There will be no Stanley Cup repeat for the Boston Bruins, following a game 7 overtime loss to Alexander Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals. While I don’t write about hockey as often as the other major Boston sports teams, yesterday’s loss serves as a good point for reflection; on the B’s, on hockey in general, and on the ever-changing landscape of the Boston sports scene.
Let’s start with the B’s. I tend to watch a decent amount of hockey by default – I have roommates who put the Bruins on almost as often as I flip on the Red Sox. But yesterday I had a truly Boston hockey experience – I caught game 7 from The Greatest Bar, directly across the street from the Garden. We’re talking 4 stories of maniacal Bruins fans. I’ve always been interested in crowd dynamics following major sporting wins and losses – I watched last year as thousands of Bostonian’s rioted and climbed on MBTA buildings after the Bruins captured the Cup. What amazed me about last night’s loss was the lack of backlash – within 10 seconds of the puck going in the net, a deflated silence lingered in a previously electric bar, the TV channel was changed to a soccer game, and the entire place had cleared out. It was like the fire drill the fire department always dreamed of. And now it appears likely that Boston will need to wait until at least next February to see if Tom Brady can win the city another championship.
My point in writing this article is not to kick Boston hockey fans while they’re down – I do indeed find myself slamming my fist on the table when the Bruins hit the crossbar – but this series illustrated much of what I’ve been saying all along about hockey. There’s no doubt that this was a great series, and I especially nod my head to the Capital’s goaltender. Seven games, including four overtime games, with every single game of the series was decided by a single goal.
When I step back and look at the 2012 Bruins, I see a team that I’d expect to be better than the 2011 team. They lost very few key pieces, made some significant acquisitions, and generally kept a young championship team together with an added year of chemistry. Yet in every game of this series it was the bounce of a puck, a tipped shot, a wild scrap in front of the goal that decided the game. I didn’t see one team decisively, or even convincingly, beat the other team. It’s easy to call this parity, but to me this is much more indicative of the nature of the game. No team has repeated as NHL champion in 15 years. I feel very strongly that in comparison to baseball, or basketball, or football the “better” team in hockey wins a much lower percentage of the time. Sure, there is skill and strategy involved, but crapshoot plays and luck play a much larger role in hockey. That’s fine if you can accept that, but for me personally, I have a very hard time becoming invested in a championship that depends so heavily on luck.
The Bruins should have been a better team than they were last year when they were Stanley Cup champions, but instead they couldn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs. That’s not unique to hockey by any means, but having watched this series it irks me. The Capitals could very easily win the Stanley Cup now, as could any other team in the playoffs. Luck is a factor for every team in the playoffs, but losing is made that much tougher when you don’t feel as though the team that beat you did so by simply outperforming you. C’est la vie, I suppose.
Earth to Bill Belichick – don’t you dare draft a single offensive player tonight.