Hard work begins again
It starts anew.
The fun part is over. Last year is last year. If you’re a fan, you can relive and relive and relive all the good stuff from 2010-11 as long as you care to. But if you’re a member of the Boston Bruins , you know very well that there is no rubber stamp mechanism, and in case you had forgotten, the TD Garden scoreboard served as a reminder.
Philadelphia 2, Boston 1. You’re in last place, guys.
“You just saw it,’’ said Dennis Seidenberg. “Back to reality. We are the hunted now. It will be extra tough this year. We will have to be on our game. But in the end, it will make us that much tougher.’’
It was a reality check, all right. Leading, 1-0, on a power-play goal by Brad Marchand with less than a minute to play in the first period, the Bruins were hit with two goals, the first a Claude Giroux power-play strike at 19:10, and the second, a total stunner, a spin-o-rama swooper by Jakub Voracek with 2.4 seconds left on the clock.
Neither team scored again.
Until then, it had been a festive night. The well-orchestrated pregame ceremony rated a 9-plus on a scale of 10. Including members of the 1972 club was a good touch, and you can never go wrong by reminding people that once upon a time there was a brilliant center on this team named Milt Schmidt, who led his team to a pair of Stanley Cups before he and many of his mates went marching off to war. Let’s just say that the banner ceremony delivered the goods.
“Another one for the memory bank,’’ agreed Tim Thomas. “You’ll remember it forever.’’
“It was great to be on the ice with those ’72 guys,’’ said Andrew Ference. “Just to be in their company.’’
And it looked as if there was some emotional carryover as the Bruins dominated play in the early stages, moving to a 1-0 lead on a play that might very well find its place on any conceivable 2011-12 highlight reel.
It was a spectacular collaboration featuring Tyler Seguin and Marchand, the former springing the latter with a long diagonal bullet pass, and the latter rechanneling his May and June expertise with a nice finishing touch to get the puck past Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
And it was even a power-play goal!
That came at 9:42. Who knew that would be the last high note of the evening?
“I thought we had a pretty good start to the game,’’ pointed out captain Zdeno Chara. “Towards the end of the first you see that we lost the jump, and that carried over into our second period, and that was probably our worst 20 minutes.’’
“I think we lost a little of that spark,’’ observed Ference.
The Bruins would have four more power-play opportunities, so there was nothing to complain about on that score. There were a few ooh-and-ahh, “how-did-that-not-go-in?’’ moments. But they could not get the puck past Bryzgalov again.
There was nothing disastrous or apocalyptic about what went on last night. The Bruins are mortal. They just got beat.
Yes, I said mortal. Opening Night is as good a time as any to alert the fans that winning the Stanley Cup featured massive amounts of skill and good fortune. The Bruins won it, fair and square. They won three Game 7s, and that alone ensures them a nice little spot in Stanley Cup history. But, please, don’t get carried away and, please, don’t expect too much.
The fact is the Bruins weren’t that much better than many other teams. It was that kind of year.
How tightly bunched were the NHL playoff participants last year? It may very well have been the case that had all the first-round pairings been produced by a random drawing, the ensuing series could have been just as competitive and exciting as the ones we had by the standard 1-8, 2-7 etc. pairings we always have. Remember how harrowing the Canadiens series was? The Bruins were not that much better than anybody else, which is not to say they didn’t deserve to wind up with their names on that Cup.
And there is little doubt that no other team would have celebrated with the same, shall we say, vigor. The Bruins certainly enjoyed their summer.
Now I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the preseason prognostications, but nobody’s picking them to repeat. Washington is the chic pick to come out of the East, and there is also good support for Pittsburgh. San Jose remains immensely talented in the West, and there are even people willing to overlook Vancouver’s disturbing tendencies.
The Bruins? Nah. One-hit wonders, they say.
The 2011-12 Bruins may not be so much the hunted, as Seidenberg suggests, as they might be the disrespected. In the eyes of many competitors, the Bruins were a bit fluky. This year, people would like to set the record straight.
The Bruins are well aware of this, and they are not delusional. They know how their names became etched on that Cup, and it wasn’t by playing Fancy Dan hockey.
“There’s a lesson we should take from this,’’ said Thomas. “We know that lesson, because it was hammered into us last season. It’s not going to be easy. If we want to repeat that success, we need to find a way to bring that blue-collar work ethic to the rink every night.’’
Some nights that’s not going to be enough. Some nights you mess up just a wee bit, you lose control for a minute, and you wind up paying a heavy price. What better night to be reminded of your mortality than the first night of a long, long season?