The Boston Bruins have been the Stanley Cup Finals twice in three seasons and are the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and they prepare for their seventh consecutive playoff appearance beginning next week, yet some fans (namely Travis Barrett) are still a nervous wreck with postseason hockey looming on the horizon.
By Travis Barrett
This is what happens. This is how it is for hockey fans.
Cruise through a memorable regular season, carry a bunch of 20-goal scorers in your lineup night after night, lock up the best record in the conference weeks before the schedule ends, backstop your season with one of the best individual goaltending performances in team history, even punctuate the whole thing with an virtually invincible 17-game stretch over an incredible 31-day span.
And then it all ends and the playoffs beckon — and you’re as worried as an eight-year-old boy whose mother is two hours late getting home from work.
Angst. Anxiety. Dread. The scent of impending doom hovering over the room.
These are the things I feel — that I absolutely DWELL on — as the Boston Bruins get set to start the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs next week. Every single one of the squad’s weaknesses — real or perceived — become a very real outline for how they will falter out of contention before it even gets warm enough in New England to feel like it’s playoff weather.
I’m not proud of the fact that I can name all of the reasons the Bruins are doomed in the playoffs. Every single one of them, despite a team that has scored the third-most goals in the NHL this season, allowed the second-fewest goals in the entire league, posted far and away the best goal differential for 2013-14, own the best home record (30 wins) of anybody and are tied with Anaheim for ROW (wins in regulation or overtime) with 50.
Sadly, I look at a 2-1 shootout loss to playoff-less Winnipeg on Thursday night as what will surely happen should a catastrophic injury to Zdeno Chara or Patrice Bergeron occur in the postseason. I focus on a complete lack of discipline in a shootout loss to Montreal in late-March. I fixate on Torey Krug’s turnovers and blown defensive assignments instead of his power-play skill and acumen.
I can’t help it. Despite the dream Stanley Cup season of 2011, this is the life of a Boston Bruins fan. Something always ends the storybook run.
Two goals in a 17-second span in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals? Check.
We all lived through that gut-punch last spring.
I know another one is coming this spring, too. I just know it. I see an against-all-odds team from Detroit sneaking into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, finally getting healthy, and running through the Bruins. I see a potential second-round meeting with the Canadiens looming as a bitter, frustrating, angering exit from the tournament. I look at all those teams out West — heavy on firepower, brawn and world-class goaltending — and already I’m bracing myself with excuses about how happy I should be to have seen Boston play five games in the Finals before losing.
I hate myself. I really do.
What kind of fan watches a team in the midst of one of the best seasons its ever had as a franchise, then sits around underlining all the reasons that it’s just not good enough?
Point the finger right here.
It’s a dark place inside my brain.
Reilly Smith has been a no-show for two months running now, despite playing alongside the team’s most complete player in Bergeron. Neither Matt Bartkowski nor Dougie Hamilton has grown to the point that makes you confident in them as shut-down blue-liners when the team has to protect a slim lead in the third period of a playoff game. Love what Jarome Iginla has brought to the Bruins this season, but I’m convinced that both he and Milan Lucic are setting up to be completely invisible in playoff series where games are grinding, gritty, low-scoring affairs.
Even after last season, are we convinced that Tuukka Rask can elevate his game enough to steal results in the atmosphere that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Hard as it is to say, but no, I’m still not convinced.
I know that’s unfair to No. 40. I know that he’s succeeded despite having the unenviable task of having to replace cult hero Tim Thomas, but I still don’t feel like, ‘OK, we win, because… Tuukka.’
Like I said, I don’t look lovingly at myself in a mirror.
I’m the worst kind of fan.
I’m not trying to be the smartest guy in the room. I’m not trying to be the guy who says, ‘I told you so!’ once the Bruins have been eliminated from the playoffs. I will take no solace if my dread turns into reality. Not one bit.
What I want — what YOU want — is for me to be wrong. I want for Gary Bettman to hand Chara the Stanley Cup on the ice at TD Garden in Boston in June, and I want to celebrate. Again. I really do.
But that old fan in me just can’t help but be terrified of all the potential pitfalls that lurk around every corner of the next two months. And, yes, I’m that guy that still fears the Boogeyman under my bed and always has to have my feet tucked firmly into the covers so that some undead figure of my imagination doesn’t gnaw them off in the middle of the night.
So, there’s that.
At least we know the Maple Leafs won’t be around to exact some revenge from last year’s first round…
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