Game 4: Pregame thoughts

I didn’t end up writing anything on Game 3 due to getting a late start on Thursdays, so here’s some pregame stuff to make up for it.

  • Kaspars is in I had forgotten that Kaspars Daugavins played in Game 1 vs. Toronto, so he’ll get his second taste of playoff action with the Bruins tonight. Daugavins will be skating with Rich Peverley at center and Tyler Seguin at the other wing. This will be an interesting third line to watch, as Daugavins adds a bit of grit and sandpaper to an otherwise speed-based third line. Peverley is actually leading the Bruins in faceoff win percentage, as he’s won 65.2% of the 112 draws he’s taken in these playoffs, a somewhat surprising stat. Faceoffs were a surprising area of concern in Game 3, so let’s hope Peverley can keep up his winning ways. As for Daugavins, who knows what to expect? He hasn’t played in a game in over a month, so rust may be a factor. But I watched him play a pretty strong game in the final regular season game of the year against Ottawa. I think he’ll have a good night.
  • What of the fourth line? With Chris Kelly taking the spot of Gregory Campbell between Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton, it’ll be interesting to see how the fourth line does. The trio now has two speed guys in Kelly and Paille and one bruiser in Thornton. Campbell’s penalty killing prowess will be missed, but this speedier fourth line could give Pittsburgh some problems.
  • Last call for Caron? Jordan Caron is a restricted free agent at season’s end, and has been with the Bruins’ organization for three full seasons now, and has never really hit his stride. He’s got 71 NHL games under his belt, and an additional 111 AHL games with the Providence Bruins. Of the Black Aces, he’s by far the most familiar with the Bruins’ system…and yet he’s being passed over in favor of Daugavins. The “well Caron isn’t a center” argument doesn’t work, as neither is Daugavins. Peverley still could’ve gone to center with Caron on one of his wings. I can’t help but feel that Caron’s tenure with the Bruins may be up, as he’s been a good soldier down in Providence but has never really done much in the NHL. In his defense, he’s played decently enough in his two extended NHL stays, but the fact that the B’s would pass over him at this point is curious. I’m hoping he sticks around, as I’ve liked his game when I’ve seen him with the big club, but the big club itself may not feel the same.
  • Will vs. skill The Penguins continue to believe that the reason they’re down 0-3 is because they are beating themselves, not because the Bruins are outplaying them. I can’t help but be reminded of the 2011 Cup Final, when the Vancouver Canucks expected the Bruins to just roll over and die after getting a 2-0 series lead. These Penguins appear to believe they’re entitled to the Stanley Cup, letting the media circus surrounding this collection of talent get to their heads. Their reaction to struggling in this series has been less “well, it’s time to work harder” and more “this isn’t right, but it’ll eventually go in our favor.” There’s talk of bounces not going their way and calls not going their way…but not of them simply getting outplayed. I’m hoping, obviously, that they continue this self-obsessed path right onto the golf course tomorrow. The Penguins are undoubtedly the most talented team remaining in these playoffs, but they also appear to be the most arrogant.
  • So, what about tonight? It’s hard to say what tonight will bring. Logic says that the Penguins, who played their best game of the series on Wednesday night and still lost, will be deflated, tired, and beaten up. However, these guys are still professional athletes and have a lot of pride, so I don’t expect them to roll over at all. I think it’s important for the Bruins to weather the storm early. Pittsburgh will try to come out with a lot of jump to show that they still believe in themselves. If the B’s can hold off early, don’t be surprised if the Pens start trying to win four games with one play. That’s when mistakes will be made, and the Bruins can counterattack. I think the B’s take this one by a score of 3-1, with either the DaugMan or Peverley getting on the board.
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Game 2: Bruins 6, Penguins 1

Some quick thoughts on last night’s beating:

  • Problems run deeper than goaltending On the surface, the Pens’ biggest issue is getting someone between the pipes who can, you know, stop the puck. However, pretty much every other aspect of their game is failing miserably as well. They can’t complete passes. They can’t get out of their zone with any kind of speed. They can’t generate scoring chances. Nada. Zip. The Bruins are frustrating the hell out of them, and when things fall apart, the Penguins make it worse. Case in point: the Pens get on the board after a wicked wrister from Brandon Sutter, a fantastic shot. The lead is cut to 3-1, the building is jumping. How do the Pens react? Brooks Orpik turns the puck over at the blue line, Matt Cooke is too busy chirping at Brad Marchand to backcheck, and Marc-Andre Fleury just completely whiffs on a wrist shot. The Pens are falling apart.
  • That said… The Bruins are also doing so many things excellently. They’re forechecking hard. They’re clearing rebounds out. They’re exiting the zone cleanly. But the best thing the Bruins are doing (besides scoring nine goals in two games, of course) is backchecking ferociously. One could count the number of odd-man rushes the Penguins have had on one hand, as each time the Pens leave their zone their is a trailing Bruin busting his ass to get back in the play. Patrice Bergeron is doing it, David Krejci is doing it, everyone is buying in. That stands in stark contrast to Cooke’s failed aforementioned failed backcheck and Evgeni Malkin’s pathetic excuse for defense on a Nathan Horton scoring chance in the second period. The Penguins are trying to coast by on their skill alone, and it’s not working for them.
  • Rask has been solid Tuukka Rask has been getting a lot of help from his defense, but he’s been holding his own as well. The one shot that got past him in this series was borderline unstoppable, and he made a number of top-notch saves last night. Rask looks like a Hall of Famer when compared to the debacle in the opposite crease, and his steadying presence has been immensely helpful for the Bruins.
  • So what now? It’s interesting to see where things go from here. Obviously the Bruins have all of the momentum, and they also have experience on their side. They know that winning the first two on the road doesn’t win a series (i.e. Montreal in 2011), and that taking Game 3 is crucial. One can’t help but assume that, by the law of averages, the Pens’ big guns are going to wake up at some point: Crosby, Malkin, Iginla, Neal, Letang, Kunitz, etc. won’t go pointless forever. So it’ll be up to the Bruins to keep doing what their doing: good, sound, fundamental hockey. The Penguins are getting frustrated because nothing is coming easily, and they don’t know what to do.
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Game 3: Bruins 2, Rangers 1

Quick thoughts on the Bruins’ Game 3 victory, fueled by Merlot.

  • Solid effort While the final score was just 2-1, and the Bruins trailed for the majority of the game, it never felt like they were in trouble. In fact, the Bruins dominated large swaths of this game, particularly the second and third periods. The Rangers came out with some energy at home, throwing eleven shots on goal in the first period, and then they just kind of…went away. Yes, they scored towards the beginning of the second, but they only had five shots in the middle frame and eight in the third period. So much for using a goal as momentum. The Bruins, on the other hand, were humming for much of the evening: quick breakouts, hard forechecking, responsible defense…it was a clinic at times. The Rangers’ only saving grace was the Swede between the pipes, as Henrik Lundqvist did all that he could to steal a win for his team. If the Bruins keep playing like they did last night, look out.
  • Merlot! It does get a bit old, but it still bears repeating: the Bruins’ fourth line is the best in the NHL, and the work the trio does frequently gets overshadowed by the big names higher up on the scoresheet. Last night showed that, in the words of Pierre McGuire, the Rangers have no answer for the Bruins’ fourth line. As Pierre said, the Bruins’ fourth line is a like a rash that just won’t leave you alone, won’t go away. Gross, sure, but accurate.
  • War of attrition Last night’s game got ugly in the injury deparment: Zdeno Chara was bloodied by a high stick, Tyler Seguin and Derek Stepan were hit by simultaneous high sticks, Anton Stralman got thumped by Milan Lucic on the forecheck, Carl Hagelin took a puck to the mouth, Ryan McDonagh tweaked something, and Patrice Bergeron was bloodied by a high hit. Playoff hockey? Playoff hockey.
  • The $12 million benchwarmer I don’t follow the Rangers terribly closely so I have no idea if there’s a back story or not, but Brad Richards’ playing time last night confused me. Richards skated just ten shifts for a total of 8:10 TOI. For a guy that’s getting paid $12 million this season, that’s a curious decision. Richards skated just two shifts in the third period, on one of which the Bruins scored (Boychuk’s goal). Apparently he’s had a pretty bad season, and there’s talk that he may be bought out over the summer. I’ve known Richards as a talented scorer, but was unaware he’d been relegated to the Rangers’ fourth line. Weird situation, but he’s an expensive body to have on the bench.
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Game 1: Bruins 3, Rangers 2

Brief thoughts on the B’s second-straight overtime playoff win:

  • Absolute OT domination The Bruins owned the overtime period so thoroughly that, logically, I thought they’d lose on some fluke goal. Truthfully, that overtime may be the best extended stretch of play by the Bruins this season (it can be argued that the last eleven minutes of Game 7 vs. Toronto was better, I suppose). It’s important to not read too much into it, but fatigue shouldn’t have been any more a factor for the Rangers than for the Bruins. The Rangers won 5-0 in Game 7, whereas the B’s need a historic comeback and overtime to win. What set the tone for the overtime was the B’s early power play, one which saw them record EIGHT shots on goal. They didn’t score, but they did create a whole bunch of momentum, and they never gave it up. Impressive.
  • Youngsters impress It’s hard not to gush about the play of Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski (and to a lesser extent, because he has played far more, Dougie Hamilton). Rather than being inexperienced liabilities on the blueline, each has added an element of speed and vision to what is mostly a stay-at-home unit. I honestly don’t remember the last Bruin defenseman who moved as well as Krug and Bartkowski do. The B’s have been looking for a puck-mover on the back end for years now, and it appears that they may have two of them.
  • Coaches impress as well Perhaps equally impressive is the treatment Claude Julien and the coaching staff gave to Bartkowski and Krug before the game, essentially telling each to play the game that got him here, i.e. don’t be conservative or scared just because you’re not in Providence. It would’ve been easy for the coaching staff to play each sheltered minutes, and encourage each to make safe plays. Instead, the coaches essentially took the shackles off and said “do your thing.” It worked out perfectly.
  • Chara is a monster It’s hard to actually put into words how immense Zdeno Chara has been in the past two games. The captain has skated 73:48 TOI in the past two games alone. Nearly 74 minutes!!! He’s riding a five-game point streak, had two points last night, was a plus-2, and fired nine shots on goal. Chara may honestly be playing the best hockey of his Bruin career right now, and it’s a treat to watch.
  • Speaking of a treat to watch… David Krejci is in one of his zones, and is playing on another level right now. He’s making some incredible plays with the puck, his vision is unbelievable, and he’s keeping turnovers to a minimum.
  • Tortorella Jerk Report Around 100 seconds. What a guy.
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Game 3: Bruins 5, Leafs 2

Keeping it short, here are some thoughts on last night’s win:

  • Timely saves They don’t get much more timely than the 18 stops Tuukka Rask made in the third period last night. Rask has always played well in Toronto (4-1-0 in five career decisions, according to Yahoo! Sports), but was immense last night. He withstood Toronto’s third period barrage in cool, calm Tuukka fashion, and made plenty of those “timely saves” Claude Julien has been talking about all year. Rask didn’t have an awful Game 2, but he looked determined to bounce back last night, and did so in impressive fashion.
  • Top line rollin’ The Milan Lucic- David Krejci – Nathan Horton continues to roll, adding eight more points (combined) last night. It’s hard to say who is driving the bus here: on the one hand, it could be Lucic moving his feet and creating space for Krejci; on the other hand, it could be Krejci’s creativity that’s creating time and space for Lucic to do his thing. Whatever the case may be, the B’s a reaping the benefits of stellar play by that trio.
  • Secondary scoring comes through It was nice to see the Bruins get some offensive production from guys outside of the top six last night. Daniel Paille, Adam McQuaid, and Rich Peverley all tallied, and the B’s are at their most dangerous when all four lines are rolling. The third line has been a bit of a momentum-killer at times in this series, but they got going pretty well last night. Let’s hope they can keep it up.
  • Great crowd The crowd at the Air Canada Centre was fantastic last night, with the exception of the “Toronto Stronger” morons. Leafs fans are passionate, but the ACC has a reputation as being a bit of an elitist building, where stuffy suits occupy the lower bowl and don’t make much noise. That wasn’t the case last night, as the entire arena was jumping from before the puck dropped. It’s great to see such passion on display.
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Game 1: Bruins 4, Leafs 1

Some quick thoughts on last night’s thumping:

  • Really, this was pretty much a perfect start by the Bruins. Sure, they allowed a goal. But they controlled the game for 58 of the 60 minutes, scored four times (five if you want to count Bergeron’s waved-off goal), and generally outworked the Leafs in every aspect of the game. They didn’t take any dumb penalties (I’m looking at you, Colton Orr), shut down Phil Kessel, planted plenty of seeds of doubt in James Reimer’s had, and had some Leafs fans on Twitter acting like the series was already over. The B’s couldn’t have done much better last night.
  • With that said, let’s not get carried away: the series is far from over. Fans need only look to last year, when the B’s won their first game against the Caps, only to eventually lose the series. The playoffs are a difficult beast to figure out, but it was good to see the B’s come out firing on all cylinders.
  • I’ve often referred to Milan Lucic as the engine that drives the B’s. While that may be true, it’s grown more clear that David Krejci has just as much sway over the Bruins’ success. Krejci was in perfect “playoff Krejci” form last night, creating plenty of opportunities for himself and his teammates. If he keeps it up, he’ll eventually elevate Lucic and Nathan Horton’s play as well, making that top line dangerous.
  • Goaltending has been the Leafs’ biggest issue for the better part of a decade now, and while James Reimer was terrific this year, goaltending was one of their major issues last night. Reimer whiffed on Johnny Boychuk’s slapshot from the point, left his legs open on Krejci’s goal, and mishandled Wade Redden’s shot on the B’s first goal, a shot that, in Reimer’s defense, may have hit a Leaf on the way in. This isn’t to say that the loss was Reimer’s fault; rather that his play can’t have done much to convince Leafs brass and fans that the days of goaltending questions are over. I expect Reimer to bounce back and have a solid series, but his start has to be a bit disheartening.
  • The fourth line deserves a lot of credit for turning the tide last night, with a tremendous shift that hemmed the Leafs in their own end for the better part of two minutes. That trio hasn’t been as solid this year as in the recent past, but it was in vintage form last night. That’s a good sign for the B’s, as having a fourth line that can actually play (looking at you again, Colton Orr) is an advantage the B’s have over the Leafs.
  • I think Ference will probably end up getting suspended for a game for his hit to the head of Mikhail Grabovski. Argue all you want as to whether or not it was an elbow or a shoulder; it doesn’t matter. The hit was to the head. The principal point of contact was the head. Ference is a repeat offender (the Ryan McDonagh hit a year or so ago, and the “glove malfunction” too). I think he’ll get sat down for Game 2. That means Dougie Hamilton may get his shot. A big game from Dougie would likely send Leafs fans over the edge. Thank you, Kessel, indeed.
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An unimaginable tragedy

Yesterday started off about as perfectly as a day can. I took the train into work because I’d be taking it right to the Garden after work to go to the B’s game with my brother, father, and uncle, something we’ve turned into a sort of yearly tradition around their birthdays at the end of March.

It was a perfect Marathon Monday: not as hot as it was last year, but not cold and rainy either. I was a half hour early for work, and spent that time sitting out in the sun reading The Iliad (nerd alert, I know).

It was a normal Monday for me too: I spent the morning making Bruins jokes on Twitter, polishing up the Bruins Bracket for Cup of Chowder, and helping people with resumes and computer stuff. It was all normal, until everything changed with one click of the mouse.

“XX new Tweets,” and suddenly my screen was filled with reports of bombs going off at the Boston Marathon. “What the hell?” was my first reaction, a mixture of confusion, fear, and disbelief. As the afternoon wore on, it became far too real:

Someone had bombed my home.

I’ve lived in Boston my entire life. I grew up in Dorchester and attended college at Suffolk University, where I lived on campus for two years. During those two years, the entire downtown/Back Bay area was my playground. I’d thought nothing of walking down to Boylston Street after class to pick up a copy of NHL08 (dating myself here, wow), grabbing lunch at the Pour House, or heading to Newbury Street to laugh at the pretentious people browsing the high-end stores.

For those who don’t know, Patriots Day is a uniquely Boston holiday: the Red Sox play at 11 in the morning, after which fans head to Kenmore Square to watch the runners stream through; tens of thousands of people swarm the streets to cheer on people they’ve never seen before, and will likely never see again; kids are off from school, and the entire city is in a good mood. There’s not a drop of animosity in the air: it’s the purest holiday and purest event in the entire city. And someone chose that day to make some statement, to hurt hundreds of innocent people. What started as a testament to human athletic endurance became a testament to the endurance of the human spirit.

A testament to the bravery of cops who grab their guns and headed towards the smoke, not away from it; to the student volunteers who expected to be treating road rash or blisters, and instead had to apply tourniquets; to nurses like my cousin, who had the day off but didn’t hesitate to report to their emergency rooms in the immediate aftermath of the bombings.

As the day went on, I felt similarly to how I felt as a eighth grader back on September 11th: the fear and confusion of not knowing what was going on, and not knowing what was going to happen next. People were claiming a bomb had gone off at the JFK Library, a report that turned out to be false, but a location that is mere minutes from my house. If 9/11 was the seminal moment of my elementary/high school years, unfortunately yesterday might be that moment for my mid-20’s. Sure, I’m hoping great things happen to me in the coming years, but nothing is going to replace that hollow feeling I had in my chest as I watched smoke rising off of Boylston Street.

Of Boylston Street. In Boston. My home.

I was discussing the events with my friend Bill, and we agreed that watching such events unfold at home was surreal. I walked down the other end of Boylston Street just a week ago, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I’ve gone in that CVS, scoffed at the people who go to Forum, wondered how rich I’d have to be to live in the Mandarin Oriental.

And someone decided that the people down there, people just like me, needed to be hurt and killed.

One of the best parts of Boston is that despite it being a pretty big city, it seems like everyone knows everyone. Everybody knows somebody who runs the Marathon, and as the day wore on, it started hitting closer to home: my cousin was a few blocks away, having walked further down Boylston minutes before the bombs went off; a friend’s girlfriend had been on the bleachers earlier that afternoon; friends had planned on going to the Marathon but changed their minds; family friends were in front of the Lenox Hotel across the street.

Finally, the tragedy hit my community hard: the eight-year-old boy who was murdered was from my home parish, St. Ann’s in Dorchester. I didn’t know the Richard family, but the boy was a Dorchester kid just like me. Martin Richard attended the same elementary school as I did, wore the same white suit when making his First Communion, and played at the same parks. His mother, who was seriously injured, frequented my mother’s work.

From what I’ve been told, he’s me: grew up in Dorchester, had two loving parents involved in every aspect of his life, had an older brother, and a younger sister. This morning, I saw a picture of him playing in a flag football league at the Garvey Park, a place I played as a kid.

This family, a working-class, community-oriented, loving family, was torn apart, and for what? For what? There’s no reason for this. No reason any of this needed to happen.

As yesterday came to a close, I, like most of you, grew weary of the constant coverage, yet couldn’t look away. I played my brother in NHL13, but didn’t feel like I should be having fun. I told my brother, sister, mother, and father that I loved them, something they all knew but that we all felt the need to confirm. The sense of sadness, of confusion, of fear, and even of guilt, knowing that these tragedies have happened elsewhere but haven’t had as much of a personal impact, lingered.

The city will bounce back, but everything will be different. Before the B’s canceled last night’s game, I told my brother I didn’t want to go anymore. He said the same, as did my father. Have we really reached the point where nowhere is safe? Office buildings, colleges, schools, buses, trains, planes, and now the Marathon?

Even as Tuesday marches on, the eerie feeling remains. As Bill said to me, we’re all trying to make sense of the new reality we’re living in.

Martin’s spirit will live on far longer than that of the cowards responsible for this, as will the spirits of the other two deceased. The city will rise up and support one another, neighbors comforting neighbors, strangers consoling strangers, because that’s what happens here. Boston itself is a contradiction: fiercely divided into proud neighborhoods, but just as fiercely united against outside threats.

I don’t know where the city goes from here, and truthfully, no one does. The hashtags and trending topics will eventually stop, as will the t-shirts and newspaper columns. But we’ll still be here, still be riding the T, still be hanging out at the Pru food court or bar hopping up and down Boylston. But now we’ll be looking over our shoulders, because someone attacked our home.

Nothing will ever be the same.

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