Thursday, June 16, 2011
It was a long 39 years but the Boston Bruins finally broke through and won their sixth Stanley Cup title. A couple generations of fans had never seen a Bruins championship. For many like me this was the final piece of a four-part puzzle. A lot of misery has been alleviated in the past ten years. First, the Patriots won the first championship in their 41 year history. Next, the Red Sox ended 86 years of horror. The Celtics won for the first time in 22 years in 2008 (that seems short by comparison). This year it was the Bruins turn. Boston now has 34 pro titles in the four major pro sports including one from the Boston Braves.
The 2010-11 Bruins are easily one of my favorite Boston teams of all-time. They are right up there with the 1981 and 1984 Celtics and the 2004 Red Sox. The 1988 Bruins are my favorite non-championship team. The words I would use to best describe this year's Bruins squad are: resilient, dedicated, tough-minded, strong-willed, unflappable. I could go on. They battled adversity not only during the playoffs but during the regular season. Their regular season record was a little disappointing and they lost several very tough games (3-11 in overtime) but they always bounced back. They were not distracted when the fools from Montreal wanted to arrest Zdeno Chara. They did not hang their heads when Marc Savard was lost for the season. They survived 2-0 deficits to Montreal and Vancouver. They exorcised their 2010 demons against Philadelphia. They bounced back without Patrice Bergeron in the critical Game 2 against Tampa Bay with rookie Tyler Seguin saving the season. They bounced back in Game 5 of that series after blowing a three-goal lead to lose Game 4. Most importantly, they responded like champions after their best scorer, Nathan Horton, was maliciously taken out in the first period of Game 3. Finally, they won a Game 7 on the road with the title on the line. It was a great nine months dating back to Prague and an amazing two months of NHL playoffs.
The Bruins received contributions from everyone throughout the playoffs and I can't think of a single Bruin who played poorly in the Finals. Tim Thomas was a little inconsistent at times during the playoffs but when the Bruins absolutely needed a huge effort he gave it to them. In the last eight games dating back to Game 7 against Tampa Bay, Thomas allowed only eight goals. His Game 2 peformance against Philadelphia and Game 5 acrobatics against Tampa Bay stand out above the rest. Tim Thomas may never be listed among the greatest Boston sports stars of all-time but his postseason peformance will be remembered as one of the best we've ever seen. Like Adam Vinatieri, Thomas will never again have to pay for a drink in Boston.
Thomas was the clear choice for MVP but Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Nathan Horton, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron had MVP-type performances in the postseason. Chara led the Bruins with a +16 in the post season. Dehydration caused problems for Chara in the first round (he even missed a game) but he's been nearly flawless since the second round. Patrice Bergeron (+15 in the playoffs) showed why he is the straw that stirs the drink for the Bruins. He only scored six goals but led the Bruins in shots on goal, created scoring chances, played exceptional defense and won a high percentage of his face-offs. Nathan Horton was Mr. Clutch with two Game 7 winners. David Krejci destroyed the Flyers. He had nine points in that series, two more than the entire Philly team. Brad Marchand saved his best for last. Other than Tim Thomas, he was the best Bruins player in Game 7 against the Canucks. The 5'9" 23-year-old Marchand was able to intimidate some of the Canucks veterans. Dennis Seidenberg, who missed last years playoffs with a forearm injury, was probably the Bruins most steady player in his own zone. When the opponent made a pass into slot, Seidenberg was almost always there to knock it back to safety. When the puck bounced the wrong way and Tim Thomas was not in a position to make the stop, Seidenberg was usually there to sweep it out of harm's way.
Milan Lucic did not score a lot of goals but he generated a lot of offense and created momentum. Of course, he left a lot of opponents worse for wear after being in collisions with #17. Michael Ryder was excellent in the Finals. Daniel Paille played about as well as a player can on the penalty kill. Tyler Seguin didn't play a big role in the Finals but he played the single best period of hockey by a Bruin in the playoffs (second period of Game 2 against Tampa Bay). Rich Peverly came up with a huge effort to fill the skates of Horton in Game 4. Every player chipped in at some point during the playoffs and they were all awesome in the final five games.
There were many turning points in the playoffs, starting with Game 3 in Montreal. Had Montreal scored first in that game, it may have been "lights out" for the 2010-2011 Bruins but David Krejci netted a goal 3:11 into the first period and the Bruins held onto a 3-2 lead for 15 minutes of the third period before an empty-netter sealed their first playoff win. One bounce of the puck may have been the difference between being swept in the first round and winning the championship. Another obvious turning point occurred in the third period of Game 5 against Tampa Bay when Tim Thomas made an incredible diving stick save to rob Steve Downie. Tampa Bay outplayed the Bruins in that game and stood a better than 50/50 chance of winning had Downie's shot gone in. The third major turning point came in the first period of Game 3 of the Finals when Nathan Horton was taken out by the Aaron Rome cheap shot. The Bruins were in a bit of a daze for the remainder of the first period but after hearing between periods that Horton had full motion in his extremities, they came out in the second period with a vengeance. The Bruins smacked around the Canucks for the next five periods, beating them physically, mentally and on the scoreboard (12-1). Vancouver rebounded in Game 5 but the Bruins regained the momentum early in Game 6 and never looked back. Would the Bruins have won the series had Horton not been injured? It's impossible to know for sure, but I do know that the Canucks thuggery did them no favors in the Finals.
Speaking of the Canucks ... what a reprehensible crew they turned out to be. I didn't care about the Canucks - one way or the other - when the series was set. In two short weeks, I grew to hate them. Like many people, I assumed that all of Canada was behind the Canucks. That was not the case. Apparently, the rest of Canada dislikes the Canucks and their fans. The Canucks have an interesting mix of divers, thugs and cowards. At the same time, they are very talented. They also have one of the classiest players in the league in Manny Malhotra and one of the hardest-working, toughest players around in Ryan Kessler. The Sedin twins were derisively referred to as the Olsen Twins and Thelma and Louise during the playoffs. I prefer Danielle and Henrietta. Henrik (maybe was it Daniel) allowed himself to be used as Brad Marchand's speed bag late in Game 6. I don't expect a Sedin to drop the gloves, but he should at least punch back. This is pro hockey, not figure skating. In one game, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff "turtled" so he wouldn't have to battle Adam McQuaid. The constant diving to draw penalties got so bad the refs started calling embellishment penalties on Vancouver (I wish the refs in the Montreal series had been as alert). As everyone probably knows, Alex Burrows bit the finger of Patrice Bergeron in Game 1. What man bites another man's finger? (other than Tree Rollins). Aaron Rome's vile run at Nathan Horton was easily one of the dirtiest plays I've even seen. Instead of apologizing and being ashamed, Rome was upset that he was suspended. Vancouver writer/nutcase Tony Gallagher claimed it was a normal hockey play. If the NHL made that a "normal hockey play" teams would need rosters of 300 just to get through the season. Jannik Hansen delivered a big cheap shot on Andy Ference late in Game 7. Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis knocked himself out of the series in Game 1 when he went low while checking Milan Lucic (rather than hitting him like a man). Brad Marchand responded with a similar dirty play when he ducked on a check by one of the Sedins (again, who cares which one). The Canucks then undercut Marchand in the next game. The Bruins certainly had their share of dirty play in the series but nothing compared to the cheap shots by Rome and Hansen and the biting by Burrows. Roberto "Count Dracula" Luongo made a fool of himself wondering why Tim Thomas wasn't "pumping his tires" during the series. What NHL player needs positive feedback from the other team? Luongo wilted in the three games in Boston. Don't get me started on the Green Men. I have always thought of Canadian hockey as the purest form of the sport. Men in tights don't seem to fit that image. If you believe in the idea of a "Hockey God" you knew the Canucks wouldn't win the title. A team like that doesn't deserve to have their names on the Cup.
It was not only Vancouver's style of play that made them unworthy of a title. Their actual play made them unworthy. They were outscored by 12 goals in the postseason. It's amazing they made it as far as they did. It was appropriate that the Bruins scored two fairly lucky goals in Game 7 (Marchand's wrap-around was knocked in by Luongo and Begeron's goal was not exactly a thing of beauty) because the Canucks have been winning games on lucky goals throughout the postseason. I don't think Vancouver will win a Stanley Cup with this group of players. They just don't seem "playoff tough" which is exactly how I would describe the Washington Capitals. In the regular season, when the intensity is at a normal level guys like the Sedins can excel. When the intensity is taken to the next level in the playoffs (especially in the more physical Eastern Conference), soft, finesse-only players are not as impactful. I say "finesse-only" because a guy like Patrice Bergeron is a finesse player but is also tough. Vancouver also showed their true colors by quitting in the three games in Boston. That showed a lack of heart. In Game 7, the Bruins simply wanted it more. The Canucks were totally impotent in the third period of Game 7 but that may have been as much about the Bruins physically wearing them down than anything else.
Then there were the Vancouver riots. I had no idea that they did the same thing in 1994. The riots would have happened if they had won. Montreal has rioted in the past as well. To be fair, I'm sure that most of the rioters were not hockey fans and most of the people who went to the game were not a part of the chaos. However, the video did show that a good number of the braindead idiots involved in the destruction were wearing Canucks jerseys. I was critical of Boston's small but loud "Jersey Shore" underbelly who berated Canucks fans attending games at the Garden and cheered the Mason Raymond injury. That behavior was disgraceful but doesn't come close to what happened in Vancouver on Wednesday night. On that note: Boston 2, Vancouver 0.
It seems appropriate because both the Canadiens and Canucks played a pathetic brand of hockey where diving and embellishment played a huge role. Obviously, Montreal is nothing like the rest of Canada and Vancouver strikes me as the Canadian version of either Seattle or Los Angeles. Does the rest of Canada respect these cities? If the Bruins aren't playing, I'll be rooting for Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and of course Winnipeg. At least for now, Vancouver has made my "root against" list.
A few random things:
Thank you, 2010-2011 Bruins. What a season!