Having scratched clawed, wiggled, and blustered their way into the two-month Stanley Cup festival, the Bruins now strive to see if they can last more than a week.
The smart money says: Don’t bet the ranch on it. Just making this tourney, rightly considered the least to expect from any Bruins team, was struggle enough. It’s not likely they’re up to more. Bear in mind, their combined record against three key opponents this season – Washington, Ottawa, and Toronto – was 0-11.
Nonetheless, they do get credit for summoning the spunk to save their season with a six-game win streak down the stretch. Valorous were the two most vital wins in that surge, over the Islanders and the Blackhawks, both on the road under difficult circumstances and back-stopped improbably by a back-up netminder. The wins displayed a touch of grace under pressure sorely lacking when they blew playoff spots the two previous seasons.
But is that to be all there is? Probably! This is a team in transition. You may not recognize it a year hence.
With parity gripping the NHL to near paralysis, the margin between real contenders and mere pretenders is mighty thin. The Bruins edged closer to genuine validity this season. In the end, the difference was just a couple of points, another win or two. They had a chance for more only to have their best performer this season squander it rather stupidly in a classic example of this oft star-crossed team’s historical penchant for bittersweet irony.
It was a burst of the childish pique that that was once not only acceptable but also celebrated back when this game was more colorful in a crude sort of way that inspired Brad Marchand to spear a Tampa defenseman in the gut and get himself suspended, clearly taking the wind out of his team’s sails at precisely the season’s most crucial moment.
Would the Bruins otherwise have come up with points in the final regular season’s games that would have enhanced their post-season perspective, or at least avoided entering it on such a sour note. Doubtless it’s a stupid question, but I say, “Yes”!
And it’s truly a shame, in so far as it decidedly detracts from Marchand’s fine story. Here’s a kid from the sticks who came to the Bruins totally raw, undersized, and unheralded, and bullied himself into greatness through sheer will and boundless grit. But what he did to the Tampa slug, Jake Dotchin, was incomparably dumb, given the new rules by which he well knows the game is now played. Moreover, it painfully affirmed what many have long suspected, that such wayward tendencies are a fatal flaw in his otherwise admirable make-up. In this new game, that’s a burden Marchand will find hard to shake, all of which he, however awkwardly, concedes. What a pity!
It’s hard to quibble with this no matter your feelings about Marchand or his team or how the game has changed since “the good old days.” It’s also become hard to defend incivility. But it’s equally difficult, may I suggest, to defend a capricious and arbitrary double standard. And of that, the NHL, and particularly its police department, are also profoundly guilty.
If Brad Marchand spears an opponent, hockey’s gendarmes land on him like a ton of proverbial bricks; it doesn’t matter that the victim of the attack was uninjured and missed only a couple of shifts, as was the case with Dotchin. Ah, but if Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, reigning NHL wunderkind, ends the season (maybe the career?) of an Ottawa defenseman named Mark Methot by viciously delivering a two- handed slash severing the tip of his finger, it goes un-penalized, un-investigated, and entirely ignored with those who dare even question the honor of ‘Sid the Kid’ being dismissed as impertinent.
This, old Sport, happened just a couple weeks ago. Nor did it matter that earlier that same week Crosby had leveled another opponent with yet another slash, for which he was neither rebuked nor penalized. I didn’t see that one. But it has been described by those who did as also having been vicious. If the outside world regards shining superstar Crosby as hockey’s young Lochinvar, it’s because the league gleefully portrays him “the face” of their game. But inside said game, Mr. Crosby is regarded as no Lochinvar.
There’s nothing new about this double-standard stuff. I recall vividly the evening a half century ago when Himself, Gordie Howe, ended the career of a harmless Bruins rookie named Billy Knibbs with a spearing so vicious Knibbs was rushed to a hospital with a ruptured spleen. Apparently the kid offended the Great One by looking at him cross-eyed, or some such. Knibbs never played again.
It wasn’t right then anymore than now. But back then, they didn’t have a Ministry of Good Behavior presumably policing the scene fairly, objectively, and without regard for reputation or stature.
And so we have Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, in the regular-season finale, knocking Bruins rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo out of the game, and maybe the playoffs, with a bruising check, ramming his face into the glass and if it did not seem malicious, it was heavy, needless, and avoidable, and certainly worth at least two minutes in the sin bin. But there was no penalty for the Russian superstar nor will he get a date with the gendarmes.
Had Marchand delivered that blow, would the result have been the same? It seems reasonable to wonder. So, I do!