I live in a hockey town. Certainly the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics are wildly popular and successful. The Sox have their own Nation and seem almost global at times. The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four seasons in this century, and the Celtics stand proud as the signature franchise in the NBA.
The Boston Bruins don't share the numbers that the Sox, Pats and Celts enjoy. A sports census would rank the B's a distant fourth in our region. But the Bruins have the most knowledgeable, passionate fan base of our local four franchises. Hub Hockey Krishnas know their game. There are no pink hats in the Bruins crowd. Everyone is there because they love hockey, they've played hockey, or they are the parents of kids who play hockey. Which brings us to the sad story of the 2011 Boston Bruins, who find themselves in a seemingly insurmountable hole as they prepare for Game 3 tonight at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
The B's are on the brink of extinction. Again. They are down 2-0 to the hated Habs, and history shows that the Bruins are almost certainly out.
It's always about history with Boston's teams. This is the 33rd time since 1929 that the Bruins have faced Montreal in the postseason, and the 27th time they have fallen behind in a playoff series, 2-0. They are 0-26 thus far. Conversely, last spring, the Bruins led the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-0, in the second round, only to become the third team in NHL history to blow the lead and the series. Worse, the B's led Game 7, at home, 3-0, late in the first period...only to cough it up and lose, 4-3.
Frustration is building on Causeway Street. The Bruins haven't won the Stanley Cup in 39 years. Bostonians over the age of 50 still speak fondly of Bobby Orr and the Big Bad Bruins, but life has changed since he, Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman, Gerry Cheevers, Derek Sanderson and friends dominated the sport, winning two Cups in three seasons. The Bruins haven't been in the Cup Final since 1990. We keep thinking that this is the year.
Two years ago, the B's enjoyed a 116-point regular season only to lose a second-round Game 7 at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. We didn't think things could get any worse until the debacle of 2010. Now this.
The Bruins finished third in the Eastern Conference this season, and ranked second in scoring in the East, but they've managed to produce only one goal in two games against the Canadiens. They fell behind, 1-0, in the third minute of Game 1, and 2-0 in the first three minutes of Game 2. Their defensemen have been sloppy with the puck and Tim Thomas -- who pretty much secured the Vezina Trophy -- has struggled and may be pulled in favor of Tuukka Rask tonight. It didn't help to lose 6'-9" captain defenseman Zdeno Chara (virus) for Game 2.
The wrath of the Bruins fans is falling on the bald pate of head coach Claude Julien, a low-pulse hockey lifer who doesn't toss the food spread or issue inflammatory quotes after horrid losses. Julien is slow to shake things up. And he's become a target for the angry fandom. He's become Grady Julien.
Meanwhile, this is GM Peter Chiarelli's his fifth season. He's spent (Jeremy Jacobs') money, made the team better, and the Bruins sold out all their home games this season . . . but all that matters now is results in the playoffs.
Here in the Hub of the Universe, we've been expecting a long, action-packed spring playoff season. The plan was to watch the Bruins and Celtics play into early June while the preseason favorite Red Sox start their march toward an inevitable 100 wins. The plan has blown up in our faces. The Sox were the worst team in baseball for the first two weeks of the season and now must to go the west coast to get themselves together. The Celtics are trying to sell the idea that they can win a championship without a starting center. And now the Bruins are setting us up for another playoff disappointment.
Bruins fans are taking their team's collapse hardest. They have waited the longest for a championship and they care most about their team. Going back to the epic fold of 2010, the Bruins have lost six consecutive playoff games. And now they are trying to do something they have never done, in a rink where they haven't tasted victory in over a year.
Once again, the hope of spring is giving way to gloom.