Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Stunning Seventeen Seconds


Are you one of those people who said the San Antonio Spurs choked in Game 7 of the NBA Finals last a couple weeks ago?  That was not a choke.

Did y’all see the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals last week?  That, ladies and gentlemen, was a choke.

Don’t mean to dig up old bones, but I, and I doubt many hockey fans, have not seen a playoff game go from anticipation to a thrilling conclusion to pendulum-swinging end as we saw June 24.  It’s incredibly ironic that the Boston Bruins, who scored two late goals to come back and then defeat Toronto in Game 7 of the first round of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, had that same cruel turn of events done to them by two very late Chicago Blackhawks goals 17 seconds apart in the final game of the year.  But you know what?  They have no one to blame for that meltdown but themselves.

Did anyone sense a lack of energy in that game?  I did not hear that discussed during either NBC’s telecast or on Twitter.  But I was surprised by the lackadaisical effort both teams showed throughout much of a game that could have decided, and eventually did decide, the Stanley Cup.

That was the Bruins’ downfall.  I did not feel that the game was lost when Boston took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Chris Kelly seven minutes into the first period.  Worse yet, after Milan Lucic scored to give the B’s a 2-1 lead with almost eight minutes left in the third, it looked like they were relaxing, trying to shore up their reserves for Game 7 in Chicago two days from then by employing hockey’s version of the prevent defense.  Most shocking of all, when Bryan Bickell tied it with just 1:16 left in regulation – just seventy-six goddamn seconds left to go! – I still didn’t think Boston played with any sense of urgency or focus.  By that point it appeared as if the whole team was holding on for dear life till the horn sounded ending the third period.  Either that or the players thought overtime was in the bag and they could ramp up their determination then.

Of course, 17 seconds later, Chicago’s high-flying forwards caught Boston napping.  Dave Bolland got to a shot that rebounded off Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask’s right blocker and the post and slid the puck past him.  Then, finally, the Bruins and Bruins fans were wide awake in the TD Garden – awake and shocked silent that a game that looked to be in the bag turned into one of the most heartbreaking and inexplicable defeats in franchise history, seemingly in the blink of an eye.

There is one dirty secret about hockey many fans don’t talk about and might not even be aware of.  You cannot strategize in hockey the way you have to in football and can in basketball.  In that sense, hockey is more like baseball: Scoring and success comes from the combination of hard work and luck.  (Baseball also requires an element of focus, but that’s a story for another time.)  Hockey analysts want to show how so-and-so scored, as if Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville had to tell Dave Bolland how to position himself.  But there is no trick to it; Bolland was merely at the right place at the right time when the puck was loose and was able to outhustle two Bruins defenders to it.  That is why Chicago is celebrating its second Stanley Cup in three years and why Boston isn’t celebrating its second Stanley Cup in two years.

So you don’t need to cry for Boston because it’s been 24 months since they last hoisted the Cup.  But oh, they were so close.  And once the season is over, your team’s heroes might be going to another team.  Nathan Horton, who scored seven goals over the two-month playoffs, effectively told the team he was out of there, without even attempting to negotiate with the Bruins on an extension.  For the winners, Bolland, who scored the Cup-clinching goal, and Michael Frolik were traded to Toronto and Winnipeg, respectively, on Sunday, the day of the National Hockey League Draft.  Both were obvious cap casualties, precipitated by the concession won by owners (a concession they believed so much in they delayed the start of the season by more than three months to get it) that each team’s salary cap would drop by almost six million when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement kicks in next year.

This salary squeeze resulted in a flurry of trades over the weekend that will shuffle rosters for next season, training camp for which will come, oh, ten weeks from now.  (Have you noticed that of The Four Major American Sports, hockey has the shortest off-season?)  The promise of contending for Lord Stanley’s Cup is thus never assured, and that is why Boston’s astonishing insouciant pulling-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory performance in Game 6 could, and should, haunt this team for years to come.

Posted by WilliamSou at 11:13 PM

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