Wrapping Up A Great Stanley Cup Final (And Some Reflection on The Overall Boston Sports Landscape)

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The immediate aftermath of the Bruins’ game 6 giveaway to the Blackhawks was so strange. I had no urges to set all my Boston sports gear on fire. There were no chairs or couches kicked across the living room. And I barely even thought about lining up four shot glasses to try to erase the painful memories.

Of course I thought about the missed opportunity. And I was definitely kicking myself for daydreaming earlier on Monday about eight Boston Championships over 11 years. But there was a weird sense of being able to immediately step back and appreciate an incredible Stanley Cup Final, and an even more impressive Boston Bruins season.

This might be an unpopular thought in Boston, but it sort of feels like a gut-wrenching loss in the Championship round is a right of passage for this current installment of Boston athletes and their fans. We’ve had three Patriots Super Bowl victories, but also those two unthinkable losses to the New York Giants. We got Celtics banner #17 when the new Big Three was assembled, but no one’s forgotten how close they were to #18 when they fell to the Lakers in game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. And while the Red Sox haven’t lost in the World Series during this extended run of Boston sports success, their game 7 losses in the 2003 and 2008 ALCS belong in the same miserable category.

So now it’s the Bruins turn.

Are you one of those people who can filter out the missed chances when thinking back on this ridiculous run that started in February 2002? Or are you going to remember David Tyree and Mario Manningham’s catches, Ron Artest’s three-pointer, and Aaron Boone’s home run more than anything? (You’re right, no one will ever forget Boone’s home run. That moment is not erasable. And no, I would never link to that clip in a blog post)

Maybe part of the reason this Bruins loss will bring a shorter grieving period is because it was never about anything more than this particular Stanley Cup Championship. It wasn’t about anyone’s legacy or needing another banner to win an argument over another city’s fan base. Every time the Patriots’ season ends short of a Super Bowl Title now, we can’t help but think of Brady and Belichick needing just one more to solidify their places atop the all-time quarterback and coaching ranks, respectively. And another Larry O’Brien trophy for the Celtics is always needed to stay ahead of the Lakers.

LeBron James got all of two days to enjoy his latest NBA Championship before people were talking about how he needs a few more if there’s ever going to be a real comparison to Michael Jordan.

In hockey they don’t talk like that. Think about everything you’ve read and heard about the Bruins and Blackhawks over the past 10 days. It was all about the hockey. There were no sideshows. No talking about how badly one star needs to get the monkey off his back. There was no Spygate, no PEDs talk, no flopping or referee conspiracies, and no former or current murder suspects on either team. Every bit of analysis concerned matchups on the ice or strategic line-shuffling by the coaches.

Am I the only one who finds that refreshing?

Even if I kind of do hope that a report surfaces this summer saying the entire Chicago team was more doped up than Lance Armstrong before a leisurely ride through the Alps.

A few more notes before I put an amazing hockey season in the rearview mirror:

  • It took me about two hours last night to go from stewing over the disappointment to throwing myself into fantasy football analysis. Just like an athlete turning the page to focus on the next game, we can’t harp on this too long or else we’ll be missing out on the next sports priority.
  • We’re spoiled as Boston fans. We get to turn our attention to a surprising 1st place baseball team and a perennially contending football team (Aaron Hernandez drama notwithstanding).
  • Since you may not have taken a step back recently to do the math on this 11 year run, I did it for you. Boston teams have won seven Championships in that time (3 Patriots, 2 Red Sox, 1 Celtics, 1 Bruins). Those teams have also combined for four Championship round losses and six more Conference Finals round losses. That means 17 times in just over a decade our teams have been on the doorstep of winning it all (or a step away from the doorstep).
  • The odds are against that kind of success happening again. I hope you were paying attention.
  • Looking on the bright side of this Bruins letdown…we can all start acting like normally-functioning humans again. We can wash our lucky shirts (they were becoming as firm as cardboard due to all the dried up beer, pizza sauce and tears on them). We can shave our playoff beards (and some of us can even knock down our playoff afros). And we can cut our lucky playoff lawn (heard a rumor that fans in Chicago and Boston were letting the grass in their yards grow for good luck….so random)
  • People will naturally point to games 4 and 6 as missed opportunities, but don’t sleep on game 1. Remember, the Bruins took a 3-1 lead with just under 14 minutes left in the 3rd period. A win in game 1 means the Bruins would have taken a 3-0 series lead eventually if things played out the same otherwise.
  • Of course if things had really played out the same after that, we’d be talking about how the Bruins have to win game 7 on Wednesday to avoid the crazy choke job of blowing a 3-0 series lead.
  • This is the first time in my life that I’ve felt the need to congratulate the opponent and their fans after a Boston loss.

Just a great series that hopefully we’ll look back on fondly even though our team came out on the wrong end.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy a new Patriots hat so I have something to set on fire when Tom Brady falls short of Super Bowl #4 in about seven months.

A Rivalry A Decade In The Making: Guest Blogger Breaks Down The Stanley Cup Finals

[Editor’s Note: One more time, guest blogger Nkilla is delivering all the bloggy goodness of the Stanley Cup Finals matchup. He sent me this preview with less than 8 hours to go before the puck drops for Game 1. You’ve probably read plenty of previews about this series already, but what’s one more? You know you’re looking to kill some time before you convince yourself it’s acceptable to crack open a beer and turn on the TV anyway.]

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Well here we are, the Stanley Cup Finals. Two of the original six teams (and two of the last three Cup Champions) going head-to-head to lift arguably the best trophy in sports. Before we break down the rivalry and breakdown the matchup, let’s take a quick look back at the Conference Championships.

Boston defeated Pittsburgh 4-0. As you can see from my previous post, I fully expected the Bruins to advance to the Finals, but I did not think they would dominate Pittsburgh the way they did in this series. In games one and two, Pittsburgh decided they were going to try and play Boston’s style of hockey: very physical. Boston totally dominated both games, Pittsburgh started up the goalie carousel, and the series was basically over. Some may argue that games three and four were one goal games that could have gone either way, which is true, but both those games were dominated stylistically by the Bruins. They were not final scores of 5-4, but rather 2-1 and 1-0. Also, Tuukka Rask and the Bruins defense gave up a total of two goals the entire series. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had a total of zero combined points in the series. Again, complete domination by the Bruins.

Chicago defeated Los Angeles 4-1. Admirable title defense for the Kings. In order to beat Chicago though, they were going to need a fairly healthy team and for Jonathan Quick to steal them a couple games. Neither happened. In retrospect Quick played so well to steal the series against San Jose that he had to have a little let down against Chicago. As for the Blackhawks, Corey Crawford outplayed Quick in this series and the offense got more than enough goals to advance fairly easily. A dominant, quick performance for the Blackhawks which is probably exactly what they needed coming off the long series against Detroit in the previous round.

And now onto the rivalry. And I’m not talking about the Bruins vs the Blackhawks. I’m talking about me and Rmurdera against our friend Todd. I’ve been friends with Todd for at least a decade, and Rmurdera has been associated with him for six or seven years. Todd is the Chicago fan equivalent of me and Rmurdera. He loyally follows all the teams from Chicago, he has well-formed and informed opinions, but also the occasional irrational opinions and emotions. [Editor’s Note: If I’m not mistaken, during game 5 of Chicago’s first round series against Phoenix last year, Todd watched the entire 3rd period and overtime with his pants pulled down because it was “good luck.” So I can back up Nkilla’s claim that Todd is as irrational as us Boston fans.]

Todd doesn’t have to go running out for Blackhawks gear for himself and his kids for the next two weeks because he just jumped on the bandwagon…he already has everything he needs. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, Todd did not celebrate. He said something along the lines of “who the fuck cares, I’m a Cubs fan.” Again, a true sports fan and a loyal Chicago fan. You can understand why we became friends.

So anyways, Rmurdera and I have been waiting for Boston to face Chicago in a championship round for several years. Up until now Todd has always been able to say “Super Bowl 20” which stings a little, but is also pretty dated. In the grand scheme of things, there isn’t really any hatred between Boston and Chicago. I actually have no ill-will towards the Blackhawks unless they are playing the Bruins (this could all change in two weeks). Now that the Red Sox have two championships in my lifetime, I hope the Cubs fans get theirs someday. This is all to say that the banter between myself and Todd will be of the “fun-loving” nature, as opposed to the “murderous nature” that exists when Boston goes head-to-head with New York for a title, or any time Chicago plays Green Bay or Minnesota. Since the Red Sox playing the Cubs in the World Series would be a sign of The Rapture, and by the time the Bears rid themselves of Jay Cutler, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s career might be over, I’m glad the Bruins and the Blackhawks are finally giving us a very meaningful Boston/Chicago title bout.

OK, enough about our somewhat awkward “tough love” style rivalry with Todd. Let’s breakdown the series. One very important note: Due to the lockout, the Eastern Conference and Western Conference did not play each other at all this year, so we have no idea if there was a huge disparity in talent between the two conferences or not. This is somewhat of a wild card heading into the finals and makes all comparisons a little less certain.

Important: Goaltending. It may seem obvious that goaltending is going to be important in the Stanley Cup Finals, but that doesn’t mean I should just ignore it. I think at this point we know we’re going to get above average to outstanding play from Tuukka Rask in every game. With a few more games like the way he played against the Penguins, Rask can make himself the defining player of these playoffs. (Side note: Do you think Peter Chiarelli wishes he rushed onto the ice and signed Rask with ten minutes to go in game seven of the Toronto series? Or was it twelve minutes left?) What are we going to get from Corey Crawford? Do we get the Crawford who outplayed one of the top three goalies in the world in the previous round, or do we get the Corey Crawford that can be shaky at times?

Not Important: Home Ice. Both these teams have proven they can win anywhere and that crowd noise/taunting does not bother them.

Important: Physicality. Boston wants this series to play out almost exactly like their series with Pittsburgh. Play very physical, hope Chicago tries to match their physicality, and in turn Chicago forgets how potent their offense can be. This is not to say Chicago is not physical, but they will want the physical aspects of the game to be an ancillary story rather than the determining characteristic of the series.

Not Important: Special Teams. Both teams’ penalty kills are awesome, and both teams’ power plays suck. And by “suck” I mean both teams should check the rulebook to see if declining power plays is allowed.

Important: Coaching. Somewhat related to the physicality point. Both coaches need to remind their teams to play their style of hockey and not get sucked into the other team’s style. The Bruins need to dump the puck into Chicago’s zone and chase after it. Chicago needs to get their defensemen (and therefore their forwards) flying up the ice with the puck and staying out of the extracurricular physical altercations that Brad Marchand and company will try and suck them into.

Not Important: Coaching. Not a typo. In terms of X’s and O’s both coaches and their staffs are great. And both coaches have won Cups with their respective teams. So from a tactical point of view there is no advantage.

Most Important: Forechecking. This is the biggest factor in the series as far as I’m concerned. Chicago’s defense is very fast, very big, and very offensive-minded. You could argue that two of Chicago’s top four offensive players are defensemen. When Chicago is clicking offensively their defensemen are carrying the puck out of the zone and starting the offensive break. The Bruins forwards need to get the forecheck going all series. They have to make it so that Chicago’s D is sick of getting hit in their own zone, are turning pucks over, and most importantly making Chicago’s forwards come back to help on defense, which slows the entire offense down. A daunting task, but fear not Bruins fans as this is what the B’s do best when they are playing well. If the Bruins’ own defensemen are feeling comfortable in a game, it is really, really hard to score on them. Chicago’s forwards have to create a steady forecheck to tire out the Bruins defense, create some turnovers (the Bruins are not shy about turning the puck over in their own end when they are under duress), and get better looks at Rask. Not an impossible task, but do Chicago’s forwards want to commit to this? It’s easy to imagine the Bruins’ top two lines sacrificing goals for a good defensive play because that is what they do every game. Do you think Patrick Kane, Andrew Shaw, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp want to commit to that style of play for six or seven games? They might, but I think it’s the less likely scenario. Sorry Todd (and his fellow Chicago fans), Bruins in 5.

[Editor’s Note: One of the many reasons why I like having Nkilla do these predictions is because I find it pointless and impossible to get an accurate read on two hockey teams. For instance, every expert in the world said that in the Eastern Conference Finals the key was for the Bruins to stay out of the penalty box, you know, because Pittsburgh had such an amazing power play. Well the B’s didn’t stay out of the box, but the Penguins’ power play was a complete non-factor. I said it would take a minor miracle for the Bruins to advance over the Penguins, but that four-game sweep looked more like a precise surgery than a miracle. Therefore, I’m abstaining from making a prediction. I will continue to grow my good luck afro and wear the same Bruins t-shirt that has helped them win 9 of their last 10 games. I’m just trying to do my part to make sure the dominating Boston sports run continues.]

The Boston Comeback That Made Almost All Of Us Look Like Fools (With a Big Assist From Twitter)

I’m sure guest-blogging extraordinaire Nkilla will be along later today with his Round 2 preview of the NHL playoffs, but it would be irresponsible of me not to post some disjointed, incoherent thoughts about what went down in Boston last night.

-I don’t care how spoiled Boston fans have been since the Patriots’ 2001 run. We were all thinking the exact same thing as last night’s 3rd period creeped closer and closer to the 10-minute mark: “Son of a bitch, we’ve been tricked again. This team is no different than last year’s gigantic disappointment. Only 115 days til football starts, thank the Lord.”

-God damn Twitter and Facebook. In the old days, I would have just told the person I was watching the game with that the Bruins were frauds, had no heart, should fire their coach before the final whistle…and then I could have denied it all after the comeback. Now my naysaying is all over the friggen web for eternity.

-Just imagine if Twitter was around during the 2004 ALCS. I can’t even fathom the type of hate I would have been spewing at the Red Sox after that 19-8 game 3 debacle against the Yankees in Fenway.

-Or even worse, imagine if they had liquor as tasty as Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey back in 2004. Dangerous.

-Here’s a sampling of some of my Tweets and Facebook posts that historians 100 years from now will be laughing at as they put together a complete history of my life:

  • “1 of 2 things happens in this game: Bruins lead by multiple goals the whole way, or I chug Jack Daniel’s Honey for the next 3 hrs” (No exaggeration whatsoever. I severely underestimated how much I’d need so during the first intermission I sprinted to the store to re-load on the Honey. Best move I made all night.)
  • “I would tell Lucic to take the sweater off and exit the building right now if I were Julien. Awful, Nice season B’s” (In my defense, this was written the moment after Toronto scored their third goal, a goal that only happened because Lucic, having beaten Phil Kessel to the puck in the corner of the Bruins defensive zone, decided he wanted to make contact with Kessel more than grabbing the puck and clearing it out. It was an inexcusable play in my mind. As for the “Nice season B’s” comment, remember that they were now down two goals with 18 minutes to go and had scored all of three goals in the previous 162 minutes dating back to the start of game 5. I don’t think it was so wrong to write them off here.)
  • “Choking away a 3-1 series lead when 2 of final 3 games were at home is greater than or equal to a baseball team losing 9.5 game lead in Sept” (Fine, this one was a major exaggeration. Of course losing a lead like that in baseball when all you have to do is win 8 out of your final 27 games is worse than losing three straight hockey games.)
  • “I’d bet on Titus Young Sr getting signed by Patriots over Bruins coming back in this game” (And I’d still make that bet if the situation came up again. Remember, three total goals in 162 minutes and they needed three in less than 15 minutes!)
  • “I refuse to stop tweeting about the Bruins demise…It might just be the thing keeping them alive” (Rule #1 of debilitating superstitions: If good things start to happen while you’re behaving a certain way, don’t you dare change that behavior. My negativity just might be the thing that saved Boston’s season. I accept thank you’s in the form of paid writing jobs or straight up donations to the “Keep Ross Unemployed Fund.”)
  • “The Bruins treat playoff series like I treated college papers” (Pretty self-explanatory. Slack off until it’s so close to the deadline that you have a stress-related ulcer and then do just enough to not get kicked out of school/the playoffs.)
  • “So, New York, we meet again” (I don’t know this Rangers team, but I don’t care. They’re from New York. That’s all that matters.)

-I want to talk to someone who left the Garden when the Bruins were down 4-1 or 4-2. Not to make fun of them (Lord knows I was thisclose to changing the channel to watch the other game 7 going on at the same time), but to hear them express their feelings as they were driving out of Boston and realizing what was happening. Must have felt like a kick squarely to the testicles.

-Logic says the Bruins don’t get out of the 2nd round. Not only did they get outplayed in 4.5 of 7 games against the Maple Leafs, but they continued to lose key guys throughout the process…Andrew Ference, Wade Redden, Dennis Seidenberg. Good thing they have a guy who annually ranks as the best defensive-minded forward in Patrice Bergeron because they might just have to ask him to line up on the blue line if things keep going this way.

-You can never feel confident when two of your defensemen are a 19-year-old rookie (Dougie Hamilton) and a guy with nine total games of NHL experience (Matt Bartkowski).

-But there’s apparently no place for logic when it comes to the Boston Bruins and playoff hockey in general (as evidenced by the fact that the number 2, 3 and 4 seeds in the West bowed out in Round 1, along with the number 2 and 3 seeds in the East).

-As far as I’m concerned, Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien should grab a couple scrubs from Providence and sub them in for Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin for the rest of this playoff run. They are invisible. Marchand has all of three total points (all assists), ranking him 99th out of all players in the playoffs. But hey, he looks like Gretzky compared to Seguin….one point, an assist. There’s literally no one Julien can put in for them that will hurt the team more than they’re already hurting it.

-Bruins went 1-2 against the Rangers this year, but the two losses were as close as can be…one in OT and the other in a shootout. So there’s hope, I guess.

-Not that I would ever root for a triple-heart attack game again, but this just might have been the thing that gets my girlfriend legitimately interested in the NHL Playoffs for the rest of her life. I’ve been trying to tell her for the past week how amazing game 7’s can be, mostly because I wanted her to be OK with me hogging the TV for every possible hockey game, but now she’s going to think every game 7 is as crazy as last night’s. If that’s what it took, then I guess I’m glad it happened (Maybe her interest will stay with only the Bruins…she didn’t seem too thrilled this morning when I told her round 2 starts up immediately with two games tonight).

-I haven’t heard every sound byte from last night yet, but the leader in the clubhouse is Tuukka Rask saying “You’re either a hero or an asshole.” The Bruins seem to have a handful of both.

-Going forward I’ll make a deal with the Bruins. You play 60 minutes a game as if you actually care about winning in the playoffs, and I’ll stay away from prematurely writing your obituary on Twitter.

Should We Predict the NHL Playoffs’ 1st Round Winners or the Most Entertaining Series? How About Both?

[Editor’s Note: Two months ago I wrote about the Boston Bruins and how they were quietly becoming Boston’s most consistently competitive team. This is probably surprising to nobody who knows me and my sports jinxing history, but since I posted that article on February 25th, the Bruins have won 17 games and lost 16 games. Not really the dominant trajectory my article put them on. When it comes to sports not named football, you’ll notice my blog posts are typically limited to ball-washing my Boston teams. I don’t usually write anything about the going-ons outside of the New England area. But that doesn’t mean my readers don’t have a thirst for more balanced sports coverage. Therefore, I’ve invited back a guest blogger who regularly abandons his husbandly and fatherly duties to watch more sports than you or I could imagine. He’s here to break down the NHL playoffs in his no-nonsense, marginally humorous style. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the only blogger in internet history to write 10,000+ words about something called the “Euro Soccer Championship”….Mr. Neil “nkilla” Gariepy.]

Your favorite guest blogger is back! I know what most of you are thinking – if I am blogging, then there must be some sort of obscure sporting event coming up that I am going to try and get you to pay attention to. Well, if you consider the NHL “obscure” then you are correct…it is time for playoff hockey. For those of you that are not NHL regular season regulars, it is time for your annual “jump onto the NHL bandwagon”. No more shootouts, lots of sudden death overtime drama, and teams building up genuine hatred for each other as each series moves to the next game. [Editor’s Note: Someday Neil will learn to link to certain YouTube clips to support his claims, but for now I’ll give him an assist (pun intended!). If you want to see what Neil means by genuine hatred, just watch the first two minutes of THIS CLIP from the Penguins/Flyers playoff series last year. I promise it’s worth it.]

There are eight first round, best-of-seven series. I’ll go ahead and rank the eight first round series from least exciting to most exciting so if you have an actual life and can only follow two or three series you should probably use this blog post as your guide.

8. Chicago v Minnesota – This should be a quick series, a 1-seed vs 8-seed matchup where the 8-seed has very little chance for an upset. Chicago was the best team in the Western Conference, and Minnesota is probably the worst of the sixteen teams to make the playoffs this year. During the regular season Minnesota lost two out of every three games against teams that eventually made the playoffs. For you gamblers out there, Chicago -360 to win the series is not a horrible bet; I expected it to be more around -800. Chicago to sweep is +400. Also, my friend Todd is at -2000 to puke after reading the last paragraph and realizing I just jinxed his team.

The Pick: Chicago in 4


7. Pittsburgh v “Brooklyn” – Another 1-seed vs 8-seed matchup where the 8-seed probably has very little chance of winning. The difference between this series and the Chicago series is that the Islanders will have a nice little underdog story about them that everyone in America likes to root for. The Islanders last made the playoffs six seasons ago, and they have not won a playoff series since 1993. Their current team is built around 22-year-old-star-in-the-making John Tavares and a bunch of cast-offs from other teams. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh was arguably the best team in the league this year, winning four out of every five games against eventual playoff teams. It is almost impossible to root for Pittsburgh unless you are from Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby is way too whiney for most of us and then there is Matt Cooke. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Cooke’s work, go ahead and google “Matt Cooke Cheap Shot.” One of the video compilations is titled “Matt Cooke Cheapshotting History.” It is almost four minutes long. And it is from 2009. If you can find the 2013 version with four more years of footage, it is probably twelve minutes long. [Editor’s Note: Interesting that this time Neil even tells you how to google the right video in order to see Matt Cooke’s cheap shots, but still doesn’t link to the video. As much as I hate doing someone else’s work for him, here you go]:

The Pick: Pittsburgh in 5


6. St. Louis v Los Angeles – This is the 4-seed vs 5-seed matchup in the West. St. Louis is the better seed here, but LA had a slightly better record against eventual playoff teams in the regular season. Most people are predicting a close series with LA prevailing in six, or St. Louis winning in seven. So why would I rank this as the third worst series of the first round? Well, LA won The Cup last year, brought almost the same team back to defend the title, and started the season off with a little bit of a residual hangover from all the celebrating. In the last month or so they have been getting back to form, winning games and moving up the standings. Also, they went 3-0 against St. Louis this season. I think this is one of those series that goes five or six games but seems like it was a sweep. Gamblers, LA at -120 to win this series is not a horrible bet, no need to get tricky by picking the right number of games.

The Pick: Los Angeles in 6


5. Anaheim v Detroit – Bit of a compelling storyline here. Many view Detroit as “old-blood NHL” and Anaheim as “new-blood NHL.” Detroit had to struggle to make the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive year whereas Anaheim stayed just behind Chicago most of the year and locked up the 2-seed in the West.  This series may very well go all seven games, and we will probably be treated to a couple overtimes as well. The reason this series is not higher on the list is that there is almost no history between the two teams and not a lot of household names on either team. Gamblers, Detroit to win the series at +125 or “the series goes 7 games” at +165 are probably your two best moves, but neither are recommended.

The Pick: Anaheim in 7


4. Washington v New York – I know what most of you are saying – “This is the worst ranking blog ever. How could one of the league’s most marketable players, Alex Ovechkin, playing against the New York Rangers in the playoffs just be in the middle of the pack for entertainment value?” Well, the problem is one of these teams is not good, and the other is really, really bad. The Rangers are the 6-seed and are basically “Minnesota of the East.” They only won 37% of their games against eventual playoff teams, and only five of those wins came in regulation. They are the “not good” team mentioned above. Washington did not beat a team in regulation that eventually made the playoffs until April 9th. When everyone was saying Washington was the “hot team” about a month ago, it was because they were beating up on their horrible division. Ovechkin vs New York still carries some weight, but I have a feeling this is a short series.

The Pick: New York in 5


3. Boston v Toronto – Shocking confession, I’m a huge Bruins fan/homer, but the following paragraph is in no way a reverse jinx. This Bruins team is a little too much like last year’s team  for my liking. Looked like the best team ever assembled for the first half of the season, played .500 hockey for the second half of the season, got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by an inferior Washington team. Meanwhile, people in Toronto like hockey more than any fan base likes any sport in the world. And Toronto is in the playoffs for the first time in eight years. The worst seats for the home games in Toronto are going for $2000. According to Vegas, Boston is a 2:1 favorite to win this series. Most experts are predicting Boston in five or six. I just don’t see it. Toronto is going to be so jacked up for every home game with a completely bonkers crowd. Toronto was slightly better than Boston during the regular season against eventual playoff teams. Both teams are original league members, physical, and are going to bring it. I think first team to lose a home game loses the series. This should be a very entertaining, long series.

The Pick: Toronto in 6


2. Vancouver v San Jose – San Jose, the 6-seed in the West, actually had a slightly better record than 3-seed Vancouver against eventual playoff teams. The teams are pretty evenly matched although Vancouver was not able to beat San Jose in the regular season. Both of these teams have had lofty expectations over the past eight years and neither have been able to bring home The Cup, and now one of them is getting knocked out in the first round. Both fan bases are knowledgeable, so there will be a great atmosphere at each game. Vancouver always seems to bring some team drama with them into the playoffs…you never know when the goalie carousel might get going with them, or when Alex Burrows might bite someone, or when the Sedin Sisters might admit they are not only sisters but also lovers. This has all the makings of a long, intense series. For the gamblers, being able to get San Jose at “plus money” (currently +105) to win this series is very good value.

The Pick: San Jose in 6


1. Montreal v Ottawa – Any time two Canadian teams play a long series against each other the intensity gets ratcheted up eh. Montreal is the 2-seed in the East and Ottawa is the 7-seed, but these two teams had basically identical records against playoff-qualifying teams in the regular season eh. Also, they split four games during the regular season eh. So we have two Canadian teams eh, that are very evenly matched eh. A series that is probably going seven games eh, and again all the games will be taking place in eh Canada eh. This may not have the high profile players of some of the other series eh, but the intensity and location should make it the best series of the first round eh. Eh.

The Pick: Montreal in 7

For the record, Neil picked four upsets in the first round, two series to go seven games, only one sweep, and somehow managed to squeeze in “eh” 11 times in the final paragraph.

Wake Up Boston: The Bruins Are The New Patriots & There’s Still Time to Jump on the Bandwagon

Being a diehard sports fan isn’t a skill or a talent. It’s an investment. For the most part it’s simply an investment of your time, but every now and then you’ve gotta dip into the wallet and make a financial investment to properly keep up with your team.

I live in LA, but I bleed Boston sports. Unfortunately for me, following my teams isn’t as easy as tuning the TV to NESN. We have to pay a ransom to watch Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics games out here. When I bought the Major League Baseball package last April, it was easily one of the worst investments in my life. That’s the risk I run every year when I ponder the benefit of sinking my money into one of the sports packages. The Red Sox were such a disaster last year that I was basically done watching them by August 1st. And you know what? I haven’t decided yet if I’m buying the MLB package for the 2013 season. It’s sad that Red Sox fans are even considering not forking over the money this year, but that’s how pessimistic we are about a franchise that’s been more drama than baseball over the past 18 months.

Buying the NHL package like I did four weeks ago is on the opposite end of the spectrum. There is little downside in investing in the Boston Bruins right now. I’d go so far as saying at this current moment in Boston sports, the Bruins are as sure of a bet as the Patriots.

Here’s my disclaimer before you continue reading: Any legitimate diehard Bruins fan can probably stop reading this article. I don’t think I’m going to tell you something you don’t already know. This is really for the fair weather fans who haven’t decided whether to jump all-in on the Bruins bandwagon. I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to hockey and basketball I am a bit of a bandwagonner. There’s only so much time in the day, and football and baseball have ruled my sports life for a long time. I realize the NHL just had its second work stoppage in eight years and hockey isn’t covered in the media as thoroughly as the other major sports, but that doesn’t take away from how incredible of a sport it truly is. And really if you’re a fair weather fan you should have been pretending to like the Bruins as far back as two Springs ago when they won the Title. Last year they rolled to a #2 seed in the East before losing to Washington in a classic seven-game series. So if you started backing them in 2011, I have no idea why you would have stepped off the bandwagon between then and now.

If you’re still having doubts, right now is your last chance. You can still get ahead of the laggards and the extreme casual fan curve and not look like a total fool after the Bruins win their second Stanley Cup of the decade (That’s not a guarantee that it’ll happen this year, but I’ll be stunned if it doesn’t happen soon).

It’s not an exaggeration to think these guys might be the “new Patriots” over the next five years. As you’ll see below, they may even be better-positioned for multiple title runs than the Patriots.

Here are some stats and tidbits that should help you understand why I’m pushing this so hard:

  • First of all, after Sunday’s 4-1 win at Florida, their record now sits at a sterling 11-2-2
  • By my count, 17 of the Bruins’ 20 regular players were a significant part of the 2010-11 Stanley Cup team. There really hasn’t been much turnover, so even if you were out on them last year, you can hop right back in without skipping a beat.
  • They have one player who’s the son of a Bruin legend. That would be Chris Bourque. How can you not root for the son of #77.
  • They’ve got a high 1st round draft pick from 2011 who looks like he’s going to be the stud they thought they were drafting. That would be Dougie Hamilton. He’s already a regular defenseman and he’s 19 years old.
  • They have their own version of Dustin Pedroia! Or is it Wes Welker? Or Rajon Rondo? Whatever it is, they have an undersized, not-much-to-look-at guy of their own. His name is Brad Marchand and he’s leading the team with nine goals.
  • They have 10 “key players” under the age of 30.
  • Their top seven point scorers so far this year are all under the age of 28. You really can get behind this team now and feel good about their chances over the next five years. They have a young cornerstone goalie, a young cornerstone defenseman, and several young cornerstone forwards.
  • Speaking of their goalie, his name is Tuuka Rask, and he’s actually not a new guy on the scene. This is his 6th year in the league and 4th playing meaningful minutes. In the 2009-10 season, he led the NHL in both goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931). If not for Tim Thomas’s resurgence over the last couple years (which I’m absolutely not complaining about), Rask would be a household name along with the best goalies in the league.
  • It’s unfair to judge a hockey team purely on a traditional win-loss record because it’s somewhat irrelevant to the standings. For the uninitiated, here’s how it works: a team gets two points for a win (regulation or overtime) and one point for an overtime loss (whether they lose in the extra period or the shootout). So it’s much better to gauge a team on the number of points they’ve captured as a percentage of their total possible points (example: This current Bruins team has played 15 games. At most they could have 30 points. They currently have 24. That puts their “points captured” percentage at .800…Still with me?) By comparison, an .800 win percentage in baseball would have the Red Sox winning 130 games in a season. That same win rate for the Patriots would give them 13 victories in a 16-game schedule. If you want to argue that this 14-game sample isn’t sustainable, I totally agree. But over the last two-and-a-half seasons, the Bruins are playing at a .640 clip. Translating that number into baseball once again, the Red Sox would put up 104 wins, or just a handful more than Josh Beckett said they’d win in 2011. My apologies for nerding out in this paragraph, but hopefully you get my point. The Bruins are damn good, and it’s been that way for a while.
  • If fighting and physicality is more your game than scoring, the Bruins roll out Shawn Thornton, Lane MacDermid, and Milan Lucic on the regular. They are all badasses, trust me (hopefully you saw Lucic absolutely bury that Panthers player who hit him from behind on Sunday). And for pure comedic value, just watch a Bruins opponent (especially a rookie) get pissed off at Zdeno Chara. There’s nothing more entertaining to me than seeing a guy on the other team get a borderline cheapshot from Chara, quickly turnaround to confront the offender, and only then realize it’s the 6’9″ Bruins captain (aka the biggest player in NHL history).
  • The Bruins are tied for 5th in the league in fights per game. Just read some of the opposing players’ or coaches’ quotes after they play the Bruins. They regularly call it “the most intense game we’ve played all year” and comment on the “physical, crushing style” the B’s play. I promise you this all lends itself to even more entertainment.
  • Yeah the lockout sucked, but the Bruins’ season just began and already they only have 33 games left. Surely you can get on board with such a short season.
  • In March, the Bruins play 17 games and will have more than one day off in between games only once. So you can count on meaningful hockey every other day.
  • Hey, it’s not all sunshine and pixie dust for the Bruins. If there’s one knock on their “watchability,” it’s that their highest point scorer ranks 63rd among all NHL players. That’s pretty ridiculous. When you’re trying to make the case that Boston is one of the best and most enjoyable teams to watch in the league, that’s a damning argument against them. But remember those three Patriots Super Bowl winning teams? How they never really had just one guy standing out on the stat sheet? And that Celtics championship team in 2008, no one averaged more than 19 points per game? And even the Bruins title team two years ago didn’t have a guy ranked higher than 39th in the league in points. What I’m trying to say is, yeah it kinda sucks not to have a Crosby or a Stamkos or one of the Sedin Sisters to dazzle you every night, but last time I checked, regular season flash doesn’t translate to postseason success.
  • And then there’s the gigantic woolly mammoth in the room: the Bruins power play. We’re now into year four of all Bruins fans asking if they’re allowed to decline the power play rather than play with a man advantage. It’s that pathetic. But if they’re going to suck on one special teams unit, at least they are far-and-away the best in the league on the man disadvantage. So even the dark power play clouds have a nice silver lining for this team.

The point of all this? Fair weather fans in Boston have naturally gravitated towards the Patriots and Red Sox over the past 10 years, and for good reason. They’ve been the more consistent contenders in their sports. But the landscape has shifted, and the Bruins are ready to take the reigns for the foreseeable future.