Alright Bruins, you have our attention now.
I’m not speaking for your diehard faithful, who deserve to celebrate 10 Stanley Cups before the front-running factions that plague Red Sox and Patriot fandom enjoy one more championship.
I’m speaking for the front-runners now hopping aboard the bandwagon riding on spoked wheels with a black ‘B’ in the center.
We are the majority, even in the countless hockey havens scattered throughout New England. It’s sad to admit this, but it’s true.
We have been on this bandwagon before. Some of us spent several years on it when Orr and Espo and/or Bourque and Neely glided on the sheet on Causeway Street. But we have been alienated by years of mismanaging and underachieving, augmented by the occasional season-swallowing lockout, neutral zone trap (yawn), epic second-round choke and Jon Casey.
Oh, we kept one eye on you through the long winter, tuning in on occasion, even if it was only to see if your wacky play-by-play guy would say something that made us wince and laugh at the same time.
We were less entertained by what was happening on the ice. When we were snowed-in for a Saturday matinee, your uninspired play hardly left us wanting more. Your inconsistency from week to week was troubling. Your inability to acquire a legitimate scorer at the trading deadline either disappointed us or reinforced the belief that you’re unwilling to spend money and/or prospects for stars. We had you pegged for one-and-done or two-and-out in the playoffs, and we’d seen that picture before.
But we’re back now, B’s, thanks to your heart-stopping seven-game series with the Montreal Canadiens, where you rallied down from 0-2, won three games in overtime, including No. 7, and exposed the Habs for the sissy floppers that they were. Thanks, also, to your four-game sweep of the Flyers, where you exhumed the remains of last year’s 3-0 and 3-0 collapse long before it became a Curse of the Bambino-type ghost and made it irrelevant as quickly as you made Philly’s goalies look irrelevant.
Now it’s on to your first Eastern Conference finals since 1992 (when, as we recall, it was still known as the Wales Conference finals. What the heck happened to that anyway?)
The Tampa Bay Lightning await you. Not exactly a traditional rival, but we’ll get a kick out of the Lightning fans wearing shorts and flip-flops to the rink. Our hockey krishna friends have reassured us that the only French-Canadiens we’ll be seeing will be on the ice, so we won’t have to worry about any 65-year-old men wearing Speedo’s until we head to OOB in July.
Perhaps we should take this opportunity to get to know some of your players better. We should start with your goaltender, who is criminally under-appreciated in these parts. Tim Thomas’ story is the stuff of Hollywood — languishing in the minors and Europe until he was 28, then, finally getting his NHL shot as a stop-gap more than anything, then becoming one of the best in the league, a Vezina winner.
Yet it still wasn’t good enough for a lot of your fans and the media who criticized you for locking him up with a long-term contract and called for his ouster in favor of his understudy, Tuuka Rask. He has quieted his critics with another Vezina-caliber regular season, when he set a record for save percentage, and a sublime postseason. I don’t need to tell you he has gotten you to this point, and you will only go as far as he takes you from here.
You may lack star power, but you have other compelling stories. Patrice Bergeron, one of your best players, has made a stirring recovery from a severe concussion that could have ended his career in 2007. He’s your leading scorer in the playoffs, but our hearts sank with Saturday’s news that he suffered a mild concussion in Game 4 against the Flyers. Regardless of how this season turns out, we pray that Bergeron remains a vital part of it and of seasons to come.
Then there’s Mark Recchi, who a lot of us can remember as a whipper-snapper battling Neely on the boards back in the day. Heck, we think we saw him fight Ken Linseman once. While some geriatric athletes (ahem, Tim Wakefield) can’t seem to take the hint when it’s time to leave, this guy is still a vital part of the team, bringing much-needed leadership, grittiness and the occasional clutch goal to the ice. And he’s wicked smaht.
Your team also has a lot of the little things casual fans look for to pique our interest. You have the skilled players — Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic. You have the Big, Bad Bruins throwbacks — Lucic and Shawn Thornton. You have the scrappy role players — Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, Daniel Paille.
You have the player no one can take their eyes off of due to his mere physical presence in Zdeno Chara. You have the convenient scapegoat in Micheal Ryder, although he’s been more of a hero than a scapegoat in the last month. You even have a guy who facilitates side wagers with our friends on whether he’ll ever shoot the puck or not in Tomas Kaberle.
Perhaps what is most compelling is what you don’t have — a Stanley Cup championship that a lot of us can remember. Let’s face it, we’re ready to get behind an underdog again. We haven’t had one to root for in a long time.
There’s something special about living and dying with a team that has lived in the shadows for too long. And to see it play out in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the most intense and passion-filled of all of the postseasons in professional sports, is an experience that’s too good to pass up.
You and your most loyal fans may resent us for finally deciding to tag along. But here we are. You have our attention.
Who knows? At the rate the Celtics and Red Sox are going, it may even be our undivided attention very soon.
Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. His e-mail [email protected]