Well, we made it. We got through the NHL lockout (and the fourth National Hockey League work stoppage in most of our lives), through an abbreviated training camp, and have made it to the postseason. This isn't just any postseason, though - I'm talking about the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the best competition in the world. Nothing compares.
Sixteen wins. Four series. It doesn't sound like much, but compared to most other professional sports' postseasons, sixteen wins is a LOT - especially when you consider that a team can play up to 28 playoff games in a postseason. That's a hell of a long run -- almost a third of a season most years -- and more than half of this shortened season. Most players enter the playoffs clean shaven, but champions emerge resembling rugged, exhausted cavemen. If you win the Cup, you have earned it. Nobody can call you a fluke when you've won four series and sixteen games against other teams who want exactly what you do and are busting their asses, and yours, to get it.
You look at the seeding and make predictions, but you know anything can happen. It can, really, and it has. The Stanley Cup Playoffs can make you the happiest person in the world, but they can also break your heart and leave you asking why you do this to yourself. Just when you think things are going well and you're enjoying the playoffs, they'll turn on you in a minute. We all remember three years ago, when the Bruins were up 3 games to 0 against the Flyers. We all thought we were going to the Eastern Conference Finals, where we'd take on our bitter rivals, our favorite team to hate, the Montreal Canadiens. Fate was cruel in 2010, friends - not only did our Bruins blow that three game series lead, but they also blew a three goal lead in game 7, and lost the series, ending their season in spectacular fashion. Anything can happen.
Despite how painful they are when they happen, it's devastating losses like the series against the Flyers that make winning so much more worth it. I was absolutely crushed when we lost game 7 against the Flyers. I don't think I even spoke to the people I was at the game with when it ended - I just left the Garden, and walked all the way home. I couldn't even stop for a beer, or to wait for the train. It hurt too much to stay still; I had to go. Generally speaking, I'm an optimist and at the start of every postseason, and every series, I truly believe we can do it. I've been proven wrong every time but one, and that one postseason made all the hurt, all the tears, and all the questioning why I put my heart and soul into this every single year worth it.
Game 1 is tomorrow night. I expect all of you to inhale when the puck is dropped, and be afraid to exhale until 60 minutes of successful hockey have passed. Once you let your guard down, the hockey gods strike. Anything can happen during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I also expect all of you to do what works - whether it's wearing the same outfit during each playoff game and only changing it up after losses, or taking a different route to work each day, or eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch on game days, or not shaving until it's over, or doing what you did during our Cup run - you have to do whatever you can to help your team win. Some of you may think I'm crazy, but kids, that's hockey for you - undoubtedly the quirkiest and most superstitious of the four major North American professional sports. It's the playoffs, and everyone's got to take one for the team. We all have to do our part and make the appropriate sacrifices to attain playoff success.
As someone who has their own "playoff routine", I have to admit that the postseason takes a lot out of me. It's the most stressful but rewarding time of the year. Another long New England winter is finally over, and summer is upon us. The weather is becoming enjoyable again, so you try to get out and get some sun before the game, or after, or between periods, and obviously on off days. No rest, it's the playoffs. Your team doesn't get to rest, and neither do you. That's just how it is - winners work for their championships, and it's all worth it in the end.
It ain't over 'til it's over: there are so many examples of teams who were down by a few goals, or even a few games, and managed to turn it around. As I mentioned earlier, the Flyers came back from the brink of elimination against the Bruins in 2010 and ended up winning the series and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. In their 2011 Cup run, the Bruins lost the first game in three of the four series they played, and lost the first two games in two of those series but came back to win all of them. Anything can happen. Don't let a loss or a goal get you down, because sometimes, the hockey gods are merciful. Believe it.
Speaking of believing, believability is important. It's one of Andy Brickley's favorite terms for a reason. It's sort of corny, but it's true - you've got to believe they can do it. A little optimism never hurt anybody. If Tim Thomas didn't believe he could keep the Sedins at bay in 2011, would we have won the Cup? Henry Ford said, "If you think you can, you can; if you think you can't, you're right". Perk up, everybody - I know the last month or so has been pretty rough for the Bruins, but we're going into this healthy, experienced, and with Jaromir fucking Jagr. That's got to count for something, right?
I can't wait for everything the Stanley Cup Playoffs bring, in no particular order: speed, grit, grace, beauty, hatred, finesse, violence, animosity, brotherhood, courage, pain, and perseverance. Somebody's going to win Lord Stanley's Cup, and they're going to have earned it the hard way. Hopefully, it's our Bruins.