After all the Bruins have been through this season -- the injuries, the inconsistency, the offensive impotence, the tepid response to L'affair Matt Cooke -- they still have the opportunity to advance the cause on Causeway street, to make us feel that they're headed in the direction of Stanley Cup contention, instead of a disappointing U-turn to mediocrity.
The Winter Classic doesn't have to be the high-point of hockey in the Hub in 2010. Hope can spring anew for the Bruins and their loyal fans.
All it takes to restore the faith and alter the perception of a season that started out with Stanley Cup aspirations and predictions (thanks, Sports Illustrated) -- but is nearly certain to end short of hoisting Lord Stanley's hallowed hardware for the first time since the Nixon presidency -- is a few lucky bounces.
The first is needed tonight in the NHL Draft Lottery, also known as the Taylor Hall-Tyler Seguin Sweepstakes. Thanks to the Phil Kessel trade with Toronto, the Bruins have the Maple Leafs' first-round pick and an 18.8 percent chance of pulling down the first overall selection for the first time since they drafted Joe Thornton No. 1 overall in 1997.
The Bruins desperately could have used Kessel's 30 goals this season -- a mark that no Bruin came close to reaching -- but the pain of Kessel's absence is greatly eased by the fact that Toronto finished the season with the second-worst record in the NHL and under the NHL's loser-rewarding lottery, that guarantees that Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli will bring home no worse than the third pick.
This is a deep draft headlined by two bona fide franchise forwards in Hall, a high-scoring left wing, and Seguin, a slick center, that could boost a Bruins' attack that couldn't find the back of the net with a GPS (league-low 196 goals) at times this season. The home loss to the Florida Panthers on April 1 comes to mind.
Imagine adding Steven Stamkos to this Bruins squad? That's what could happen if they get the opportunity to draft Hall or Seguin. Even if they drop to No. 3, Chiarelli could make like Dealin' Danny Ainge and dangle the draft pick for some proven talent and a franchise facelift.
No one will remember how the Bruins finished or where they finished if they end up with a franchise player.
However, winning a round of the playoffs would certainly go a long way toward making us Spoked Believers for 2011. And the sixth-seeded Bruins got the best possible first-round matchup by drawing the Buffalo Sabres.
The Bruins have a margin of error that is thinner than Kate Moss, which means if they're going to win a playoffs series for the second time since 1999, goalie Tuukka Rask is going to have to be a Black and Gold barricade.
Luckily for the Bruins, that's pretty much what he was this season against the Sabres, going 4-1 with a 1.43 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage.
The Bruins went 4-2 against Buffalo this season and it was Tuukka Time in each of the wins.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that Buffalo was ninth in the NHL in goals scored, and if you watched one moment of Olympic ice hockey you know that Sabres goalie Ryan Miller is the best in the world right now.
Plus, in two of the games that the Bruins beat the Sabres, it wasn't Miller time; Patrick Lalime and rookie Jhonas Enroth got the call in between the pipes. Like us, both of those goalies will be spectators for this series.
In the four games Miller did play against Claude Julien's club, he was 2-0-2 with a 1.71 GAA and .947 save percentage. One of Miller's losses was in a shootout and the other was in overtime on a tip-in by Patrice Bergeron. The Vezina Trophy candidate never allowed more than two goals in a game against the Bruins this season.
But that doesn't make him all that different from a lot of goalies. This figures to be a low-scoring series, and with a few breaks, the Bruins can beat Miller and the Sabres.
Both games the Bruins lost to the Sabres were by a goal, and while Buffalo does have a balanced offensive attack no one is going to confuse the Sabres with the Penguins or Capitals.
If this Bruins team with more grit and spirit than skill and skating and without its best player (Marc Savard) wins a round of the playoffs, then they deserve a round of applause.
If they don't, then it's okay. As long as they don't bungle the draft.
If they lose both the playoff series and the opportunity to jump-start the franchise via Toronto's draft pick ... it's called Bruins.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.