By Neil Keefe
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I don’t know what to do. Usually I know what to do. Right now … no idea. It’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals — the greatest possible game in any sport — and I don’t know which team I want to win. Yes, this is a problem.
The entire series I haven’t cared who won (even though I picked the Canucks in seven games at the beginning of the series). I haven’t been excited when the Bruins scored or when the Canucks scored. I have just been excited to see good hockey, great goals, for Mike Milbury to further prove he probably shouldn’t be on TV and for Roberto Luongo to give us that confused face that looks like he either ate shrooms or accidentally went to the bathroom in his pants.
Really I have just been rooting for my dream that has still not come true since I was a kid. When I was younger and would fall asleep during playoff games in overtime, I always hoped I would wake up for school, turn on the TV and overtime would still be going on. (It still hasn’t happened. It probably won’t ever happen.) And in a deciding game of the finals, if I fell asleep, my mom would wake me up to watch the celebration. It’s how I watched the Penguins celebrate back-to-back Cups. It’s why the Stanley Cup playoffs and finals are so important to me. It’s why it’s driving me nuts that I don’t know which team I want to win.
It’s an odd series. Not only because the Bruins have had a chance to win all six games and the Canucks have only had a chance to win three games, but because both teams could be watching the Stanley Cup finals from home. The Canucks nearly blew a 3-0 series lead to the Blackhawks in the first round and then nearly blew Game 7, needing overtime to finally overcome their troubles against the Blackhawks. The Bruins had to erase a 2-0 series deficit against the Canadiens, overcome a 3-1 deficit on the road in Game 4, and also nearly blew Game 7 before winning in overtime. Everything about hockey and sports and momentum says you aren’t supposed to win the type of games that the Canucks AND Bruins won in their first-round Game 7s, but they did. It’s like blowing a ninth-inning lead in the playoffs, having the air come out of the tires and then rallying to win in extra innings. It just doesn’t happen. It’s not supposed to happen. But the Canucks and Bruins defied the odds, won their next two series and are playing in the absolute last possible game of the 2010-11 NHL season. Crazy.
On the Boston side of this thing, Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli were already bringing empty cardboard boxes into their offices to prepare for an early exit in the playoffs, and it only made sense for the coach and general manager to think about life after Boston. And nearly two months ago, Mark Recchi was probably wondering if enough was enough and it was time to hang them up, and Tyler Seguin was probably worried that he might not be able to handle the NHL at a young age. Now not only will the Bruins be one of the default options when you go to play NHL 2012 on PS3 or Xbox360 in the fall, but they will be the hunted in the Eastern Conference when they were nearly going to undergo major personnel changes because of another failed season. Crazier.
So, here we are. The exact scenario every person that will dress for Game 7 has played out a million times in their head, on the ice, in street hockey, or in “road hockey” for the Canadians playing in the game. It’s the most exciting and perfect moment in all of sports: Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. I just hope Darren McCord doesn’t have to play goalie for either team at any point in the game, though he might be a better option than Roberto Luongo at this point.
I’m excited. I’m scared. I’m nervous. I’m worried. But mostly I’m depressed. Not because the hockey season will be over tonight or early Thursday morning if we’re lucky and get some overtimes, but because I don’t have a horse in the race and am having a tough time picking one for this special occasion. I need to pick one. I can’t go into Game 7 not caring who wins. It’s just wrong.
During the NFL playoffs, I was able to rank the teams I wanted to win the Super Bowl after the Giants choked their way out of the postseason picture. So, I’m going to have to do the same here. Canucks-Bruins isn’t exactly the Jets-Patriots dilemma I was faced with in January, but it’s close. It’s close enough that I need to make a pros and cons list to figure out who im rooting for in Game 7.
1. They’re not from Boston. This matters a lot. Well, to me it does. It’s hard to pull for any Boston sports team. I don’t think I need to really explain this one. It’s Boston.
2. They’re the best team. The Canucks were the best team in the regular season and it’s never a problem when the best team the entire year wins. In fact, I’m all for it. But really I’m all for watching their fans just go absolutely wild. I’m also a little worried about it.
3. The Vancouver crowd. NESN’s Mike Hurley made a good point to me that when NBC showed the views of the crowd in Vancouver watching Game 6 before the start of Game 6 there were people shoulder to shoulder like a scene from Times Square on New Year’s Eve (Legitimate question: How and where do you go to the bathroom?) When the Bruins went up 4-0 and later in the game when the Canucks had no chance to come back, NBC showed the people watching the game again and it was THE SAME SHOT. Not one person left! Not one person said, “Eff it! I’m going home! We’ll get them in Game 7!” They all stood there and stayed and watched the ship go down together. Now maybe NBC used a little trick from “Oceans 11” and recreated the exact picture like the vault in the movie of the pregame with thousands of people watching the game together, or these insane Canucks fans actually didn’t leave the place despite a 4-0 first period deficit. If that doesn’t scare you, but also pumped you up to see what kind of celebration these people have in them, then you’re lost The crowd in the arena for Game 7 is going to be out of control. And if they win, all I can think about is Axl Rose saying “Oh, my, god…” at the beginning of “Welcome to the Jungle.
1. The Canucks’ style. The way the Canucks have played the game in these finals has been pretty disgusting. The complaining, the diving, the cheap shots, the head hunting, the finger biting … it’s everything the Stanley Cup finals are not about. It’s what hockey as a whole is not about, yet the Canucks continue to play this way despite what critics say. So far, it hasn’t been nearly as successful of a strategy as it was for them in their earlier series and in the regular season.
2. Roberto Luongo plays for them. Is there a less likeable guy on this series? I know Burrows and Lapierre aren’t gaining fans in Boston, but Luongo isn’t gaining fans anywhere. Luongo has made a career out of postseason failures and this spring and summer (this counts as summer even if it isn’t officially summer yet) hasn’t been any different than it has been in the past. It’s like in “Rudy” when Coach Devine tells Roland Steele, “Georgia Tech’s one of the top offensive teams in the country. You’re an All-American and our captain. Act like it.” This guy is a Vezina finalist and was the starting goalie for Team Canada in last year’s Olympics. Except in the big spot he hasn’t done anything to prove that he should be either. I mean the guy is a VEZINA FINALIST! And King Henrik? Just in the mix with the other 27 starting goalies that aren’t. No big deal. Pia Toscano can probably relate to King Henrik about being screwed over by the voters.
There’s no bigger fraud in the league than Luongo. With a chance to WIN the Stanley Cup, he didn’t even show up. It was 4-0 before Rene Rancourt was done pulling open his coat and wiggling around like Johnny Upton at the Chiefs fashion show in “Slap Shot.” I have the “Athletes I Hate To Look At” list, and a continual work in progress, but Luongo has solidified a spot in the second tier of players on the list and is knocking on the door of the first tier. It’s up to guys like Josh Beckett and Jose Reyes and DeSean Jackson to let him in the first tier, but they might not have to. Luongo might break down the door if Game 7 gets out of hand early.
Here’s what Luongo said after Game 6: “You can’t hang your head and feel sorry for yourself. That’s the worst thing I could do. … I had a good feeling all day. Before the series started, I said I enjoyed playing in this building. Just got to move on right now. Got to believe in myself, right?” He tells you everything he needs to do in Game 7 and all the positives and how he needs to think only about Game 7, and then he ends on a question as if to ask the media if he’s right and if everything’s OK? That sounds like someone I want to trust with my season.
3. I don’t like the Canucks uniforms. Actually I hate them. They remind me of the Whalers and that just makes me sad. (Bring back the Whale!) And their old school ones like the ones from ’94 were so unique and so badass that when I see Canucks fans in the crowd with the old ones, I get upset that they don’t still wear them no matter how ugly they were. I can’t help look at the old Canucks logo without thinking of Pavel Bure picking up the puck at center ice for the penalty shot or Kirk McLean sliding across the crease to make a save. Maybe the Canucks will come out for the first period with the throwbacks on like the Mighty Ducks in “D2.” If they do that, they will not only win, but will have everyone not from Boston on their side.
1. I used to like the Bruins. Ray Bourque was my favorite player when I was young and then I loved Joe Thornton. Bourque had to go to Colorado to win the Cup and the Bruins traded Thornton — still the only athlete in any of the four major sports to be traded DURING an MVP SEASON. I was crushed when the Bruins traded Thornton. I felt like Garth in “Anchorman” when Ron Burgundy swears because of the prompter. Everything just seemed to be lie. And since the departure of Thornton, the Bruins haven’t had a face of the franchise, and who knows when they will again? It’s why I like Tyler Seguin so much because I hope that maybe he can be the next face of the team. They need to have a face for their team.
2. Patrice Bergeron. Fact: Patrice Bergeron is the only current Bruin that I like (well, Seguin too). He’s the only remaining Bruin from the pre-lockout era aka the Joe Thornton era, and the last time the Bruins really had likeable players. It’s pretty nuts that a sports franchise has had complete turnover in eight years. Especially an historic and storied team like the Bruins and not some bottom feeder like the Royals or Pirates.
I would like to see Bergeron win the Cup for all the crap he has had to go through. Having the best player on the team and in the league at the time traded away from him, watching the older guys leave through trades and free agency, the concussions, wasting a few years of his early 20s playing on a terrible roster. He deserves it. But at the same time I really, really, really don’t want to Zdeno Chara or Claude Julien or Peter Chiarelli win the Cup.
3. My friends. (Well, some of my friends.) There are a few friends of mine from Boston that deserve to see the Bruins win. People that have lived and died with this team their entire lives and never come close and certainly not this close. But as much as I want them to win, I don’t want them to win because they will be sure to not let it go anytime soon. And by anytime soon, I’m talking about within in the next decade. But they are Bruins lifers who didn’t jump on the bandwagon two months ago or a year ago or even five years ago. They have been here all along for the good years and the bad for their whole lives. People like my friends Delaney and Deebo and my roommate Mike from college and even Hurley (as much as that one hurts to say). It will be euphoric for them if the Bruins win. And if the Bruins lose, I won’t be able to talk to them until at least Labor Day and quite possibly opening night of next season.
1. They’re from Boston. After living in Boston form September 2004 until February 2010, this is the last thing I want. This simple fact might trump all else. Boston sports fans have seen their teams win everything since 2001 except for the Stanley Cup — it’s the missing piece to the puzzle. I feel like the kids in “The Goonies” trying to match up the key in the tunnel for the treasure of One-Eyed Willie only to find out it’s booby-trapped. Only bad things can happen from the stars aligning and Boston getting its missing championship. No matter how many times I think for a second, “It would be cool if the Bruins win,” I instantly think about this one thing: They’re from Boston. And no good can come from that.
2. The Bandwagon. I was in Boston last weekend and hotels were flying Bruins flags and storefronts were showing their Bruins pride and fire trucks had painted the spoked-B on them. My question is: Where was this love when Dave Lewis was the coach? Hell, where were these people in February? Where was all this passion for the Bruins in the past? Probably hiding in the same place as the Fenway pink hats that came out of hibernation like Punxsutawney Phil after 2004. It’s sickening. I understand that it happens in every sport in every city, but in Boston it happens a lot more and a lot worse.
3. Boston sports writers. Like the ones who say the 2011 Red Sox will be better than the 1927 Yankees. There are so many clueless hockey “buffs” in the world that it’s tough to try to get hockey analysis and coverage from anywhere trustworthy. There are a lot of Boston media personalities who will show their true colors and lack of knowledge for the game and its history if the Bruins win. I have already visualized about 100 different columns from clueless writers that will try and capture the moment for the Bruins and the city of Boston. Disgusting.
After all this, I’m still not sure. My heart is saying the Bruins, but my head and logic is saying the Canucks. I’m going to root for six overtimes, epic goals, monster hits and incredible saves. And I’m going with my original prediction…
Canucks in seven.
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