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OTBH: Predicting the Future

In which sometimes the past is just the past (but OTBH might be reading the tea leaves)

Still kicking.
Still kicking.

Olde Tymey Boston Hockey has looked at a myriad of topics in its short life: hockey during wartime, badass ladies of hockey, the ancient art of the road(train)trip. It has also looked back at the rivalries, both old and new, that the Bruins have had in their 89 years of existence. In pursuit of this mission, we started with the Habs, because -- well, the Habs. That's the alpha rivalry, right there.

But there are others, and OTBH took a gander at a few of them. Three, to be specific.

Now I imagine you are all asking yourselves: which three, Dr. OTBH? Funny you should ask. They were, in no particular order:




The contours of each of these past matchups were very different, the individual histories divergent and full of animosity and grit and unique narratives. This year, each history had another chapter written. One for the Bruins vs. Leafs. One for the Rangers and the B's. And now, a whole new section in the shorter but still juicy volume entitled "the Boston Bruins battle the Pittsburgh Penguins."

Now, I'm not saying we here at OTBH can predict the future (though I do find myself wishing I had written an ‘OTBH: Rivalry Edition' on Boston vs. Chicago. Insert wistful sigh here). But coincidences are funny things, are they not?

History is funny, too. It's a jumble of random coincidences, repeated (if not repeatable) patterns, and the vagaries human agency, all viewed through the lens of modern ideologies and expectations. Good historians don't necessarily find what they expect to find: they allow the past to tell a story, even if it bucks long-held ideas about significant events or important people. They also do not try to force narratives onto moments in the past, regardless of how enticing such narratives might be.

Some narratives, though, no matter how inaccurate/irrelevant, are just so tempting. Everyone loves a good story, after all.

For example, here's a narrative you're going to hear quite a bit over the coming days and weeks: The Bruins and the Penguins, meeting in the Conference finals for the third time, have a history, and the thrust of that history lies in the Bruins' inability to beat the Penguins. The two met in the Wales Conference finals in back-to-back years, 1991 and 1992, and the Pens won both times en route to two Stanley Cups in a row.

The Bruins can't beat the Pens in the Conference finals people are saying -- despite the fact that the only other two times these teams met in the playoffs (the quarterfinals in 1979 and the preliminary round in 1980), the Bruins won handily. All time, the two teams have split their playoff series -- ah, but that doesn't make a good story, now does it.

The less sexy story is, of course, that those two Conference final defeats have precisely nothing to do with this series. Only one player from those two series is still active, and he's playing for the other team these days. In both cases, the coaches, the rosters -- hell, even the buildings -- are completely different. The stories that came out of those series (looking at you, Ulf Samuelsson) still linger in the minds of both fanbases, and recounting those stories adds a certain flavor to this upcoming matchup. I'm all for using historical moments as interesting anecdotes (hell, that's sort of my bread and butter), but placing too much importance on past results as they relate to future success can lead to a loss of perspective, in some cases.

Are the Bruins going to beat the Pens this time, in this series? Fuck if I know. They might win -- they might lose. Key factors in either outcome will involve staying healthy, the ability (or lackthereof) to contain Crosby/Malkin/Iginla/Neal/Letang/Et cetera, the continued offensive contributions of x-factors like Torey Krug, and which goalie is better able to steal a game. What I can promise you is that is will have nothing -- not even one tiny thing -- to do with the 1992 Wales Conference finals.

Of course, all that goes out the window if Jaromir Jagr scores the game-winning goal in OT during game 1 -- just as he did in the 1992 series, except then it was for the Penguins. If that happens, oh man. All bets are off at that point. I will be the first to jump on the narrative-pushing, history-flaying, conclusion-drawing bandwagon. That would be a good story.

Now, if only OTBH could predict the future...