The Bruins are one win away from the Stanley Cup finals. A single sentence says it all.
It was wistful thinking last May after the collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a pipe dream in December. It was hopeful thinking in February. It was nigh unthinkable on the evening of April 16, after the Bruins fell in an 0-2 abyss against the Montreal Canadiens. Now, in late May it is a rub-your-eyes reality. One victory is all that separates Causeway Street's one-time lost cause from skating for the Stanley Cup.
Enjoy what is happening here. It is special. Special like the 2001 Patriots. Special like the 2004 Red Sox. (Michael Ryder as Derek Lowe, anyone?).The final result might not be the same, but the Bruins aren't just winning games. They're providing hope where there hasn't been any before. They're restoring faith to the faithless and converting hockey heretics one shift at a time. They're overhauling the sports pecking order in this area. They're reformatting a frustrating and foundering organization.
This is a pucks Impossible Dream that is about to come true.
With each postseason win -- it's 11 and counting -- the Bruins are chipping away at 39 years of trepidation and lowered expectations. They are no longer the local sports scene's punchline or punching bag. If the Bruins finish off the Lightning then the Red Sox, 2007 World Series champions, will be the organization in town that has gone the most calendar days without playing for a championship. The 2007 almost-perfect Patriots played Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3, 2008.
Last night's Saint (Tim) Thomas-inspired 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals has the Bruins on the precipice of playing for hockey's crown jewel for the first time since 1990. If all goes to plan tomorrow night in Tampa then the next game the Bruins play in TD Garden could be Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals. Certainly, Bobby Orr will be brought back to sprinkle some of his gold dust on the Black and Gold for that one.
Don't get ahead of yourself, you say. At this point you're either a non-believer or a Spoked-Believer. Count me among the latter.
Whatever psychological baggage the Bruins have accumulated over the past two postseasons has been checked and kicked curbside. That was obvious last night, when after grotesquely squandering a 3-0 second-period lead and an opportunity to go up 3-1 in the series in Game 4 the Bruins opened Game 5 by allowing a goal just 69 seconds in.
Making matters worse it was Simon Gagne, a player quickly nearing Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone, David Tyree villain status in this town, who scored the goal. At that point, the Bruins could have curled into the fetal position, cursed the Hockey Gods and instead of forechecking or backchecking, simply checked out.
They didn't. They killed off four Tampa Bay power plays, and then finally broke the seal on Lightning super-sub goalie Mike Smith at 4:24 of the second on a Nathan Horton one-timer. The unbreakable Bruins had the lead 11 minutes and 32 seconds later when Patrice Bergeron, padded his Conn Smythe trophy credentials, with a laser-guided pass to Brad Marchand, who put it past Smith.
Remarkably, they led 2-1 after two periods despite only having 12 shots on net to Tampa's 23. Thomas did the rest, including making a stop that will heretofore be known as The Save, robbing Steven Downie with an impossible sprawling stick save with 9:20 gone by in the third.
"He's making miracles," said Lightning coach Guy Boucher of Thomas. "We have to come up with miracles."
Who has crawled inside whose brain now, Mssr. Boucher?
The Bruins have shown the character traits of a championship-worthy club -- the ability to bounce back from adversity, the ability to win playing different styles and the ability to win when you don't play your best. Such was the case last night.
"It wasn't our best game. But you know sometimes it's about finding ways to win," said Claude Julien, who is silencing his critics. "That's what we did tonight, without maybe playing our best game. So we need our best game next game if we plan on winning that one."
Naysayers will point out that last night should have served as the series clincher, not a Game 6. It would have been if the Bruins hadn't seen a 3-0 lead washed away like a sandcastle at high tide. But even if the unthinkable happens and the Bruins fail to close out this series, last night proved it won't be because of the Game 4 collapse.
Any sentiment otherwise will be talk-radio-fueled revisionist history.
Game 4 was not a turning point in the series, just a brief and bumpy detour, because the Bruins showcased the resolve they've shown all postseason, putting a bad game or a bad period or bad luck out of sight and out of mind.
"Yeah, I think we've done a good job in the past of bouncing back after tough losses or uncharacteristic losses," said Chris Kelly. "I think we do a good job of parking things and realizing they're in the past and there is nothing we can do to change that and look forward to the next game."
The Bruins have moved on. It's the rest of us who cling to the past. What is it going to take for the Bruins to convince the skeptics that they're not the same old Black-and-Fold-when-it-counts?
Kelly has a pretty simple answer: "Win, I guess. That's the only way. I don't know what else you can do. Just win."
That's what the Bruins are doing. If they do it one more time then the dream lives on.
...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.