Somewhere in between the third or fourth time that obnoxious NESN goal jangle sounded off last night (I can't imagine the meeting that led to this feature. "Hey, everyone hates Fox. Let's be like Fox!"), indicating another Montreal tally, the Bruins were nice enough to alert us that 2008-09 season tickets are on sale now. The message was crawling across the bottom of the TV screen, just beneath the score box announcing the Canadiens' ever-increasing rout.
Apparently they had given up, pushing next year's seats instead of the next round.
For one week, hockey mattered again in Boston. For 48 hours, it even went mainstream thanks to Saturday's electric night at the Garden, the most significant night the Bruins have had in the new building. It was a stunning series, Boston pushing Montreal to the brink after going winless against the Canadiens all season, playing with a toughness and intensity that can go terribly wrong in playoff hockey if not done properly.
But as for the hope that big-time hockey is suddenly "back" in Boston? Not so fast.
That was a taste, and you might get another one 360 days or so from right now. But if we're going to make statements about the fanaticism surrounding hockey in Boston, we're not going to assume such things over a period of 12 days. Because despite the resiliency of this team, how was a first-round playoff exit any different than 2004? 2003? 2002?
Besides showing a certain amount of "spunk," this Bruins season ended like each of the previous nine: without laying claim to a playoff series victory.
Next spring, a decade will have gone by since Boston last advanced in the NHL's Stanley Cup second season. A decade. Since the Bruins last won a playoff series, the Red Sox have won the World Series twice, the Patriots the Super Bowl three times, and there's still room on the list for the Celtics to make an appearance. The Bruins…well, they have a pulse now. Sweet.
That's not to say that in order to be at the forefront of the minds of the laissez faire Boston sports fan they need to win the Cup (only for the Sweet Caroline crowd). But to become THE team in town, for whatever period of time it might last, they need to win one playoff round for a season to be considered a success. Not another first-round loss.
There's plenty to like about this team. Budding star Milan Lucic is molding into a poor man's version of Cam Neely and Phil Kessel's fire has finally been lit by Claude Julien. Not to mention, they did this all without Patrice Bergeron.
There's plenty to build on, except that when it comes to building and holding onto positives for the next year, the Bruins upper management team has been privy to rip our hearts out with a flurry of non-moves in the summer. After watching the Celtics keep the Garden warm into June, we'll find out just how badly the Bruins want to join them next season.
While Julien proved his value with a brilliant postseason coaching job, it is repeating that leadership that will remain the challenge, particularly in a league in which coaches last about as long as a Vermont springtime. And what of the always tentative netminding situation? Is a healthy Manny Fernandez and Tim Thomas tandem realistically good enough to challenge for the Cup? Or at some point next season does the Tuukka Rask era begin?
This is no longer about feel-good stories, guts, and "spunk." It's about winning a playoff series. It's about winning the Stanley Cup, a drought that is quickly approaching 40 years.
Having something to build on is great. Actually building on it is better. And the pressure is on over at Causeway Street. Unless they want all the goodwill to go to waste, the pulse to slow, the Bruins have to understand that the foundation to a successful season is no longer making the playoffs, it's winning a first-round series. Anything less is more of the same, promoting no reason to get any more excited or put any more faith into the team than in any of the previous 10 April runs.
This one was different? Maybe, if only because of the youth involved in the run. For a few days we experienced the intoxication that a Stanley Cup playoff run can bring. But in the end, the Bruins still aren't playing into May, and that's become an all-too annual occurrence to consider Boston a hockey town again.