Deja Vu in Beantown

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (May 3) – One year minus ten days and a hockey game at TD Garden had an awfully familiar look to it.

Ever since the Maple Leafs gut-twisting loss to the Bruins in Game 7 last May 13, I’ve argued it was more of a comeback by a championship team (from a 4-1 deficit with 12 minutes left) than a collapse by an average team. Perhaps the Bruins solidified my point on Saturday afternoon when they emerged from a near-death experience against Montreal in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Canadiens looked as if they were going to pull off the most remarkable feat of the past two playoff years by claiming both matches at TD Garden to begin the series. I say the past two playoff years because the Los Angeles Kings – three tournaments back – accomplished a once-in-a-lifetime feat by winning the first two games of all four playoff rounds on the road. That we won’t see again for decades. But, Montreal grabbing consecutive games at TD Garden would have undoubtedly been a close second.

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TUUKKA RASK AND PATRICE BERGERON CELEBRATE WIN. NBC IMAGE

Instead, the Bruins erupted for three goals in 5½ minutes (beginning with 9:04 left on the clock) to erase and overcome a 3-1 Habs lead; then added an empty-net goal to clinch a stunning 5-3 victory. It was eerily reminiscent of Boston’s third-period smackdown against the Maple Leafs 355 days ago. Some may suggest the stakes weren’t as high in the second game of a series, but I disagree. To begin, this occurred in the second round of the playoffs with only eight teams remaining in the Cup hunt. And, it might have been next to impossible for the Bruins to repeat as Eastern champion going into Montreal down a pair of games. By winning, the Habs would have stayed undefeated (6-and-0) in the playoffs, extending their enormous streak to 17-4 in the past 21 games (regular season included). Los Angeles went 16-4 to win the Cup in 2012. So, Boston’s 2014 Cup run was pretty much on the line Saturday afternoon and the players in black and gold knew it better than anyone.

Of course, in Montreal, the game will be viewed as some form of collapse – particularly given the way Carey Price had been strangling the opposition. But, the truly great teams in hockey have a penchant for reversing and/or dictating the flow of a game in spectacular fashion. The Bruins did it again on Saturday, just as the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks closed out St. Louis with a four-goal, third-period blitz at United Center in the opening round. Call it what you want: Killer instinct… smelling blood… refusal to surrender… the best NHL teams have it – and flaunt it – when it matters most.

TWITTER AND RACISM: I wish I could fully comprehend the urgency of newspapers, television and radio to publicize the social media ranting of anonymous and deeply disturbed individuals. This happened, of course, on Friday in the wake of bigoted remarks on Twitter aimed at Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, who dominated Game 1 of the Bruins/Habs series and scored the overtime-winning goal. To some degree, I understand the benefit of pointing out such heinous commentary; discounting it would be to pardon the behavior. Yet, how incredibly simple is it in the erratic, un-policed world of Twitter to break any and every rule of societal comportment? Mentally unbalanced people get perverse enjoyment out of doing so and – in this case – triple the pleasure from having their racist drivel appear as the lead item on news and sportscasts. Somehow, the mainstream media has to find a balance between ignoring social media cowardice and either exploiting it for the purpose of reader/viewer/listener-ship or simply providing it too much emphasis. Until these sub-humans are able to be technologically identified – and it will happen one day – we should think long and hard about aggrandizing their blather to the extent it was this week.

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DEFENDING NORRIS TROPHY WINNER P.K. SUBBAN OF MONTREAL.

WHY COMPARE TORONTO AND BROOKLYN?: Canadian media broadcasting and commenting on the Toronto Raptors-Brooklyn Nets NBA playoff series have pounded away at the relative indifference of fans in the New York City borough. This, to me, is deceptive. While the Raptors have undoubtedly and justifiably captured the attention of sports fans – primarily those jamming into the area on the west plaza of Air Canada Centre, regardless of weather, to watch the games on a giant, digital TV – several factors cannot be ignored. First, the Raptors perform in a playoff-starved city in which four of five major professional clubs routinely disappoint. We all know of the Maple Leafs’ ineptitude – missing the playoffs in eight of nine seasons. The Raptors qualified this spring for the first time since 2008. Toronto F-C has forever been on the outside. And, the Blue Jays haven’t been to the post-season since Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in the 1993 World Series. So, there’s a fair amount of pent-up emotion among sport fanatics in this region and it has exploded during the first round of the NBA tournament. Second, the New York City area is home to eight professional teams – three in the NHL; two each in Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA, and one in Major League Soccer. The teams that really matter are the New York Rangers, Knicks, Yankees and Giants. The Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Brooklyn Nets, New York Mets, New York Jets and New York Red Bulls either have a niche audience or fall in behind the Big Four. There are playoffs in and around the Big Apple every year and championships are not foreign. Ocassionally, when one of the lesser-lights prosper, they temporarily ascend in the pecking order. But, the Nets have been a second-tier attraction since their days in the old American Basketball Association (though Julius Irving provided them identity from 1973 to 1976) and through their years known as the New Jersey Nets – playing at Nassau Coliseum (1972-77), Rutgers Athletic Center (1977-81), the old Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. (1981-2010) and the Prudential Center in Newark (2010-12). They haven’t nearly the following of the Knicks nor would Manhattan-ites be caught dead crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to form large audiences outside Barclays Center. It just isn’t a fair or valid comparison to the Raptors; their fans or the sports landscape in and around Toronto.

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BARCLAYS CENTER IS A BEAUTIFUL, NEW FACILITY BUT LET’S NOT COMPARE THE REACH OF THE BROOKLYN NETS IN NEW YORK TO THE RAPTORS IN TORONTO.

MAY 3, 1993: Who among hockey fans in this area old enough to remember the Maple Leafs’ 1993 playoff run will forget Doug Gilmour and his dipsy-doodle, side-to-side, backhand wraparound on Curtis Joseph of St. Louis 21 years ago tonight? I covered Game 1 of the Leafs-Blues series at Maple Leaf Gardens and can still see Gilmour doing his behind-the-net work just below and to the right of my location in the press box. It ended a double-overtime marathon and overshadowed a monumental performance by Joseph, who stopped more than 60 shots. Leafs would take out the Blues in seven games then lose to Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings – also in seven – during the Stanley Cup semifinals.

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TORONTO STAR SPORTS FRONT – MAY 4, 1993.

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