Is It Playoff Time Yet?

It’s become almost boring to write about my beloved Boston Bruins because so little has gone wrong as of late. They have been a winning machine for the bulk of the season.

To summarize: they were hot before the Olympics. Patrice Bergeron won his second career Gold Medal. Loui Eriksson won a Silver Medal. Tuukka Rask won a Bronze Medal. They lost two games after the Olympics, but gained a point in one of them. They won 12 games in a row. They lost in a shootout to the Montreal Canadiens. Since then they’ve beaten the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks 3-0, putting last year’s Stanley Cup Finals in the rear view mirror in the process, and the Philadelphia Flyers on the road in a shootout.

I could have written an angry post about how the B’s can’t shake the Habs, and how those gutless-chicken-divers-to-the-north could be the one thing holding them back in the East, but I’m not sure that’s the case. The Bruins dominated that game even strength. If they can stay away from the stupid penalties (which is easier said than done, I realize, given Montreal’s tendency to play for the penalty rather toughing it out even strength), then they can handle Montreal, too.

On every other front things seem good. The Bruins seem like a better team than the one that got to Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals a year ago, and are in great position to run the table in the Eastern Conference, but that kind of confidence in any of the teams I root for always makes me nervous. I started following sports in the mid-90s, which was perhaps the most futile few years Boston sports fans have ever had to endure. None of the four teams won a championship, and the only Finals appearances were by the Bruins in 1990 and the Patriots in 1997. Neither one really stood a chance to win it. Because of that, I’m almost more comfortable with my teams as underdogs. I know this sounds spoiled, and we have been spoiled with three Super Bowl victories, three World Series titles, an NBA championship and a Stanley Cup championship since 2002, while Buffalo’s best decade yielded four Super Bowl losses and a Stanley Cup Finals loss, and the state of Ohio has not won a professional championship since 1990, but for every big win, there are crushing defeats on the biggest stage, and those hurt so much more. Boston is a city that identifies with its sports teams as closely as any city in North America, and eight titles later, the passion still shows.

The Bruins’ greatest strength is their depth. Tuukka Rask can take the night off, and the team won’t feel any less confident with Chad Johnson between the pipes. They have more able bodied defensemen than can dress each night (and that doesn’t include Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid, who have not yet been ruled out for the playoffs), which creates a level of competitiveness that keeps everyone playing their hardest in a time of year where Bruin teams in the past have started to coast. We won’t have to worry about the Bruins having to flip the switch to turn the intensity on this spring, because they’re already there.

This is the first regular season in the Claude Julien Era where I can sense that the team is hungry for more before the playoffs have started. They were so close to the Stanley Cup last year that it’s been eating at them ever since. The summertime acquisition of Jarome Iginla, who was on the Pittsburgh Penguins team that was swept by the B’s last spring, adds another guy who is hungry for the Stanley Cup, and who just so happens to be one of the greatest goal scorers in the history of the NHL. Iggy has provided consistency to the B’s top line that I have never seen, and it’s made David Krejci and Milan Lucic into more reliable regular season players than I ever thought they could be.

In the game this past week against Chicago, the Bruins honored the Boston Fire Department, and it was reminiscent of the way the city used sports (particularly hockey and baseball) to heal in the wake of the tragedy at the Boston Marathon last April. Boston’s Firefighters were the 1st Star of that game (Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask were 2nd and 3rd, respectively), and the Bruins players really seem to get that this is a great city and a special place, not just another town where you can play hockey and get paid.

Bruins fans have been waiting for the 2014 playoffs as soon as the 2013 playoffs ended with the other team raising Lord Stanley’s Cup on the ice of the TD Garden. It’s a few weeks away, and it still can’t come soon enough. Let’s go.

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