May 25, 2013

Bruins aren't panicking, neither should you

By Jesse Connolly

Tuukka Rask and the Bruins will look to close out the Rangers in Game 5 at TD Garden. (Getty Images)

History repeats itself.

It’s a phrase sports fans have become enamored with and clung to in an attempt to explain a number of anomalies throughout and long before their lifetimes.

In sports, however, the past doesn’t predict the future.

The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, but the fact that they’ve been mired in 46 years of futility has nothing to do with their first-round exit this spring nor the playoff drought that led up to it.

In baseball, the trading of Babe Ruth to the Yankees wasn’t the reason a groundball went through Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs some 68 years later, just as Buckner’s gaffe had no bearing on Boston’s meltdown in the Bronx in Game 7 of the ALCS in 2003.

The past is the past. The present is a different time, a different set of circumstances and, in all likelihood, a different group of people. Sure, the setting is familiar and the mission is the same, but the two are entirely independent entities.

That, my friends, is why every zealot claiming that it’s time for the Bruins to start reaching for the panic button needs a reality check. Even if 2010 was a mere three years ago and some key members of the cast remain the same – as does its director, Claude Julien – this year’s edition of the Black and Gold and the one that blew a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers aren’t even close to being one in the same.

Let’s throw a few names out there, for those of you that forget, that were in the lineup for Game 7:  an injury-hampered Steve Begin, AHL call-up Trent Whitfield, a damn-near debilitated Mark Stuart, an over-his-head Vladimir Sobotka, Marc Savard, post-concussion symptoms and all, and a raw rookie in Tuukka Rask. Boston, meanwhile, was missing its top playoff performer: David Krejci.

Since that time, there’s been a wealth of turnover and retooling, players have matured and developed and, let’s not forget, shown they have what it takes to go the distance in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Peter Laviolette’s lineup card looked something like that of an All-Star team, with the likes of Danny Briere, Chris Pronger, Simon Gagne, Claude Giroux, Kimmo Timonen and captain Mike Richards hopping over the boards for Philadelphia. Every last one of them played a role in the Flyers’ resurgence, and it wasn’t as if they all came alive at once with their backs up against the wall.

At no point in the series were the Flyers overmatched, even after losing 4-1 in Game 3 to fall behind three games to none. Can you say the same for this year’s Rangers?

New York has looked disinterested and discombobulated for damn near the entirety of the first four games against Boston. The Rangers had no business staying alive on Thursday night, but the Bruins put Game 4 in a gift-wrapped box, slapped a bow on it then served it on a silver platter to the seemingly-lifeless Blueshirts, granting them the chance to live another day.

Unless the Rangers are in the midst of pulling off the greatest sandbagging in NHL playoff history, there’s no reason for any Bruins fan to not feel confident that New York was immeasurably lucky to escape the chokehold the Grim Reaper had on them on Thursday, and that the Blueshirts are going to meet their inevitable doom sooner rather than later.

Rick Nash has been an absolute dud in the postseason. Brad Richards is in the press box, replaced by a man who’s not even an NHL goon, but an AHL one: Micheal Haley. An ailing Henrik Lundqvist has appeared mortal in every game outside of Game 3, giving up 13 goals through four tilts. The Rangers are about as effective at back-checking as I would be if you asked me to juggle while getting a root canal.

Add it all up and the only way the Bruins manage to lose this series is if Boston is struck by catastrophe and New York experiences some sort of miraculous revival. It’s as simple as that. There’s a reason only three teams in NHL history have squandered a 3-0 series lead: Everything needs to go wrong for them, while everything has to go right for their opponent.

If by some ever-so-slim chance that comes to be, don’t blame it on the ghosts of Madison Square Garden coming to the aid of the team in red, white and blue or the memory of past collapses haunting the squad in black and gold.

History is just history.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ