Last night wasn't the first game of the 2011-12 season for the Bruins. It was the last stop of the 2011 championship tour, an emotional encore with a hockey game tacked on the end.
The goosebumps and chills in TD Garden last night had nothing to do with the rink temperature. The playoff run that returned the Stanley Cup to Boston was relived on the jumbo-tron, the Cup celebration was re-enacted on the ice -- replete with retired winger Mark Recchi in full uniform -- and the banner was hoisted to the rafters. It was such a feel-good ceremony that owner Jeremy Jacobs talked about "the next time we win the Cup." How times have changed.
But as coach Claude Julien said following last night's 2-1 season-christening loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, the champagne bottles are empty it's time to go home. The Bruins got caught clinking together empty glasses in one last toast. The Black and Gold get a pass for one night because last evening was all about last season, not this one.
Forget what the schedule says, Game 1 of the 2011-12 season is tomorrow night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"That was kind of a closing ceremony to everything," said Brad Marchand of the pre-game festivities. "Put that behind us now, and we want to try to do it again. We have a long season ahead of us, but now we can kind of get it under way."
What's going to be interesting about this season is to see how the Bruins respond to success. This team was the NHL's best last year, but it wasn't its most talented. It survived and ultimately thrived on hustle, grit, goaltending and gestalt. It was a team that embraced being written off instead of written up.
They started the year under the cloud of the epic 3-0 playoff collapse against the Flyers. Their best moments during the regular season and playoffs came when either their backs were against the wall or they had something to prove.
Now, everyone is telling them how wonderful they are for ending the Cup dry spell. If suddenly the Bruins start believing their own hype, convincing themselves they're the second coming of the 1984 Edmonton Oilers and gazing at their reflection in the glimmering Cup, they're in for a rude awakening and a tough title defense.
It is often lamented that the big, bad, Bruins of the early 1970s didn't win more than two Cups. It is blamed on a combination of Bobby Orr's knees, Ken Dryden's emergence and the poaching of pucksters by the World Hockey Association. But those teams soaked up their own hype and a few adult beverages in unwise quantities. These Bruins, who ran up a big, bad bar tab of their own, can't make the same mistake.
That's why you got the sense afterwards that coach Claude Julien was not all that upset about last night's loss. More important to him than the team's forechecking or backchecking was a reality check. In the big picture, losing last night might benefit the Bruins more than winning. In a Machiavellian way this was exactly what Julien wanted -- his troops to be humbled a bit and immediately see that no goals, saves or wins carried over from last season.
"This year is not about last year," Julien said.
There did appear to be a bit of a false sense of security from the Cup holders. If the Bruins were going to come out flat one would have assumed it would have been after the stirring banner ceremony. It was just the opposite. They came out flying against the barely recognizable Flyers, who jumbled their roster like Scrabble pieces in the offseason. The Spoked-Bs took a 1-0 lead on a power play strike by Marchand, who showed no ill effects from his offseason partying, 9:42 into the action.
But they fell asleep at the spoked-wheel late in the first, allowing a pair of goals in a 47-second span -- the first a power play strike by Claude Giroux, who whizzed by Marchand and towering captain Zdeno Chara -- in the final 50 seconds of the first period to head to the locker room down 2-1.
Despite four additional power play chances and a third period in which they outshot the Flyers, 11-4, the champs couldn't get the equalizer.
"We started out really strong and then things just weren't clicking as well as they were," said goalie Tim Thomas, who did his part with 27 saves. "I think we have to approach this as a lesson -- that every game is going to be hard. Yeah, we won the Stanley Cup, but that doesn't mean it's just going to happen now."
There are a lot of reasons for optimism that this team with the right attitude can be right there for another Cup.
The lone goal came on a brilliant long pass from sophomore Tyler Seguin that sent Marchand in on Philadelphia goalie Ilya Brzygalov. You can picture Seguin, who won't turn 20 until January, and the 23-year-old Marchand combining on a lot of goals if given the chance.
Picking up the helper's helper on that goal was defenseman Joe Corvo, the latest Bruins' blueliner to try to fill the role of puck-moving defenseman and power-play quarterback. Corvo looked like an instant upgrade over Tomas Kaberle. He was at ease with the puck, is a good skater and was willing to actually, you know, shoot if it came to that.
Corvo looks like a nice piece acquired by general manger Peter Chiarelli, who didn't tinker too much with his title team. It remains to be seen if that was a wise decision or a sentimental one.
The Bruins still have a long way to go this season on the road to repeating. But last night was the most important step. Now, they can put the magical and memorable 2010-11 season in their rear-view mirror.
It's Warren G. Harding-hockey from here on out -- a return to normalcy.
See you Saturday, boys, the 2011-12 season awaits.
...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.