The first weekend of the hockey playoffs is in the books, and it shows us just how close the teams that make the playoffs are with each other. The Boston Bruins won the President’s Trophy for being the best team in the regular season, but defeating the #8 seed Detroit Red Wings has been no easy task. The Wings struggled to get into the playoffs, but that was because they lost key players like Pavel Datsyuk for a long time in the regular season. Now, Datsyuk is back, and scored the only goal of Game 1 in Boston on Friday night, and the series between Boston and Detroit feels a lot like the hard fought series between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks than a series between the #1 and #8 teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins evened the series 1-1 with a 4-1 win this afternoon, but one thing is for sure: nothing is handed to you in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can be the best team, but you have to prove it. The President’s Trophy is given, whether you want it or not, but the Stanley Cup must be taken, and sometimes the toughest team to beat is the one you see in the first round. There is no real advantage to being the President’s Trophy winner. It’s just another reason for teams to want to beat you. If the President’s Trophy winner wins, they were supposed to. If they lose, they choked. At this level, everyone can play, everyone can hit, and emotions run high. Everyone wants it a lot, but it comes down to who wants it more.
The B’s have a tendency to make it really hard for themselves in the first round of the playoffs. Going into this tournament, the Black and Gold have gone to a sudden death overtime of a Game 7 to decide who advances in the first round. In 2011, they fell 0-2 to the arch-nemesis Montreal Canadiens after two games in Boston, but battled back, stealing two games in Montreal before winning Game 7 off the stick of Nathan Horton and riding that momentum all the way to the Stanley Cup. In 2012, they did not fare as well, falling in OT to a Washington Capitals team that wasn’t even trying to score. In 2013, they needed late 3rd period heroics from Patrice Bergeron just to get to overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs, another team they should have beaten sooner than Game 7, before Bergeron sent the Boston crowd home on a high note with an OT goal, resulting in one of my earliest posts on this blog. As a fan of this team, it’s hard to go through the first round of the playoffs and not be really nervous. One bounce of the puck the wrong way, and there might not be a 2011 Stanley Cup Champions banner in the rafters of the TD Garden. One bounce of the puck the wrong way last year, and the roster and coaching staff might look a lot different than it does right now. That’s a dangerous way to live, but that’s hockey.
Last weekend, I went to the B’s last home game of the regular season with one of my best friends. It was a game against Buffalo, and for Fan Appreciation Day, they handed out team pictures, but one of the heroes from this weekend didn’t even make the team picture. Justin Florek, a 23 year old forward, was called up from the AHL Providence Bruins this week because of an injury to Daniel Paille. After the B’s were shut out by Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard in Game 1, Florek put the B’s on the board early in the 1st Period by capitalizing on a mistake by Howard. Forward depth was a concern after Paille was injured against Buffalo last weekend, but Florek is proving his worth to the Bruins right now. It reminds me a lot of the contributions Torey Krug made for the Bruins last spring when Andrew Ference got hurt, before people knew how good he was. He spent all year in Providence, but he’s making the most of his chance with Boston in the most important games of the season.
There is still a long way to go, but my favorite go-to topic is Bruins hockey. It’s not always pretty, but hopefully there will be a lot more Bruins hockey for me to write about this spring.