Who are these guys and where are the Bruins?
This wasn't the brand of hockey the Bruins' faithful had become accustomed to this season, but it was the brand of hockey they were treated to last night in a stirring 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres that now has the Bruins leading the best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series by the same score with Game 4 tomorrow at the Garden.
The momentum in the series is now wearing a Bruins sweater. Everything is coming up Black and Gold these days, a franchise that was snake-bitten and perpetually rolling snake-eyes is now enjoying a lucky seven.
Not even the most optimistic Spoked-Believer could have hoped for a week like the one the Bruins have enjoyed. The last seven days of good karma on and off the ice on Causeway Street would be enough to make even Harry Sinden smile.
It started last Tuesday, when the ping-pong balls bounced (out of) the Bruins' way in the NHL lottery, and they kept their coveted top two draft spot -- Toronto's tariff for Phil Kessel -- and were guaranteed the opportunity to draft either franchise forward Taylor Hall or franchise forward Tyler Seguin, or perhaps the hybrid of "Tyler Hall" that I overhead a man adorned in a Milan Lucic jersey talking about outside of the Garden last night.
The outrageous fortune continued with Sunday's three-goal third period to erase a 3-2 deficit and steal home-ice advantage from the Sabres. Yesterday brought the news that concussed center Marc Savard, who has battled headaches since being leveled by wanton Penguins winger Matt Cooke on March 7, is back skating on his own; Savard certainly looked and sounded like a man who plans on playing playoff hockey this spring. He was lustfully griping a stick in the locker room postgame.
Hours after Savard's feel-good update, the Bruins took to the ice in their own rink and rattled the Sabres. No small feat for this version of the Spoked Bs, which made home ice advantage an oxymoron in Boston. The Bruins had the worst home record of any of the NHL's playoff entries.
They now have won as many times in their own building this month (they closed the regular season by winning their final two homers, beating Buffalo and Carolina) than they did in the prior three months of 2010.
No team in this town needed a change of fortune more the Bruins, who have had the misfortune of being the laggard on the Boston sports scene in the 21st century.
No player on the Bruins needed a change of fortune more than Wideman, a whipping boy who was booed mercilessly his own building and became the poster boy for the underachievement and disappointment of a Bruins season that started with Stanley Cup aspirations and deteriorated to Dixie cup (one and done) expectations.
Last night, the besieged blue liner figured in both Boston goals. He blasted home the first goal for the Bruins, also his first career playoff goal, and got an assist on Patrice Bergeron's game-winner, which came off a feed from the ageless Mark Recchi.
"Obviously, it feels good to play well. Some of [the criticism] was a little harsh at times, but you don't have that if you're playing your best," said Wideman. "I went through a tough start of the year, and you just have to put that behind you. It's the playoffs, you got to win now."
A puck-lugging Murphy's Law with the plus-minus to prove it (-14) most of this season, Wideman acknowledged that the goal, which came when he took a risk and jumped up into the rush for a one-time feed from Vladimir Sobotka, probably wouldn't have happened for him two months ago.
"It probably would have bounced over my stick or I would have hit the D or missed the net, one of the three," he said.
But like his team's, his luck has changed. They say good luck is the residue of design. In this case, it's the residue of redemption.
People spent so much time booing Wideman that they haven't realized that he has shown some signs of promise in the last three weeks or so -- again like his team.
"He's playing well right now," said fellow defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who delivered the hit of the series in the second period when he trucked Matt Ellis in Buffalo's end. "Hearing the boos throughout the whole season when he got the puck wasn't really helping out. He has stepped up and is playing really well."
No one is nominating Wideman for the Norris Trophy, but let's not forget that last season he was a plus-32. That wasn't lucky. It was skill.
He was plus-2 last night and with a dearth of healthy defensemen the Bruins wouldn't have won without him. Last night, the Garden crowd that had ridden him most of the season roared for Wideman -- when he tied the game, 1-1, at 15:17 of the first period and again when he was announced as the third star of the game.
The redemption of Dennis the Menace ranks up there with any other positive pucks omen for the Bruins over the last week.
Maybe spring has finally brought a reward for the Sisyphean season the Bruins and their fans have endured. Both deserve a little good fortune for a change.
They've earned it.
...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.