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Dan Shaughnessy

Sinden has seen it before

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 16, 2008

Harry Sinden, Papa Bear in Winter, watched last night's excruciating 1-0 playoff loss to the Canadiens from the owners' suite on Level Six of the New Garden.

"Obviously, Montreal can't be 11 times better than us, but they have been better," said Sinden. "We really do play hard and we're playing with a lot of young players who really aren't quite sure how to play in this league. We're probably not in the elite of the league or anywhere near it, but we've got some good ones."

It's been frustrating for give-'em-hell-Harry to watch his team go down, three games to one, in the series. Especially since it's been there for the taking.

Sinden thinks the officials have let more stuff go in the playoffs - an advantage for his hard-working, less-skilled team.

"The standard of rule enforcement of the game has changed so much and the game had to change with it," he noted. "It appears to me that the officials are influenced by the fact that it's the playoffs and the standard of enforcement goes down a little, which is real good. Let 'em play.

"It seemed to me that if Game 3 had been played in the middle of the season, there would have been double or triple the penalties that there were.

"If it continues like that and we continue to use it, we can use that to help us. That's the non-skill area of the game, the block-and-tackle part of the game where we have a chance."

There were only four penalties (two on each team) called in the first period of Game 4. In the second period, the first penalty wasn't called until the 19th minute. But it was a costly tripping call on Boston's Andrew Ference and it led to the only goal of the night.

Harry is 75 years old now, with seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. It's been more than a year and a half since he stepped down as Bruins team president ("What are you gonna do - go until you're 100?"), but he still has a lot to say about all things spoked-B.

Here's Harry on a few Bruins notables:

Coach Claude Julien: "We've got a coach who gets everything out of this group of guys. There are two sides of coaching: tactics/knowledge and making everybody play for you. He's got that latter part down. To beat Montreal, we can't afford to have anybody take any time off at all."

Captain Zdeno Chara: "We've got a hell of a leader in Chara, but I think he's hurting right now. This rib injury. He's playing OK, but he's not as aggressive."

Goalie Tim Thomas: "In any sport, there's the quarterback and there's the pitcher and there's Garnett. We need that goalie. He's been especially valuable for this team. They know that."

Sidelined Patrice Bergeron: "Probably our best player."

Milan Lucic: "I like him an awful lot. They're right when they say he's a bit like Cam Neely. He's not as accomplished and he doesn't skate as well. But he's a combination of a physical player who has some offense. It's a very rare combination."

Marc Savard, who scored the overtime goal in Game 3: "I'm not a fan of his. He's one of these guys who has batting average but no runs batted in. You know what I mean? He gets a lot of points. He's a good player, I'm just not a fan."

The departed Joe Thornton: "We had seven years of Joe and we didn't get much. He's a good kid and everything. Again, good batting average but no runs batted in. But he's a good player and I don't want to say anything about him. Certainly, losing him took away a perception of a real Hall of Fame player on the team. He had that identity."

Sinden has been part of the Bruins for more than 40 years. He was 37 years old when he coached the team to a Stanley Cup in 1970 - back in the days when the B's were as popular as the Red Sox are today. He says he doesn't know that the Bruins could ever return to that level of popularity, but the demise of hockey interest has been tough on everyone vested in Black & Gold.

"It hurts, but there's only one way to get that back," he said. "There's a hell of a basis for this game here, there has been since the '20s, and you don't have to worry if you can do it. But as long as you're middling around - mediocrity or whatever we do - it's not going to happen."

He once famously stated that the three certainties in life are death, taxes, and the first call in the Montreal Forum going in favor of the Canadiens. In this spirit, what was Harry thinking when Jeremy Reich got tagged with the nitpick tripping call in overtime in the Bell Centre Saturday night?

"I was in Florida, with the owner," said Sinden. "It looked marginal. That's where this zero-tolerance mentality flashed through my mind. It's unnecessary. When you didn't get the whistle for such a long period of time - what was the influencing factor that made him blow that whistle?"

Perhaps the hooting for the home crowd?

"I'm not going to say it, but that's probably what it was," he said. "I've been through so many horror stories up there.

"Once I said I'd been keeping track and that in the last 40 games in Montreal the Bruins had gotten the first penalty 36 times and had more penalties 38 times. The league read it and researched it, which I didn't mind them doing, but I had just made it up. In the end, I think I was about 60 percent right. I still had the right trend."

The trend was working in favor of the B's last night until the first penalty of the second period was called against Boston. The game was settled a minute later. And that might end up being the end of the hockey season in Boston.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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