General rule of sports: After one playoff game or series ends and another approaches, the standard mode of operation for players, media and fans alike is to immediately look forward rather than back.
But as you may have heard, there was nothing standard about the Bruins’ 5-4 overtime victory in Game 7 against the Leafs Monday. I’ve been fortunate to cover some amazing athletes and events, including the Bruins’ Game 7 win in Vancouver two years ago. And nothing was quite as fun to witness as the final half of the third period and overtime Monday night. Nothing. I mean that. I can’t stop thinking about it.
Sure, the Rangers lurk, and how is it that these two franchises haven’t met in the postseason since 1973? But that showdown commences Thursday. Until then, who can resist savoring what happened Monday just a little longer?
So here’s a hat trick’s worth of Bruins thoughts as the buzz lingers Monday, a victory in which the term “instant classic” feels like an understatement …
1. Why can’t he do that all the time? Why doesn’t he?
Milan Lucic was dominant Monday night – specifically, he was dominant from roughly halfway through the third period through overtime.
He hit everything in sight that was wearing blue and white, posted up in front of the net and battled for James Reimer‘s inevitable fat rebounds, set up Nathan Horton‘s goal at 9:42 that cut the margin to 4-2, told his teammates, “That’s one” after that score as if he honestly believed a comeback was feasible, cut the margin himself to 4-3 with 1:22 left, and continued on his wrecking-ball rampage for the rest of his shifts until Patrice Bergeron‘s eventual OT winner.
It was a tour de force, the Lucic we always want to see, playing with a relentlessness that seems as if he’s being controlled by remote by Cam Neely from the Garden’s ninth floor.
It’s as if Lucic consciously turned it on and took over at the very last moment before all would be lost. Which, of course, is both reassuring and frustrating as hell, because he should be this player all the time.
Perhaps he was fueled by a realization he acknowledged thinking about late in the game — that this Bruins team very well might have been broken up had they lost.
Whatever it was that got the likable enigma to play with that skill and ferocity when it was needed the most, here’s hoping it’s at his disposal going forward. As we were reminded Monday, with that Lucic, anything is possible.
2. I can’t think of any Bruins player whose legacy and perception was more affected by Monday’s win than Tuukka Rask.
Had the Bruins lost, he’d be known, foremost and probably fairly, as the goalie who was in net for the blown three-games-to-none lead over the Flyers three seasons ago and then blown 3-1 lead over the Leafs. The goalie who seemed to melt when it mattered. The goalie who was no Tim Thomas in the biggest moments.
Instead, rather than letting the game get away from the Bruins when it was 4-1, he gave his team a chance for its improbable rally, make a handful of exceptional saves late in the third period and early in overtime, doing his part to make sure there was at least a small glimmer of hope.
Now? Now he’s the guy who rose to the occasion when all seemed lost. Given that he seemed to face many more quality scoring chances than his counterpart Reimer and still ultimately won, the lasting perception regarding his performance in the series is that he was at his best when he needed to be.
It’s more proof that a goalie’s reputation can change in an instant, something the candid, unassuming Rask acknowledged with his now-famous postgame quote: “It’s do or die. You’re either a hero or an [expletive].”
Come to think of it, that’s such an accurate portrayal of a goalie’s existence that it should be mandatory for every netminder to have the quote engraved on his helmet.
3. There’s no one on that roster I’d rather have seen score the tying and winning goals than Patrice Bergeron. You don’t root, but … let’s just say I’m glad it was him.
The Bruins have had more than their share of legends and leaders, but few master both and become worthy of universal admiration. Bergeron is one who has. He carries the workload and responsibilities of three players, he’s a dignified and well-spoken example of how to be a professional, and he has been through so much with the concussions and the aftermath that you really have to be a scoundrel to not wish the best for the guy.
He’s a beloved Bruin already, an admired veteran at the ripe age of 27, and he’s earned all of it. It was reassuring to see him salvage what had been an unusually rough series for him (at least scoring-wise) by coming up with two goals that will be at the very beginning of the highlight reel the day his No. 37 is raised to the rafters.