Spent the weekend in Montreal recently, with the sad realization that a dollar in Canada is now really just a dollar, and the revelation that a vegetarian Panini is apparently considered a sub roll covered with three pounds of processed cheese. I also had the pleasure of catching a Canadian college football game on TV. That is, if youíve ever watched a Canadian college football game, you understand that my description of demeanor is simply striving to be cordial.
Of course, hockey takes precedence over everything else in town. I spent one night in a nondescript sports pub with a few dozen Canadian hockey fans (which is a little like saying liberal democrat) gasping at every move of the Montreal-Ottawa game being played on the corner big-screen, a scene replayed countless times in my many trips north of the border. Except this time, it was preseason, and a game that mattered for nothing as soon as the clock ran down.
I suppose the equivalent would be walking into the Cask some time around mid-March and witnessing a full house hanging on every pitch of a Red Sox spring training game. As big a baseball town as this is (was?), thatís never going to happen, if only for the sane approach that we understand the nature of the contest. Practice. See ya in a month.
For the sake of a useless comparison, did anyone even realize the Bruins played preseason games? Eight of them, you betcha.
Last night, the Bruins opened the home slate of 2008-09 action before a packed house at the Garden, and empty Nielsen ratings past the second period of a 2-1 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Weíre past the point of attempting to drum up hockey interest, which is either there or not for the casual sporting observer in town. But could the Bruins have gotten more of a kick in the teeth than opening up their Causeway St. schedule against the Patriots-Broncos game down on Route 1?
Look, the Bruins, in all likelihood, will never be kings in this town again. It is just an uphill climb that the team, its fans, and the current state of the NHL canít realistically expect. But after last yearís electric playoff series against the Canadiens, it might appear that good will has been sustained. For a bit, at least. Check out the results of a Boston.com survey from yesterday that asked, ďOkay, with the Red Sox officially in off-season mode, what are you most looking forward to?Ē
The Celtics: 32.4 percent
Nothing. I miss the Red Sox already!: 26.8 percent
The Bruins: 24.7percent
The Patriots: 10.8 percent
College sports: 3.8 percent
The Revolution: 1.1 percent
High school sports: 0.4 percent
Total votes: 3663
Whether that speaks to the fickle Patriots fan (who wants to bet that number spikes today after last nightís 41-7 rout?) or to the passion of the Bruinsí dedicated fan base, itís a somewhat significant feather for the Black and Gold to take with them as they plow through their early-season schedule.
The results: So far, so OK. The fact that the team already has two shootout losses to its credit through five games has to have fans shaking their heads in woeful anticipation of more of the same lame one-on-one results. And, maybe itís me, but as reasonably solid as one would expect the Manny Fernandez-Tim Thomas tandem to be in net, itís still tough to shake the way the latter looked in last postseasonís 5-0 clincher for the Habs.
Speaking of that series, imagine where the Bruins might have gone had they had Patrice Bergeron, or an ever more driven Phil Kessel, both of which the team has, a duo that added to Marc Savard, gives the team arguably its brightest trio of stars since the days of Thornton, Samsonov, and Allison. After a year of seeming confusion, Zdeno Chara started to show last season why heís worth the big bucks, and all apologies for the way head coach Claude Julien was greeted upon getting the job, for he may be the best Bruins coach weíve seen since Robbie Ftorek.
Boston still hasnít won a playoff series since 1999, a stretch that will reach a decade come next spring. But you have to start to wonder now not only if this team is good enough to make the playoffs (it is), but whether or not they have enough to win the whole thing (eh), which is how we ultimately judge teams in this town going forward until further notice. Is Thomas-Fernandez the answer at the end of the ice, or is Tuukka Rask (whoís had an OK start at Providence, thus far, allowing 10 goals in four games) going to be the Carey Price of this town before the snow starts to melt its way into playoff season?
Perhaps most imperative to keep an eye on, will a team most concerned with the bottom line take the drastic measures it may need to come trade deadline time to ensure itís not just a team that will make the playoffs, but the team to beat? With the likes of San Jose, Detroit, and Pittsburgh in the mix, that may be a stretch. But after witnessing the way these same Bruins matured seemingly overnight last April, whoís to say that adding a healthy Bergeron for the season wonít make a similar, yet more drastic leap over the course of an entire 82-game schedule?
They play again tonight, in Buffalo, with no other viewing impediment (unless youíve yet to give up on the dreadful 90210 reincarnation) in their way for the first time all season. Thatís not pleading for you to watch, for there may certainly be more compelling things to do than to catch a mid-October hockey game. But do pay a visit from time to time, wonít you? That way, you wonít have to scramble come spring when the bandwagon fills up. I'll be at the end of the bar, trying to explain the finer skills of pressed sandwiches to our Canadian friends.