It was only 10 months ago when the Boston Bruins were putting the dagger into the heart of the city of Vancouver for their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. Go back to that time in your head: wouldn’t most people agree that the two best teams in the league were going at it for all the marbles? The Vancouver Canucks had dominated over the course of the 82-game regular season and stormed through the Western Conference playoffs. The Boston Bruins had the best team defense and goaltending–a potent combination when combined with four lines of offensive depth. When they faced off for a grueling seven game series, either team would have been a worthy champion.
So was it any surprise that both the Canucks and Bruins were sitting on top of their respective divisions at the conclusion of the NHL’s marathon regular season? From a big picture point of view, it’s exactly what we expected. They both could score and they both know how to keep the puck out of their own net. Both teams were able to keep the majority of last season’s core intact (no disrespect to Michael Ryder or Christian Ehrhoff). They both had experience and knew what it took to be successful.
It’s this last part that has probably caused more consternation amongst fans over the past six months. Both the Bruins and Canucks went through the battles of the playoffs last season. They knew that, no matter how difficult the regular season would be at times, the team would be measured on their playoff success.
Or in this case, their failure.
The Bruins knew that no one would’ve cared about their 3-7 start if they lifted the Cup again this June. They knew that Kevin Paul Dupont, Joe Haggerty, Fluto Shinzawa, and even Bob Ryan would have forgiven their mid-season slumps if they could’ve replicated their 2011 run. But they didn’t repeat—in fact they didn’t make it past a schizophrenic #7 seed—and now every single slump and shortcoming will be analyzed and overanalyzed for the entire offseason.
As late as March, we really never knew what to think of the Boston Bruins. Rich Hammond had this to say about the defending Stanley Cup champs after their impressive victory in Los Angeles:
“Who are the real Boston Bruins? Is it the team that, within the last two weeks, allowed five goals to Pittsburgh, six goals to Tampa Bay and six goals to Florida? Or is it that team that followed that terrible trio of games by shutting out Toronto and allowing two goals to San Jose and two goals to the Kings?”
The last seven games will be the team that history remembers as “the real Boston Bruins.”
Likewise, the Canucks got a first-person account of the importance of the playoffs last season. They won the President’s Trophy, they discarded the 2nd seeded San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final in five short games, and yet they had to answer questions about their flawed team for months after losing the final game of the season. They were within a single victory of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 41 years; they produced the organization’s best season since the team’s inception in 1970. But all that was forgotten when with the Big Bad Bruins walked into Rogers Place and forcibly took the Cup from the eager Vancouverites.
*Insert obligatory Vancouver riot joke here*
The Stanley Cup Final certainly seems like a long time ago for both teams. The Bruins have been through the dreaded Cup hangover and had a dominant November and December. Then they downshifted through the beginning of 2012, coasted into March, and looked like they were gearing up for the playoffs by the end of the season. That’s a full season for any team—and a hell of a roller coaster for fans hanging on the team’s every up and down. For people who are ready to analyze every 8-0 win or lifeless defeat over a non-playoff team, it can be exhausting.
At the end of the day, who cares? The Bruins will be measured upon one thing this summer: Were they able to perform in the playoffs and repeat? No one is going to care that they were able to win the Northeast Division after they lost in seven games to the Capitals. Likewise, no one would have cared if the Sens somehow won the Northeast Division if the Bruins blew through the Eastern Conference playoffs and returned to the Stanley Cup Final.That’s how revisionist history works.
The Canucks are in the very same boat as their Stanley Cup adversaries from last June. Tony Gallagher and the like have made a living on pumping Cory Schneider’s tires all season. They questioned Cody Hodgson’s development early in the year, (over)reacted with Roberto Luongo had another slow start, prematurely celebrated with the team acquired Zack Kassian at the deadline, and have consistently made mountains out of every molehill they could invent over the last ten months.
Well, those would have been molehills if the Canucks returned to the Finals. Now, even Mt. Everest is jealous.
Still, the Canucks were in the same situation as the Bruins. No one in Vancouver cared that their beloved Canucks destroyed the pathetic Northwest Division. Again. Any problems throughout the regular season could’ve only been swept under the rug with the city’s first Stanley Cup victory. And make no mistake about it—every mistake, slump, error, slip-up, and failure would have been permanently forgotten if the Canucks can win their final game of the year this season.
But after losing in five shore games to a Los Angeles Kings team that looked like the stronger team, there are plenty of people that think it’s time to blow up the Canucks. For some (read: Benjamin, Tom), it wasn’t all that surprising:
The Canucks didn’t play very well in the second half of the season – they didn’t play as well as their record – so I don’t think Canucks Nation is nearly as shocked as the players themselves.”
Some teams (and their fans) can take pride in regular season successes. Not the Bruins, nor the Canucks. So when the Bruins or Canucks looked like they were sleepwalking through portions of the season—it’s because they were. They understood what was important and what was flexible. At least they thought they did.
We’ve heard time after time that teams can’t “flip the switch” when the playoffs start. While both the Bruins and Canucks won their respective divisions, most people would agree that it always seemed like both teams were capable of much better play during the regular season. The playoffs only served to amplify those whispers of doubt to a low roar.
Both teams should have understood what would be remembered and what could have been forgiven (or at least forgotten). Once the playoffs started, no one would remember what happened in March. If anyone should have understood that, it should have been fans in Vancouver and Boston. It may be frustrating, but the players already understood it. Again, at least we thought they did.
Don’t worry—if they didn’t, they’ll have five months to be reminded.