Since we’re nine weeks removed, it now stands as an opportune time to effectively relieve ourselves from the damning questions that still swirl around the New England Patriots and their epic gag job against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
Malcolm Butler is still never going to see a snap, Danny Amendola, Nate Solder, and Dion Lewis aren’t coming back, and Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and the rest of the Guerrero Gang are just going to have to relent and deal with the Big, Bad Bully twirling the whistle in their midst.
Yeesh. New England’s offseason has read like the epilogue to “A Prayer for the Dying,” which, if you’ve been around at all over the past 17 years, probably means pretty much nothing at all.
And so, 2018 putters along, only months after it seemed that the Boston sports landscape could really — honestly — (maybe) experience the pinnacle of American professional sports with a clean sweep of the four majors, a Grand Slam of Rolling Rallies that would cement our region as both the most successful and hated sports city of all time.
That dream died with a bloody, defensive hemorrhage against Nick Foles in early February.
But as the poet laureate Meat Loaf once squealed, “Three out of Four Ain’t Bad,” (title adjusted for inflation), which now hefts the Duck Boat onus on the shoulders of the Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics.
Except, scratch the Celtics.
Once star forward Kyrie Irving went down for the remainder of the season with his nagging knee injury, the prospects of a Bull Gang-filled spring shortened dramatically. Perhaps the Garden crew will only be on notice for the same period of time it takes Al Horford to yawn his way to thunderous applause, all with some narrowly-specific plus-minus number that appeals to his persistent defense.
Which brings us to the sage intuition of Peter Mark Roget, who, I believe, used his influence on the English language to famously coin the phrase, “It ain’t half bad.”
With one of their most eye-opening starts in franchise history in tow, the Red Sox might just be the best team in baseball, a perch backed by the strongest starting staff in the American League, a group of young talent ready to pounce on its prime, and a manager not named John Farrell. A long October is certainly a possibility, as long as David Price is kept pacified, Hanley Ramirez doesn’t forget that he’s in a contract year, and fans can start counting the number of home runs by J.D. Martinez instead of how many days it will be until the first opt-out junction in his contract.
But if there’s a Most Likely to Succeed candidate in the room, it’s probably the Boston Bruins.
Oh, forget the nature of last Sunday night’s failure against the Florida Panthers, a team that arrived in Boston with nothing to play for and ended up giving the Sunshine State the top seed in the East. The Tampa Bay Lightning will instead get to ward off the wild card New Jersey Devils, leaving the Bruins with a Toronto Maple Leafs squad against whom they managed only a 1-2-1 record during the regular season.
They say the Auston Matthews band of blades is a bad matchup for the upstart Bruins, a team that made general manager Don Sweeney look more fit for the role of Midas than Peter Chiarelli’s previous starring turn as Eddie Mush. Matthews scored 34 goals for the Leafs, only part of a frightening scoring trio that includes James van Riemsdyk (36) and Nazem Kadri (32). After the lackluster efforts put forth by the likes of Charlie McAvoy, Zdeno Chara, and Tuukka Rask last Sunday night, looking ahead to Thursday’s Game 1 of the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs might seem to some like the precursor to an avalanche of failure, something the Bruins, for all their success over the past decade, could always deliver in the form of (another) first-round exit.
While the young core of this team heads into the postseason as Las Vegas darlings (Boston is +550 to win the Cup, second behind only Nashville; +400) it is paired with a veteran mix that has delivered both highs and lows over the past eight years. Tim Thomas deservedly still gets the bulk of the credit for what happened in 2011. Rask’s resume, which includes the epic 3-1 collapse against the Flyers in 2010, a circus of blunders against the Chicago Blackhawks three years later, and the sudden flu that helped keep his team away from the NHL’s springtime party a couple years ago, has some room to grow.
The goalie has been fine this season, but when it was otherworldly goaltending that delivered the last Cup party in the streets of Boston, he still has a lot to live up to come postseason time. As do the likes of Brad Marchand (one goal in his last 26 postseason games) and David Krejci, the onetime playoff magician who has worked his craft more like the Amazing Mumford in more recent springs. Poof.
Yet this was a Bruins team that came into this season perhaps a year away, a team that some had potentially grasping onto a wild card spot in the East, not challenging for the top seed in the conference right down to the final game of the regular season. If there were reasons to doubt them then, maybe there shouldn’t be now, on the doorstep to the most wonderful hockey time of the year, despite their lackluster (1-3-1) finish in the regular slate of games.
The Bruins very well could win the title that Bill Belichick gift-wrapped to Philadelphia two months ago. They are going to stand in place of the Kyrie-less Celtics as Kings of the Spring, leaving the Red Sox with what could be a taste to come this fall.
Don’t let the nervous energy of the postseason deter your hopes. The Boston Bruins might win the Stanley Cup. The fact that we’re saying that only seven months after such a thought seemed foolhardy should be enough.
It’s not, of course.
I just hope none of the defensemen irk Bruce Cassidy between now and puck drop or it’s going to be two more months digging in the sand of reasons why he didn’t play.
Nonetheless, here’s Take Two for 2018, trying to sweep away the bad taste left in Minnesota.
Bruins in six.