Bruins shed Flyers — and a burden
Must the Bruins keep playing? Why spoil this glorious moment? It’s not going to get much better than this, at least until the fans see the Stanley Cup being carried around the ice.
Round 2 is over. With last night’s convincing 5-1 triumph before 17,565 enraptured followers at TD Garden, the Bruins swept the Philadelphia Flyers out of the NHL playoffs.
Revenge is theirs.
Retribution is theirs.
Peace of mind is theirs.
A year ago, the Bruins suffered the most humiliating loss in their history, blowing a 3-0 series lead and a 3-0 lead in Game 7 at home to the Flyers. One year later, they have crushed the Flyers, outscoring them by a hefty 20-7 margin. This would seem to balance the scales, would it not?
“I hope so,’’ said Boston goaltender Tim Thomas, the team’s unquestioned most valuable player in the first two rounds of the playoffs. “You keep hearing about last year, and you have to ignore it to be able to do what we just did, winning this series. But to be honest, I’m glad it’s over . . . because the longer that series would have went, the more talk about last year. So, I’m glad that it is put behind us as a team, and organization, and the fans. I’m glad the fans can put it behind them, too. And I’ll say it, hopefully exorcising some demons.’’
The Bruins made the fans sweat a bit, entering the third period tied at 1-1 after a Brad Marchand giveaway had led to Kris Versteeg’s tying goal at 13:22 of the second period. But the third period belonged to the home team, starting with a Johnny Boychuk blast past Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at 2:42 and ending with Daniel Paille’s empty-net tap-in at 19:35, at which point the unofficial Boston sports anthem, “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,’’ had been playing ceaselessly over the PA system for about three minutes.
The playoffs had begun on a very negative note when the Bruins dropped Games 1 and 2 at home to the hated Montreal Canadiens. At that point, history was hardly their ally. They were constantly reminded that no Bruins team had extricated itself from an 0-2 hole, and never mind the events of a year ago, a disaster whose details appear to be known by every man, woman, child, and pet in the Commonwealth.
And now they have won eight of their last nine games and are heading to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1992. This is precisely why sport is so vastly different from entertainment. You have to go out and play the game, and for the last two weeks the Bruins have been playing their best hockey of the year.
Save for that one Marchand gaffe, it was all good for the Boston Bruins last night. They started the evening with a stop-the-presses moment by scoring an honest-to-goodness, five-on-four goal, something that hasn’t happened since gas was under three bucks a gallon (well, almost). And a thing of beauty it was, too, as the puck was expertly passed from Bruin to Bruin before Milan Lucic took a pass from Nathan Horton and slipped it into a nice 3-foot gap to the left of Bobrovsky at 12:02 of the first period.
Thomas was not being overly taxed. The Bruins were the clear aggressors. Halfway through the second period they had an 18-9 shots-on-goal advantage, and that doesn’t begin to tell the story, as there were 10 or more bullets that whizzed either left or right of the goaltender.
But all it takes in hockey is one goof to turn things around, and that is what happened when Marchand lost the puck to Mike Richards and Versteeg made it 1-1 at the conclusion of the ensuing two-on-one rush with a nice move on Thomas, who really had no chance.
You can imagine the fan angst as the third period began. Losing this game would have been intolerable. But Boychuk relieved the pressure with a mighty blast that sailed over Bobrovsky’s left shoulder.
“When it went in I felt relieved,’’ said the 27-year old defenseman, whose shot is second on the Bruins only to Zdeno Chara’s in terms of velocity. “The forward was coming at me very hard. I just shot a knuckler.’’
Watching from the other end of the ice was one very grateful goaltender.
“I was very happy, but I tried not to get too high because there was a lot of time left,’’ Thomas said. “I didn’t want to have that exhilaration, and then that crash. But I was very happy that it was Johnny Boychuk. He’s been great for me all year.’’
The dam-burster came with a tick or two more than five minutes remaining. This time, it was Philadelphia’s turn to lose the puck. Matt Carle gave it away to Horton, who has come alive at the most propitious juncture of the season. He held the puck, waited for Lucic to get a head of steam, slipped the puck to the rugged forward, and watched as Lucic sent one past Bobrovsky to make it 3-1.
Now Thomas could relax.
“When Looch scored the goal with five minutes left,’’ Thomas said, “I let myself just a little start to, not celebrate, but start to think, ‘Hey, this could be it; we could win this game.’ ’’
Marchand scored an empty-netter at 18:04, if Thomas needed any more convincing.
There’s a lot more hockey to come, starting with an Eastern Conference finals series with Tampa Bay.
But that can wait. The Bruins need to savor the fact that they have just annihilated a team that ruined their lives 12 months ago. Who could put a price on that?