So here we are.
‘Here' is the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, on the other side of a game that defied the odds and that restored the faith (if only momentarily) of a fanbase on the verge of watching their team fail to make it out of the first round (again). Sometimes, sports are pedestrian. Sometimes, you're left trying to make a game/series more interesting, because the product on the ice just isn't that compelling.
On the other hand, sometimes sports are magic.
It was easy to forget about those types of moments in November and December of last year. In the throes of the lockout, with no NHL-level hockey in sight, it became easy to focus on the uncomfortable, sometimes slimy aspects of professional sports. Here at OTBH we tried to mitigate that unease with tales of Bruins teams past -- the highs and the lows and the triumphs of the human spirit that can sometimes be wrapped up in something as simple as a game of hockey.
But even reflecting on those badass Bruins of old was a bit bittersweet, at least for me: every story about a singular game or a rivalry created (or renewed) just made me want hockey back that much more. Then it was January 6, and suddenly the NHL was given back to us -- the Bruins would be back, and we could start telling new stories about whatever the lockout-shortened season might bring us.
In a sense, all such stories are artificial. Aside from simple recitations of dates, or boxscores, or starting lineups, history is heavily colored by the storyteller. Those who have read an OTBH here or there know that I have a penchant for stories about stories, for examining (but not dismissing as invalid) the narratives that are created around particular sporting events. So when I originally looked at the long and storied Bruins-Rangers rivalry, I did so in part because there were so very many stories to tell and deconstruct. The other motivating factor, honestly, was that the first game of the Bruins season would be against New York, and I was downright giddy about writing a piece that would tie into an actual contemporary game.
As is so often the case in the unpredictable, topsy-turvy world of sports, we now find ourselves coming somewhat full circle. Tonight, the Bruins kick off round 2 of the playoffs against those self-same Rangers. The history between the two teams could fill a whole month's worth of OTBH, despite the two not facing each other in the playoffs since 1973. Maybe I'll get to some of those stories as the series progresses (once I'm done with whatever rambly bs I'm forcing you to read currently, that is).
It seems fitting somehow that this playoff journey should include the Rangers. On January 19, what had begun to seem impossible -- the resumption of the NHL season -- was made actual. I have never, ever been so happy to see the Bruins play the Rangers. I wanted to hug Brian Boyle. I wanted to hug John Tortorella. I wanted the Bruins to win, of course, but more than that I wanted to watch an entire NHL game played by the team I love.
Two nights ago, another seeming impossibility -- the continuation of the Bruins' playoff dreams -- was also turned into reality. Like many, I had made my peace with the end of the season by the time halfway through the third period rolled around. History tells us that teams will lose far, far more often in the playoffs than they will win. There can be only one, as they say. It sucks, and it's disappointing, but one has to come to terms with it.
But that was mostly me forgetting about how sports can sometimes transcend the probable or the expected. I forgot, despite writing about such moments in the Bruins' own history, that sometimes, very rarely, magic can happen. We can watch as first one player -- in this case, Milan Lucic -- then another, and another and finally a whole team decides that they will NOT go gently into that good night. We can be astonished and humbled by moments like the one on Monday night.
(On the flip side, we can also be crushed into numbness by moments such as those, and Leafs fans, let me assure you that no one understands your pain quite like Bruins fans. We've been on the wrong side of statistically improbable history. Nothing but sympathy, my friends.)
Monday night was a reminder that hockey can sometimes make fools of all those of us who dare to prognosticate about outcomes. Sometimes, instead, you get 11 minutes (plus overtime) of magic.
Between the first game of this season against the Rangers and now, there's been a lot of hockey played. Games have been won and lost, players injured and traded for and recalled. The city and its people came under attack and were shaken, and every game played since then has felt like a bit of a victory, regardless of the final score. There wasn't going to be a season -- and instead the Bruins got the Rangers. There wasn't going to be any more of a post-season -- and instead the Bruins got the Rangers.
In both cases, I could not be more grateful to be watching yet another page in the book of the history of the Bruins and Rangers being written.
And for now, anyway, I believe in magic.