Where were you, April 19, 2004?
If you were here, you should remember it clearly, an 80-degree Patriots Day in Boston that featured a slate of glorious early spring gifts aside from the weather.
As the Boston Marathon streamed through the streets and avenues of the Commonwealth, the Red Sox beat the Yankees, 5-4, taking three out of four from a four-game weekend series, sparking excitement six months before their epic October resurgence would take place. It was your typical Patriots Day fare until the Patriots made jaws drop across the region, announcing they’d pulled off a trade for All-Pro running back Corey Dillon, as Super Bowl dreams and back-to-back became a reality.
Good news was flowing as fast as the beverages of spectators up and down Beacon and Boylston, talking equal amounts of Sox and Pats as the athletic builds of friends and family whittled by in the heat. And as if that weren’t all enough to keep excited tongues busy, there was the little matter of a Game 7 to be played later that night. Summer breeze, hot Sox, a new football superstar in town, and the prospects of watching the Bruins get it together finally against the Canadiens, or risk blowing a 3-1 series lead.
It remains the last playoff game the Boston Bruins have played.
Until tonight, that is. Same opponent, same seeds, different situation all together.
There was the minor matter of a lockout mixed in, but nevertheless, tonight the Bruins will play in a playoff game for the first time in four years, which just so happens to be the longest drought in team history. Since that warm spring evening, NHL teams from storied sports outlets Tampa, Carolina, and Anaheim have won the Stanley Cup. And you wonder why the NHL is the forgotten sister of the sports world?
Not tonight. In David Krejci we trust.
Sure, the Bruins might have snuck into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, but let’s not forget it was No. 8 seed Montreal which dispatched top-seeded Boston two of the last three times Boston made the playoffs (The Habs are 23-7 all time in playoff series against the B's). So, they haven’t beaten Montreal in a playoff series since Mudhoney was still an up-and-coming artist. Big deal. It’s been nine years since the Bruins last even won a playoff series, soaring past the former Whale in 1999. Since then, their playoff record stands at 6-12 and the Patriots and Red Sox have won five titles combined. The Bruins haven’t even been to the playoffs five times in that same time period (Joe Thornton, though, has), during which the team has undergone drastic changes on and off the ice.
Then there’s the little matter of the last time Boston beat Montreal: March 3.
In going 0-7-1 against the Canadiens this past season, the Bruins were outscored 39-16, powerless against the best power play in the NHL this season, led by Alex Kovalev’s 17 man-advantage goals. And really, to expect much to change in this playoff series is foolhardy at best. Only Toronto and Los Angeles were worse at killing off penalties than the Bruins (78.6 percent). Neither team made the playoffs.
Boston may have an edge in the always playoff-overrated aspect of physicality, but Montreal, once again, is out to prove that speed kills, the same way Mike Ribeiro and Alex Kovalev did in 2004, the same way Saku Koivo and Patrice Brisebois embarrassed the Bruins in a four-game sweep in 2002. Guys like Shawn Thornton, Jeremy Reich, and Milan Lucic will be under the microscope perhaps even moreso than playoff rookie goalies Tim Thomas and Carey Price, facing the challenge of consistent forechecking, while skating the fine line of staying out of the box. Ten of Montreal’s 39 goals against Boston this season came via the power play.
Should any player be expected to come up bigger than Zdeno Chara? Will he? Will Michael Ryder drive Bruins fans as crazy as Best Actor Ribeiro did during the 2004 series (Montreal coincidentally coached by Claude Julien)? Can Marc Savard make it back from a cracked back bone? Can the Bruins win a game? Just one?
It’s strange to say a successful series would be if the Bruins manage to win one game, but that’s the reality they face here. It’s a bad matchup, one that pretty much guarantees it’s going to be at least a decade-long wait to see our local hockey club win a playoff bout. While Savard’s (who led all Bruins with nine points vs. the Canadiens this season) return is crucial if there is to be any hope, unfortunately so is that of a healthy Patrice Bergeron and we’re still not sure how much of a possibility – or intelligent decision – that is at this stage.
Look, with all the injuries they sustained this season, Julien’s crew made a valiant surge to the playoffs, and one has to wonder how they might look fully stocked heading into this series. But the Canadiens clearly hold all the cards here, having dominated the Bruins all season long, with nothing to suggest that anything will be different in the NHL’s second season.
Still, they’re being cautious north of the border:
“Hey there, folks,” writes the Montreal Gazette’s Red Smith. “I'm not trying to rain on your Stanley Cup parade. The Canadiens may have shaken the universe with GM Bob Gainey's recent announcement that since they're in the playoffs, they're now going for the Cup, but I suspect so are 15 other teams. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but trust me on this: there are a lot of good teams out there. Upsets happen.”
They do. Just not here.
And yet, we can’t wait to watch it unfold. Hey, the Boston Bruins are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, an event that happens these days as often as elections, Olympics, and 85-degree days in April. Catch it while you can.
Our pick: Canadiens in five.
CNNSI.com: Darren Eliot: Canadiens in six.
Michael Farber: Canadiens in five.
Allan Muir: Canadiens in five.
Kostya Kennedy: Canadiens in five.
ESPN.com: Scott Burnside: Canadiens in six.
TSN: Bob McKenzie: Canadiens.
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