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'Upsets' make Stanley Cup playoffs special

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  April 27, 2010 12:04 PM

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After the sixth-seeded Bruins deep-sixed the Buffalo Sabres last night, winning Game 6 to close out their first-round playoff series, you half expected Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask to make like Kevin Garnett and throw his goalie stick into the air, while screaming, "Anything is possible."

In a Bruins' season filled with injuries, inconsistency, offensive impotency and an ignominious response, or lack there of, to a crushing, concussion-dealing blow to their best forward, winning a playoff series certainly seemed like a cause for celebration, maybe even one of Mayor Thomas Menino's famed rolling rallies.

Except in the mind of the Finnish franchise goalie and a lot of his teammates, the Bruins, who have Zambonied the rough patches in their regular season with a fresh sheet of ice and a fresh start in the playoffs, defeating third-seeded Buffalo wasn't really an upset.

"We always believed," said winger Milan Lucic, who assisted on a pair of third period goals in Boston's 4-3 series-sealing win. "It was definitely a tough road this season, for sure. I think when we were sitting at 10th at that time of the season we had a couple of team meetings to talk about 'this is the time of year for us to turn things around.'

"We knew that we had a good group of guys in here that could make something out of this season. So, the way we finished the [regular] season we had a lot of confidence, and we were able to carry that on into this series."

Really, the major surprise isn't that the Bruins, who went 4-2 against the Sabres during the regular season, won their first round playoff series; it's that they have advanced before the Celtics, who tonight against Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat will try to make it two series clinchers in two nights on Causeway Street. Of course the Black and Gold had some help from the NBA schedule makers, who seem intent on having sports fans celebrate the Fourth of July with an NBA Finals game.

But Rask was right to say that the Bruins beating Buffalo shouldn't be deemed an upset, and that is what makes the Stanley Cup playoffs one of the most enjoyable and unique postseasons in all of sports. Lower-seeded clubs toppling higher-seeded teams is a much a part of the playoffs as the post-series handshake line.

"Going into the playoffs anything can happen," said Rask. "I don't think it's an upset. I thought we played a good game. Look at our guys. We played good defense and got those chances, and you know anything can happen."

Especially in the chase for Lord Stanley's silver chalice.

The Bruins won the series because Rask (2.18 goals against and .927 save percentage) narrowly nudged USA hockey Olympic hero Ryan Miller (2.35 GAA and .926 save percentage) in net, and their special teams totally outclassed the Sabres' in the six games. The Bruins got a pair of power play goals to jump out to a 2-0 lead, and the Bruins' penalty kill kept Buffalo from scoring a single man-up goal in the series (0 for 19). So, they move on and Buffalo is swapping its hockey sticks for golf clubs.

On the same night the B's cut down the Sabres, the eight-seeded Canadiens were busy winning a Game 6 of their own, 3-1, to send the top-seeded Capitals to the brink. The seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers already got an early start on their spring cleaning by dispatching the New Jersey Devils. In the egalitarian Eastern Conference, only the No. 4-seed Penguins, who loom as a possible second-round opponent for the reborn Bruins, have advanced among higher-seeded teams.

Even the Sabres, the Northeast Division champions, didn't seem that surprised to be upended by the Bruins, a team that jumped out to a three-games-to-one lead on them in this playoff series.  

"It's disappointing," said Buffalo winger Thomas Vanek. "But you look at the parity, one through eight and every team plays a good system and has good goaltending on both sides. I think it could have went both ways, but we are on the short end of it."

Of course, the Bruins have been on the short end of this playoff parity play as well. Last year, it was the sixth-seeded Carolina Hurricanes that put the Bruins on ice in the second round of the playoffs and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

"I think anybody can beat anybody. It's unpredictable, really, " said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "The seeding is just the stats. Every year you have some upsets and you have some favorites, but if you're not ready to really work extremely, extremely hard and battle for every puck, every game, you ain't going to win four games.

"It's the toughest trophy [to win]. That's why it is. It's such a long way, and it's so exhausting to do that. You see it's only after the first round, but everybody is so beat up."

Upset or not, getting past the first round for the second straight year for the first time since the 1990-91 and '91-'92 campaigns alters the perceptions of the Bruins' season. It no longer feels like they collectively skated backward this year after leading the Eastern Conference in points last year. They have redeemed themselves, and now you can throw their seeding out the window.

If the Habs can eliminate the Capitals tomorrow, the Bruins would actually be the higher seed in their second-round playoff series and have home-ice advantage while hosting the Flyers.

If the No. 1-seeded Capitals win, the Bruins draw wanton winger Matt Cooke and the Penguins, which with Marc Savard cleared to come back from the concussion he suffered at the hands of Cooke on March 7 would make for a great pucks plot twist.

The Bruins would probably be favored against the Flyers, their Winter Classic foil, and not against the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins, but it doesn't really matter who is favored when hockey goes hirsute and playoff beards are in vogue.

"Because I think our league is much more evened up," said slick Slovakian Miroslav Satan, who potted the game-winner in overtime of Game 4 and tipped home the eventual game-winner last night. "There is not too much difference between team No. 3 and team No. 6, or 2 or 7, a few points. If you really focus in on the playoff series and are able to improve a thing or two you have a chance against higher-seeded teams."

That's the magic of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news


...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.

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