That peculiar sound you’ve been hearing the last month-and-a-half or so has been the anguished sound of a generation of Boston sports media having to re-acquaint themselves with how to pay attention to the Bruins. It’s been a great disturbance in the Force. As if dozens of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced into writing Bruins game reports. After two dozen playoff games now, poor Dan Shaughnessy has all but run out of ways to shoehorn Curse of the Bambino and ‘80s Celtics references into his B’s columns. And quite frankly if this Finals series goes seven, I’m not sure he can handle the strain.
And I’m not faring much better. As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m man enough to admit I’m a Bruins’ Pink Hatter. You can count me among the vast majority of Massholes who used to love the Bruins, used to love hockey, but jumped ship at one time or another. My interest eroding over the years in the flood waters of Jeremy Jacobs’ indifference, Harry Sinden’s incompetence, and the NHL itself being run with all the brains and sophistication of the Congressman Anthony Weiner Twitter Sex Alibi Tour.
And it’s stating the obvious to say that hockey in the Hub of Hockey hasn’t been helped one bit by the other teams in town have all but strung together a permanent Rolling Rally. A continuous line of Duckboats carrying trophies one right after the other like the drunken Party Train at a wedding that never ends.
The closest the Bruins have come to anything like it was when they kicked off the Decade of Champions with a parade that celebrated Ray Bourque winning the Cup for Colorado in what amounted to the single most degrading and humiliating display of embarrassing, podunk, cow-town yahooism in the history of Boston sports. And this is coming from me, who had to listen to the City Hall Plaza rally for the World Series-choking 1986 Red Sox on the radio because my boss at my crappy after-school job refused to see that every syllable of it (“They were only one strike away!”) was making me die inside.
So there’s a reason why a lot ... most of us ... bailed on pro hockey at one time or another. It was easy. The Bruins were Boston’s Shemp. Its Fredo. Aquaman. The girl the semi-pretty ones hang out with because she makes them look better by comparison, like the redhead on “Sex in the City.”
And needless to say it’s not been easy adjusting to a world where the Bruins are suddenly on top and every other team has been pushed aside. Hockey fans rule the city. They’re top of the food chain. The pyramid has been inverted. Monday night, I walked around Causeway Street interviewing people for a Fanthropology video now available on this site (shameless, shameless plug), and seeing the city full of hockey fans in June felt the way Charlton Heston felt when he landing “Planet of the Apes.” North Station was a madhouse! A maaaadhouuuuse!
But for all my rustiness when it comes to following the B’s, and for all my lack of hockey acumen and for all my embarrassed interloping, it’s actually not been a tough adjustment at all getting geared up for these Finals. Because for all the bumbling amateurish of the people who run the NHL (and I’ll resist the urge to add “...into the ground”), they’ve somehow — through luck or just the grace of the hockey gods — to give the casual, newcomer fan the one thing this series needs: Villains.
The Finals are lousy with them. The sheen had barely been scratched off the ice in Game 3 and already you couldn’t throw a beer cup in the direction the Vancouver bench without hitting someone you wanted to see a Reg Dunlopesque bounty on.
Who knew? Did anyone see this coming? I’ll be honest with you — I was secretly dreading facing the Canucks because I couldn’t see any way I’d hate them like I want to. They come from a pretty non-descript city. It’s not some loathsome, self-important exporter of arrogant smugness like Montreal. It’s not full of obnoxious, barbaric Cro-Magnons like Philly.
I mean, what is Vancouver even known for? That when they film movies that take place in New York they shoot the street scenes there because it looks like Manhattan and it’s cheaper? Hell, even their civic slogan is “Vancouver: You already forgot but we hosted the Olympics! For reals!” Talking to them in the streets you quickly realize they’re not the most super-serious people in the world. Or the soberest. (Well, they were more sober than I was. But that’s between me and WEEI.) Even the name “Canuck” is self-deprecating. The equivalent of the Celts calling themselves the Boston Hooligans.
So yeah, as villains go, this team and these fans weren’t exactly shaping up like they’d poured forth from the gates of Mordor. But in short order, Fate stepped in. Or to put it more accurately, Fate in the form of Alex Burrows chose to grab Patrice Bergon’s finger between its teeth and chomp down on him. And the NHL, in their infinite lack of wisdom, decided to do nothing because there was no conclusive evidence of the crime. Which is the equivalent of saying no one can really be sure Jack Ruby took out Oswald because the news footage had a bad angle.
Anyway, as reprehensible and chickenbleep as the biting was, the reaction in Vancouver was even worse. The next day the Vancouver Sun ran a column saying Bergeron (who hadn’t said much about the incident) should just get a tetanus shot and quit his bitchin’ already. Burrows avoided questions about it, sort of denied it, then was praised in the local papers for “facing the music.” Then to put out the fire with gasoline, NBC put the Sedin twins on TV to yuk it up in their player intros — player intros no other team in the playoffs has been getting, incidentally — calling Burrows “the vegetarian.”
The whole sorry episode was the perfect gift for the almost-apathetic Bruins semi-non-fan. Honestly, it might as well have been one of those Christmas trees one city gives to another because it was something everyone can enjoy, no matter what your belief system. All of a sudden Burrows went from some guy only serious puckheads and fantasy hockey guys had ever heard of to being a pair of trunks and a foreign object away from being a wrestling heel. The Sedin twins are more unctuous and unlikable than the Winklevoss brothers, creepier than the ghost girls from “The Shining,” and less funny than Randy and Jason Sklar.
But as bad as all that was, it was still sort of cute. Bergeron wasn’t really hurt, it gave you a goon to focus your negative attention on, and it made the series more interesting than your garden variety all-the-marbles championship. Especially when Hannibal Burrows was the hero of Game 2.
But Cute and Interesting got upstaged big time by Cheap and Cowardly in Game 3. When Nathan Horton got taken out with a defenseless — and indefensible — blindside hit by Aaron Rome, it quit being funny. And the Canucks’ reaction to the league doing the rare right thing and suspending Rome (proving that even a blind squirrel can find a nut) for the duration, pulled back the lid once and for all just how despicable this team really is:
“We disagree with the decision, and it was a clean hit,” Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin said. Meanwhile, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault disagreed with the ruling. “I do think at the end of the day also it was a north/south play, Chara to Horton, he made a pass to Lucic. He was looking at his pass. Aaron was a tad late. It was a hit that unfortunately turned bad.”
A clean hit. It’s Horton’s fault. He was sashaying around the ice admiring his pass. Aaron was late by a tad. Oops! Villains just don’t come any more gift wrapped than this. Sedin should’ve just added a “Bwahahaha!!!” and Vigneault might as well show up to Game 4 wearing a black cape and twirling his mustache.
So in an odd sort of way, Vancouver did us a favor. I was one of the millions who was slow to climb on this bandwagon. And sure, I was concerned this wouldn’t be much in this series to get the casual fan fired up. But if there’s one thing a lifetime of living for Boston sports has taught me it’s that nothing gives us more joy than beating a team we absolutely despise. And thank the hockey gods they’ve given us one. Even the non-hockey press should be able to get behind this. Go Bruins.
Follow Jerry on Twitter @JerryThornton1.