Here is a suggestion for all the Spoked-Believers headed to TD Garden tonight for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning: Leave your angst at home.
Listening to the pucks pessimists, the Bruins now trail, 2-2, in this best-of-seven series. Yeah, trail. Of course that's mathematically impossible, but that's how it feels to some after the Bruins gagged up a 3-0 second-period lead on Saturday in Tampa on their way to a disheartening 5-3 defeat.
Boston is a sports town that has always measured sports fandom in heartbreak and perversely reveled in reliving disappointment. Fellowship of the Miserable, anyone? The Bruins have taken the place of the pre-2004 Red Sox in providing the material.
Their fatalistic fans and followers are always anticipating the next calamity and playing karmic connect-the-dots between failures past and current. No soon had Simon Gagne, antagonist of last season's epic failure against the Philadelphia Flyers, put the puck past Tim Thomas in Game 4 and the references to last year's 3-0 (series lead), 3-0 (Game 7 lead) epic collapse were flowing like the taps at The Four's.
As sure as Rene Rancourt's timbre will ring through TD Garden pre-game, you can bet that if the Bruins fall behind early tonight or Tomas Kaberle continues his Dennis Wideman tribute that the 17,565 in attendance will groan with the collective disappointment of 39-Cup-less campaigns. Call it a guttural "Here we go again."
Nearly four decades of frustration hangs above the ice at every Bruins playoff game. You could feel it in Games 1 and 2 of the Montreal series as soon as the Bruins fell behind. You could feel it in Game 1 of this series when Tampa scored two goals in 19 seconds in the first period and three in 85 seconds. Once the agita from their fans starts to waft down upon them the Spoked-Bs become the Spooked-Bs.
They start playing "tight" and feeling the "pressure," words coach Claude Julien used to describe his team after the first two games against Montreal.
It's one of the reasons the Bruins have often played their best hockey away from home this season and in these playoffs. Remember that seven-game winning streak? Six of the wins came away from TD Garden. That doesn't mean the fans are to blame for Bruins losses. No way. That's a complete cop out for the players. They're professionals, but the constant caterwauling at the first sign of adversity on Causeway Street is not always conducive to success.
Uniforms aside, this is not the same Bruins team that needed a hockey Heimlich maneuver against the Flyers last spring. Eight players from that team are no longer with the Bruins. A ninth, Marc Savard, hasn't suited up since Jan. 22. A tenth, goalie Tuukka Rask, has not played a single solitary minute this postseason. Some of the ingredients are the same, but the composition is not.
These Bruins rallied from 0-2 down against the Canadiens. They've won every overtime game they've played this postseason (4-0). In two road games where they had every right to roll over (Game 4 in Montreal, where they were down 3-1 in the second period and Game 2 against the Flyers facing a 2-0 deficit halfway through the first) they fought back to win in overtime.
"Well, I think we’re a resilient team, there’s no doubt about that," Julien told the media today. "And you hear that word quite often. But we realize that we’re also a team that has given up some leads and we need to get better in that area.
"But even if we have done that, the one thing we have been able to do is bounce back. And we understand our faults and we understand where we’ve gone wrong, and the next game we try and redeem ourselves. And this team is one of those teams that's done that all year, and I don’t expect any different from them going into the game tonight."
The reality is that Tampa is in this series in large part due to Bruins' miscues. In both Lightning wins, the Bruins melted down like it said Chernobyl on their sweaters. Game 1 was a complete and total give-away with three first-period goals in 85 seconds, including a softie allowed by Thomas and Kaberle's gasp-inducing gaffe behind his own net. Game 4 featured a puck-handling faux pas by Thomas, another blunder by Kaberle and Milan Lucic setting up Gagne's game-winner with some very poor two-way play and judgment.
For all the talk of the Bruins' barren power play (2 for 15 in the series), the Lightning, who came into the series with the most power-play tallies in the playoffs, are just 2 for 14. The Bruins have sapped the juice from their man advantage, but given them too many advantages with regrettable mistakes.
"If anything, our team has committed more mistakes in this series than we’re used to," Julien said. "And we have to cut down on those. And I would prefer taking the responsibility on our team and saying what do we have to do better more than look at them, and what are they doing to us to cause those things? I think it’s really about our execution, and we’ve been able to handle that in the past so I don’t see why we can’t handle it now."
There is no reason they can't. There has been next to zero carry-over between games in this series. What happened in Game 4 doesn't doom the Bruins, neither does what happened in Game 7s of the second round in 2010 and 2009, or what happened in the long-gone Forum in 1979.
If you're going to the game tonight, you've already opened your wallet. Now, try to show up with an open mind.
...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.