Last time I spent this much energy on hockey, it came in a box like this
Tonight, playoff action begins for your Boston Bruins, and really, it couldn't come at a better time. We just found out that Kevin Garnett is probably going to be out for the duration of the Celtics' playoffs - and more on him tomorrow - and, of course, whenever things are going less than great for the Red Sox, people around here start getting cranky, justifiably or not - more on them coming soon, too. The Bruins have a chance to really seize this town's attention - for a time, at least.
Of course, it is hard to get people's attention in this town sometimes, and, you may have heard, the NHL hasn't had an easy go of it lately in general. We doubt we're alone when we say we haven't been following hockey too closely over the years. Fortunately, we know someone who has been paying attention: Globe reporter and friend of The Sandbox Chris Forsberg, who was kind enough to answer some of our novice questions. Our brief Q+A follows after the jump:
What you need to know is that the Bruins don't really have any "stars." Well, at least not ones that will have YouTube tribute videos like this one of Oates in NHL 94. The Bruins do have three NHL All-Stars -- Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, and Marc Savard. Thomas led the NHL in both goals-against average and save percentage this season, making him a candidate for the Venzina Trophy (NHL's top goalie), while Chara and Savard are the cornerstones of the Bruins revitalization after both were signed as free agents before the 2006-07 season. Chara, who set a new NHL Skills Competition record with a 105.4 mph slapshot, finished with 19 goals and 31 assists, while Savard easily topped the team in points (25-63-88) this winter.
Overall, the Bruins boasted six 20+ goal scorers, including Phil Kessel, who finished with a team-best 36 goals. Guys like David Krejci (22-51-73) and Blake Wheeler (21-24-45) -- both just 22 years old -- might not be household names, but they're part of the young nucleus upon which this team thrived. And everyone seems to love 19-year-old Milan Lucic, a 6-foot-4, 221-pound "kid" who can score and fight with equal efficiency.
Looking specifically at the Montreal Canadiens, do they have anyone we need to be aware of? Do they have a legitimate chance of knocking off the Bruins, or are we just all spooked because it seems like the Canadiens have eliminated the Bruins from the playoffs for the last 75 consecutive years (I am exaggerating slightly)?
No, you nailed it. It has actually been the last 75 consecutive years that the Bruins have been eliminated by the Canadiens. Even when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup or missed the playoffs, the Canadiens took full credit because "they invented hockey." Making Montreal just a bit more insufferable for local fans, the club is holding its centennial celebration this year and they'd like nothing more than to win a 26th Stanley Cup (despite an uneven season that saw them barely earn a playoff berth).
You'll hear plenty about Saku Koivu , Alex Tangauay, and Alexei Kovalev -- the juggernaut top line assembled late in the year to propel the Habs into the postseason. But the Canadiens are hindered by the absence of Mathieu Schneider and Andrei Markov.
Do the bleu-blanc-et-rouge have a chance at knocking off the top-seeded Bruins? Sure, especially when they've done just that -- as the 8th seed no less -- back in 2001-02. Or you might be trying to forget 2003-04, when the Habs rallied from a 3-1 deficit to top the division-winning Bruins in seven games.
The key is for the Bruins to keep their heads. Boston struggled when it lost its cool in a penalty-laden final regular-season meeting last week and Montreal has to know it can thrive with a little antagonizing of a young squad.
Are there other first-round playoff matches worth tuning in for?
Maybe if you're a hockey junkie. I'd be surprised if any of the other Eastern Conference top seeds (Washington, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh) didn't cruise in the first round (NOTE: Chris answered these questions before play begun last night, so he did not yet know about Washington losing to the Rangers). Ironically, out West, it's also the 1 vs. 8 matchup (Sharks vs Ducks) that might be the most intriguing. Can Thornton lead his new team out of the opening round, something he struggled to do in Boston?
In my cursory browsing of the blogs and boards, there seem to be a lot of skeptics about the work of the recently extended Tim Thomas. Do you think he’ll be fine?
Hard to believe that, at the start of this century, Tim Thomas was playing net for the Detroit Vipers of the IHL (three years removed from the University of Vermont) and really didn't become a regular NHL starter until appearing in 38 games for the Bruins in 2005-06 (earning time with injuries to Andrew Raycroft and Hannu Toivonen).
The biggest concern with Thomas is probably his age (he turned 35 on Wednesday). He's also a very active netminder and the Bruins went out of their way late in the current season to sort of baby him in order to keep him fresh for the postseason (leaving fans with a bit too much of Manny Fernandez for their liking).
But Thomas certainly put up the numbers to deserve the big contract and the Bruins simply have to hope he's still making those acrobatic saves at 39. (For reference, Patrick Roy -- one of the NHL's best goalies ever -- retried after the 2002-03 season at the age of 37).
Finally, be honest: how good of a shot at the Cup do you think they have?
(Channeling the Jim Mora "playoffs" voice)...
Stanley Cup? You kidding me? Stanley Cup? I just hope we can win a series.
The Bruins probably would have preferred a first-round matchup that would have been slightly less emotional than the biggest rivalry in hockey. That said, there's certainly the talent on this team to go far. Then again, Washington or New Jersey would be a tall task in the Eastern Conference finals.
I'd suggest Bruins fans temper their expectations and hope for a first-round triumph... maybe a trip to the conference finals. Anything more is gravy.
A first-round knockout, however, would be catastrophic after the success of the 2008-09 campaign. Regardless of the amount of young talent on this squad, the Bruins desperately need to get over this first-round hump.