The City Formerly Known as Titletown is officially in shambles.* The past week has been something out of a nightmare, possibly one of the worst all-around sports weeks since the city began its glorious run at the turn of the millennium. To recap: the Celtics lost Doc Rivers, their best and most beloved head coach since Tommy hung up the suit in the late ’70s, when he bailed on the forthcoming years of miserable rebuilding after a painfully drawn-out and arduous courting process with the Clippers. Paul and KG are pissed and beyond their primes, Rondo is apparently the Basketball Antichrist, there’s an inexplicable chance that their next coach could be Vinny Del Negro, and they had to watch their archrival Heat hoist the trophy for a second straight year as LeBron cemented his legacy. The Patriots had two of the top young tight ends in the game…until one turned into a walking medical school cadaver and the other casually shot a couple dudes and looks to be headed to the slammer. Now Tom Terrific has exactly zero serious threats to throw to and Tim Tebow might actually be promoted from punchline to serious playing time at a position he’s never played before (gulp). The Red Sox, though still owners of the best record in the American League with more than half a season to go, have dropped four of their last five thanks to a pitching staff that includes a chronically injured ace who hasn’t pitched in two and a half weeks, an ineffective #2 who’s allowed 17 runs over his last three starts despite not making it to the sixth inning in any of them, and their fourth closer in a year and half. And last night…hoo boy, last night.
Okay, fine, I’m being melodramatic. The Bruins played an all-time classic Finals against the Blackhawks, a series so evenly matched that it was literally impossible to predict how it might end up. Remember, this was a team that has been counted out time and again this year: when they limped to the finish line by losing seven of their final nine regular season games, when they squandered away the division and fell to the #4 seed, when they had to stage a miracle comeback just to sneak by the inferior Maple Leafs in the first round. How could they be expected to compete with the unstoppable force out of Chicago? But from the first game of the New York series the Bruins got their shit together, buckled down, and played like the balanced, unselfish contender that many expected them to be before the season.
Of course, Tuukka and the defense picked the single worst time for an epic meltdown, allowing the tying and series-winning goals 17 seconds apart with just over a minute left. Yeah, a team of the Bruins’ caliber should never have lost three straight at this point with the nail in the coffin coming in front of a frenzied, roaring home crowd at the Garden (and with Rene Rancourt finishing the National Anthem with a never-before-seen QUADRUPLE FIST PUMP). And yes, we here in Boston now consider ourselves above such moral victories. “Well, we were just happy to be there, Chicago was too good, it was great that we made it to six games…” F— that. Our teams have taught us that nothing short of a title is good enough, and anything less is pointless.
But at the same time, there’s no denying that both teams staged a series for the ages. Three overtime games with one triple OT, five of the six games essentially decided by one goal (not counting the empty-netter to end Game 5), and of course, last night’s thrilling conclusion. Even as a Bruins fan, I can appreciate it. It came down to defense, netminding, and which team would make fewer mistakes. Both teams boasted excellent performances in the first two categories all series (let’s all just forget about Game 4…), and last night, Chicago dominated the third, with the Bruins failing to capitalize on several spoon-fed opportunities that could have been the difference in forcing a Game 7. However minuscule the margin, Chicago was the better team, and they proved it last night. We wish it could have ended differently, and the Bruins were certainly capable of more, but hats off to them and their opponents for reminding us why we love hockey.
And hey, it’s not like it’s the end of the road for this team (*cough cough* Celtics *cough*). The forwards in particular have long, hopefully Boston-based careers ahead of them: Bergeron, Lucic, Krejci, Marchand, and Seguin are 27 or younger, with Horton just missing the cut at 28. The defensemen are considerably older but have fully proven their effectiveness, and with Chara still the most dominant defensive presence in the game at age 36 (I’m just gonna call the last few games a fluke), the Bruins seem to have a Kevin Garnett-type thing going on there. Tuukka is 26 and just proved to the world that he’s finally, finally, taken the next step to franchise goalie and, if he keeps playing like he did the past month, possible future Vezina candidate. And only Horton and Tuukka – both of whom you can bet your ass Peter Chiarelli will bring back – and the more replaceable Andrew Ference are set to hit free agency this offseason.
So while we’re wallowing in the uncertainty of how many combined games Gronk and Hernandez will play over the next two years, or how close to his early season lights-out level Buchholz will be when (if?) he returns, or what the hell the Celtics will look like next year, or the fact that Boston teams are now 1-4 in championship series/games after starting the millennium 6-0…we can still try to appreciate what this Bruins team gave us.
*This entire blog, and the first sentence in particular, shows just how good we’ve had it in Boston. The Sox are in first, the Pats came a couple plays away from another Super Bowl, the Celtics made it to the second round without their best player, the Bruins came a game away from their second Cup in three years…and the city is in shambles???? I’m fully aware how arrogant this sounds but hey, sorry I’m not sorry. This is what we’ve become. Trophy or bust, baby. What I’m saying is – I feel you Cleveland, but I’m definitely glad I’m not you.