemy. Rivera may have forever endured himself to Red Sox fans for his performance in the ’04 ALCS, but that day showed a mutual respect that crossed the Evil Empire boundary. No home opener, at Fenway Park, or the future yard on the waterfront in 30 years or so, will ever top that day.
The game that afternoon was an afterthought, but Tim Wakefield was nails in shutting down the Yankees in an 8-1 win. Dougie went deep too.
In 2011, the Red Sox came into their Fenway Opener seeking their first win of the season after The Best Team Ever started the year 0-6. Down 2-0 in the bottom of the first, Dustin Pedroia defiantly hit a 1-1 pitch over the Wall in left, and rounded the bases with a determination we haven’t seen since…well, last week? Is that too hyperbolic?
It’s been nearly two years since there was a baseball product worthy of getting excited about in Boston, and though it’s only been a week, these 2013 Red Sox seem to have captured a certain percentage of the rooting population if only because of their approach to the game. That’s not to mean the way they work the count, pitch effectively, or navigate the bases, but if you saw the reaction to Koji Uehara’s dominant escape in Toronto Friday night, you saw something we haven’t seen here in some time: An excited group of players that seemingly have each other’s backs, playing and – gasp – enjoying baseball.
Yes, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor character to point out six games into the season, and of course, re-building chemistry was a primary mission for Ben Cherington in the offseason. But to see it come together so quickly and seem so genuine at this stage speaks to something. I don’t exactly remember the 2003-04 Red Sox bonding this immediately, if only because they themselves weren’t quite sure what or who (hello, Jeremy Giambi) they were.
These guys may not know “what” they are, but they may already have the “who” part down pat.
Fenway Park opens for its 102nd season Monday with the Sox taking on the Baltimore Orioles in what will likely be the final game of the long-standing, duplicitous “distribution” streak. It will be a new beginning on Wednesday evening, when a less-than-capacity crowd will be announced. Sox brass will pop champagne for the moment. Nobody else will care.
Not so for the product. Six games do not make a season, but fans are falling in like with this team, a difficult hurdle to propose after the disaster of 2012. Indeed, there may be hope after Bobby V.
Monday will be a home opener much like dozens upon dozens of others at Fenway, an anticipated afternoon that will likely be forgotten by the masses somewhere along the way. But maybe it’s your first. Maybe your Mom or Dad kept you out of school for the day so you could attend. Maybe you’re leaving work on a whim right now to see about grabbing a last-second ticket.
Opening Day in Boston is always worth it. But every single one will play second fiddle to Mariano. No over-the-top production can ever beat authenticity. And after two years of bloated cartoon characters, maybe the team has finally picked up a little bit of that trait as well.
Jaromir Jagr’s latest role may be savior of the Bruins’ power play woes (has a man-advantage that netted one shot on goal ever been as impressive as Boston’s first go-around with their new acquisition Thursday night against the Devils?), but in his homeland Czech Republic, he plays many roles for Sazka’s lottery campaign, including fire chief, pizza delivery guy, and Santa Claus. The above clip has to be the finest of the bunch, as a very happy Jaromir is hoodwinked into attending a birthday/bachelerotte party of some sort. Oh, Jaromir.
The pizza spot is a close second…
…as is his role as a super hero on the prowl.
They’re going to have to update this one with two new sweaters. It’s a pensive Jagr, though.
I’m not going to guess how much Jagr got paid for these 20 seconds of sleeping, but it’s probably worth every penny.
A very tired Santa.
More Saint Nick: Here’s Jagr dressed up as Santa in a commercial of good tidings overseas. Bonus points for the creepy-sounding narrator.
During his time with the Rangers, Jagr also lent his funny bone to some humorous spots in New York.
This kid never learns.
Your move, Boston ad agencies. We need more.