From earliest times, in my book, the game of hockey has always brought charm to winter. Some of the best winter days of all-time memory featured frigid pick-up games on weekend afternoons on the frozen playgrounds, creeks, bogs, even reservoirs of our neck of the woods that ended only when the sun set. I was pushing deep into my fifties when I finally hung up the blades. Hockey is never better than on open ice. The harder the winter, the better the game.
Which suggests, given the historic harshness of this melancholy winter that New England is now enduring, that the game ought to be more of a joy than ever and helping to redeem some of the misery. So goes the reasoning that if you're no longer playing it you've got to be getting even more of a kick than usual out of tracking it; be it at the youth league, or high school, or college level, and especially at the level of its ultimate expression which is where we find the Boston Bruins, one of our prized cultural icons.
Those would be the same Bruins who are presently failing us, robbing us of the precious little satisfaction this brutal season of the year might grudgingly yield, dimming that precarious "charm" earlier noted, making us yearn more and more for Spring which has never seemed further distant, and otherwise infuriating us regularly and sometimes even nightly.
Will the real 2014-2015 Bruins stand up and be accounted for! On the other hand, maybe we don't really want that.
This has always been a fairly inscrutable team but we've suffered them gladly not only for the reasons aforementioned but because they've always seemed an amiable bunch of chaps, more "regular" (whatever that means) and easier to like than the rather more spoiled brats featured on other teams in town. The Bruins have always been the most easily forgiven of our professional teams. The New England sporting public, which for better or worse seems to include most of us, tends often to feel sorry for the Bruins while never really getting mad at them. This is the season we should get mad.
Take the five-game road-trip just ended when they but thinly skirted total disaster by snapping from their near fatal swoon in the trip's finale against, inexplicably, the toughest team they faced in a stadium long the most hostile to them. Nothing about this team makes much sense. While maybe they ended on a high note they're still teetering on the brink of despair, to coin a phrase.
If you are the Bruins, do you wonder what "nadir" looks like and if you've experienced it? "Nadir," which Webster defines as "the time of greatest depression, or dejection." Otherwise known in the King's parlance as, "the pits," or more precisely that point at which it can be safely declared, "it can't get any worse than this, dang it." The road trip dangled on the edge of that interesting precipice from start to finish. Game after game it only got worse.
They opened in Vancouver, a tough town, with one of their worst performances in recent memory. They were out of it from about the 45 second mark of the first period. It was an effort entirely listless, lackluster, almost craven, much to the delight of the local yokels, some of whom you may fondly recall set fire to their town after losing the Cup to a rather more tenacious Bruins team. That was only four years ago although there are weeks -- this surely was one of them -- when it seems more like 40.
On to Calgary where after blowing a three-goal lead there's that ludicrous finish with two ticks left on the overtime clock when defending Vezina Cup goalie Tuukka Rask becomes mesmerized by a shanked puck that floated aimlessly above him before darting irrationally like a knuckle ball and skimming off the back of his head and into the net. You will never see a more preposterous losing goal, nor a more embarrassing moment for an alleged world-class goalie.
Next in Edmonton, against the team that currently ranks 29th in the NHL and has been buried in the cellar most of this millennium -- a pushover they'd beaten 13 straight times -- they rally from two down to push the game to a shootout, only to lose when 12 consecutive of their shoot-out shooters look as if they were auditioning for Mini One-on-One, NESN's between-periods show featuring 12 year-olds. The Oilers winning goal comes when a walk-on Czech defenseman beats Rask for the first goal of his NHL career. No team in hockey, all the way down to the Pee Wee's, looks sillier on the shootout than the Bruins. Do they ever practice this thing?
Finally arriving thoroughly frazzled in St. Louis against a legitimate Cup Contender in the Blues they feature the needless and flat-out dumb humiliation of their most prized prospect, as 21 year old Malcolm Subban gets drilled for three goals on three shots leading to his prompt banishment on the next train to Providence. Some suggest the Bruins were showcasing the kid for trade-deadline deal-making -- having so little else that's tradeable -- although one finds that highly doubtful. Having him debut against the league's second best team (point wise) on their ice when they're hot and you're cold remains curious. It's too early to conclude that -- consistent with their historic relationship with Montreal's Canadiens -- they've been stuck with the lesser pick of the estimable Subban litter.
Working now on a six-game losing streak and with their hold on a playoff spot down to a single point they crawl into Chicago, a shrill den of iniquity for them for the last 40 years, and in defiance of all logic smack the Blackhawks, 6-2. It's an odd game, proclaimed as "chaotic" by play-by-play guru Doc Emrick, and en route they're as sloppy as they've routinely lately been, incurring four unpardonably stupid penalties in one three minute stretch, which usually is enough to croak them. Luckily, it's the Hawks who are listless this time. Pretty as it may be to think so, the whacky win in Chicago hardly signals a turn in their fortunes. It only confuses the picture, still more.
Was this ever, before the injuries and other issues reared, a team that might have been good enough to win the Cup? I've never thought so. But Sports Illustrated picked them to go to the Finals and Michael Farber, who makes such decisions for SI, knows his stuff. After they seemingly got themselves straightened out in January, losing only three of 16, a team of NHL experts proclaimed them the team most to be feared in the Playoffs.
There followed the post-All-Star game flop in February which has been almost as bad as their dismal performance in December.
Now they return from their brutal round-trip with a three-point lead over the Panthers and a four-point lead over a late rearing menace, the Flyers, who are piping hot, in the furious battle for the last playoff berth. Nor are Ottawa and New Jersey far distant.
Their Vezina Cup goalie, is strongly inferring he's worn out. One is tempted to remind him that back when men were men and there were only six teams in this league chaps like Glenn Hall, Eddie Johnston, Terry Sawchuk, and Jacques Plante played every game of the season and never dared complain least they lose their jobs. But that would doubtless be unfair.
Most important, they return having lost Kevan Miller, for the season; merely their most dependable defensive defensemen now that Brothers Chara and Seidenberg have faded. They have also lost David Krejci, arguably the key to their entire offense, to yet another of his mysterious ill-defined injuries. When Krejci gets hurt, you should assume the worst. This injury is said to be to his "lower body." The last one, to his "upper body" and still undefined, sidelined him two months.
Let me tell you this, friend. If they don't find a way to compensate for Miller's loss and if Krejci is gone another two months, they will not make the playoffs.
Just what you wanted to hear, this winter of all winters, eh.
Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Bostonís WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.