BRUINS: The Unforgettable Ride

June 15, 2011 is a day I’ll remember as long as I can remember anything. It’s the day the little brother of the Boston sports scene became the man of the house.

It’s been over a month since the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, their first since the heyday of Orr and Espo in 1972. Looking back now, it’s easy to remember just that moment of victory, the images of Zdeno Chara, Mark Recchi, Patrice Bergeron and Tim Thomas lifting the greatest trophy in sports above their noggins, the duckboat rides watched by millions and the ongoing party that lead to one player who was allegedly sent home for having a bit too much fun.

But before that, there were many amazing games and breathtaking saves and heroic goals, all moments that can never be forgotten. There were twists and turns that seem unreal now, including calls (myself included) for the head coach to be fired during the playoffs.

So many factors got this team to that final whistle in Vancouver, where all the only tasks remaining were a handshake line and a trophy presentation. In some instances, the Bruins played like the best team. In others, they were more lucky than good. In all, the team took advantage of the bounces, played their hearts out, got past potentially devastating injuries, won three Game 7s and came back to the Hub as incredibly deserving champions.

With a month of perspective, I’d like to highlight some of the reasons why the Bruins are spending their summer vacation with the Cup.


What I’m about to say takes nothing away from what the Bruins accomplished, but facts are facts: things happened to other teams, especially in the Eastern Conference, that helped the B’s become champs.

This discussion starts invariably with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby was on his way to a career season, scoring 66 points in 41 games, when he was sidelined with a concussion and did not play after Jan. 5. Crosby’s fellow superstar, Evgeni Malkin, then blew out his knee, missing the season after Feb. 4.

Behind the sterling goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury and Dan Bylsma’s can-do coaching style, the Pens still managed a four-seed in the East and took Tampa to seven games in the first round before bowing out. With Crosby and Malkin healthy, it’s hard to imagine Pittsburgh would have been an easy out in Eastern playoffs. We’ll never know, but the Bruins benefited from their misfortune.

The top seed in the East was Washington, who beat the Rangers in five games in the first round. The Bruins were on a collision course with the Caps for the East Finals, but the most surprising of all playoff results would befall Washington when Tampa swept them in the conference semi-finals. I don’t know if Alex Ovechkin is hockey’s Karl Malone, his teams tend to shrink from big moments and this year added to his line of playoff disappointments. Again, the Bruins lucked out by not facing them.

Philadelphia, the defending East champs, suffered from goalie schizophrenia with Peter Laviolette unable to make up his mind on which atrocious netminder should fail miserably in the playoffs. The Flyers dealt with injuries with Chris Pronger appearing in just three postseason contests while Jeff Carter missed the first two losses against Boston. There would be no letdown against Philly anyway, but it’s clear the Flyers weren’t at their best, leading to the major changes we’ve seen this summer.

The Bruins went to the wire twice in the Eastern Conference playoffs as the styles of Montreal and Tampa proved to be major challenges. But all season I felt the East was wide open, and any team that got hot at the right moment could get to the Final.

It sure wasn’t easy, and I hesitate to say the Bruins ever “got hot” at least in terms of stringing together victories, but the B’s certainly had the hot goaltender and the hot defense and the strong line chemistry to get to the Final.

I wasn’t thrilled about playing Vancouver. In fact, I wasn’t thrilled about playing any of the West’s top three teams (Vancouver, San Jose or Detroit). Top to bottom, those teams all had more talent than the Bruins. But none of those teams had their determined mix, and none of them had Tim Thomas, either.

The Canucks were missing some parts on defense and seemed totally out of sorts on offense once the Sedin sisters and Hungry Hungry Burrows were shut down. Throw in the Luongo meltdowns and the Bruins were able to edge out a team that was probably better on paper.

The Bruins proved worthy of standing atop the NHL mountain when Game 7 ended. But they got help. While it doesn’t take away from the victory, it must be acknowledged.


I’m not a huge Claude Julien fan. You probably knew that already. Even after they won the Cup I STILL felt like maybe he isn’t the right coach for this team long-term.

But…credit needs to be given. Twice during the playoffs the Bruins found themselves down 0-2 and twice the team came back. Julien did not allow them to get down and steered them in the right direction.

I hammered Julien for sitting Seguin in favor of Michael Ryder, and through the first three games of the Montreal series, I wasn’t wrong for feeling that way (0 points, 3 SOG). But in Game 4, Ryder pulled through big. He wound up playing every playoff game and scored 17 points (he totaled 41 points during the regular season).

I next hammered Julien for playing Shawn Thornton instead of Seguin in Game 3 of the Final. I tweeted the move (which came after the B’s scored two total goals in the first two games) meant Julien didn’t care about winning the series.

Well, I was wrong. Thornton brought toughness and energy for the rest of the series and Seguin wound up playing the last four games anyway due to Nathan Horton’s concussion.

Maybe after winning the Cup and bringing the right attitude and preaching the right style of play I should cut Julien some slack, and trust that he knows more about this stuff than I do…

Wait, what am I saying? I just lost my sports fan instincts there for a second. Of course I know more about this than Julien! Now where’s that phone number to call Felger and Mazz?


OK, maybe not ALL the right moves by GM Peter Chiarelli led to this championship. The Tomas Kaberle trade was a dud. The guy was brought in to improve the power play and scored eight PP points in 49 total games in Black and Gold. All that cost were two draft picks and a promising forward prospect. He goes down as the Bruins version of Eric Gagne.

But enough with the negative. Chiarelli pulled a number of excellent moves, between trades, draft choices and free agent pickups that led to this championship. His other in-season moves this year were terrific, shipping out the dead weight of Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart (a stay-at-home type heading for free agency rendered redundant by the emergence of Adam McQuaid) to the Thrashers (err, Jets) for a package including Rich Peverley.

Peverley didn’t put up gaudy numbers after the trade (just seven points in 23 regular season games), but provided a great third and fourth line presence and was supremely versatile by playing both center and wing. When Horty went down in the Final, it was Peverley who stepped up and played first-line minutes alongside Milan Lucic and David Krejci. Peverley responded by scoring two goals in the Game 4 shutout victory and proved an invaluable cog in the Game 6 and 7 victories.

A few days before the Peverley trade Chiarelli moved a second round pick to Ottawa for Chris Kelly. For the rest of the season and playoffs, Kelly anchored the third line, winning face-offs and showing toughness, grit and a bit of scoring from that spot. He wasn’t slowed down by a dive into the goal that broke his face in Game 3 against Montreal. He managed 13 points and a plus-11 while playing in every playoff game. The Bruins do not win the Cup without Kelly. Period.

Going into the season Chiarelli shored up the club for success, including extensions for Chara and Bergeron and re-signing the likes of Recchi, Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk. They traded underachiever Dennis Wideman and a first rounder to Florida for Horton and Gregory Campbell. We all know what Horton meant especially in the playoffs, but Campbell had an outstanding year centering the fourth line and was clearly more than a throw-in.

There was the drafting of Seguin, the future first line center who could become the best player of all. That pick of course came because Brian Burke decided Phil Kessel was worth losing two top 10 picks after ’09. Kessel has played exactly zero playoff games since the trade while Seguin already has a Cup.

But perhaps the best move of the offseason was the one Chiarelli didn’t make.

All summer Thomas’ name was mentioned in trade talks after his disappointing ’09-’10 season. Tuukka Rask was the future. Thomas was the past. Move him for a goal-scorer and move on. Well, Chiarelli knew Thomas needed hip surgery and went into the season also knowing he would have two capable goalies. Rask lost the first game of the season in Prague. Thomas won the second. That led to one of the greatest seasons ever for a goaltender, all because Chiarelli kept faith Thomas could do it again.

The beat goes on. I hammered Chiarelli for giving Andrew Ference an extension last year, but he proved to be so rock solid. Chiarelli managed to keep young guys like Krejci and Milan Lucic while knowing Kessel was the right one to move.

Despite not having anything left to prove, Recchi re-signed twice, Chiarelli knowing how important he was to the room. Recchi was the veteran leader who taught everyone how to win. I’d be worried about his void in the room, but I’m confident he’s passed on his best attributes to Chara, Bergeron, Lucic and Seguin so they can be mini-Recchis for the rest of their careers.

Unlike the ’10 Stanley Cup winning Blackhawks, the Bruins are set for continued success. They miraculously find themselves with nearly $9 million in salary cap space with Brad Marchand still to sign. They are stocked in the minors, with Jared Knight, Jordan Caron and Ryan Spooner leading the way. Oh, and they also managed to steal stud Dougie Hamilton with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, a lean, mean D-man compared heavily to Rob Blake. Thanks again, Burkie.


Tim Thomas cemented his legacy as an all-time Boston sports icon with his astounding regular season and incredible run to the Stanley Cup. By now you know the numbers and accolades: his .9382 regular season save percentage was the best in NHL history, combined with his even 2 GAA he earned his second Vezina. In the playoffs, Thomas was equally great with a .940 save percentage and 1.98 GAA as a Conn Smythe shoe-in.

It wasn’t always easy. After losing the first two games to Montreal I blasphemously tweeted that everyone had “tricked themselves into believing Tim Thomas was a goalie that plays well when it matters.” My concern was not unfounded given his scattershot style and, well, this. He also struggled in the Tampa series, allowing at least four goals in four of the games.

But Tim indeed came up big when it mattered. He shut out Game 7s against Tampa and Vancouver. He allowed one or zero goals in 11 of 25 playoff contests. Once the Bruins scored the first goal in Game 7 of the Final, I knew they would not lose, solely because of Thomas. I have never had so much confidence in any player in any situation.

Thomas’ story is part of what makes his meteoric rise so compelling. The Quebec Nordiques took him 217th overall in the ’94 NHL Draft, yet he went on to complete a four-year career with the Vermont Catamounts before the professional journey began in ’97. Over the next five seasons, Thomas would lace up in Finland, Sweden, the East Coast Hockey League, the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League before finally making his NHL debut with the Bruins for four games in ’02-’03.

During the lockout, Thomas went back to Finland, where he dominated SM-liiga, Finland’s top pro league, notching a .946 save percentage and 1.58 GAA in ’04-’05. He was set to return to the league when he was persuaded to come home to play for the Bruins once again.

After winning the Cup, Thomas talked about his past in the post-game press conference. Because of how strong the Finnish league was, and how well he played there, he told the assembled press staying in Finland after the lockout would have suited him fine. He’d have been just as happy staying there for the rest of career as he would have playing in the NHL. (EDIT: He starts talking about this about 1:20 into this clip.)

It was a fascinating sentiment, but given that it came from Thomas, the super-humble family man who could walk away from this at any second and be the exact same guy, I guess it wasn’t altogether surprising.

In this world where we constantly question the dedication or motivation of our sports stars, where the quest for fame and recognition drive the daily debate, Tim Thomas is the kind of guy you feel proud to root for.

Having said that, Thomas is not a goody-two shoes. This play exemplifies Thomas’ aggressiveness on the ice, and stands as the single play by which I will always remember him and the ’10-’11 Bruins:

Game 3 was a must-win. Earlier in the game, Aaron Rome laid one of the dirtiest hits in recent memory on Nathan Horton, running both from the contest and ultimately the series. It was the karmic shift the B’s needed. They exploded for four goals in the second period and turned the game into a physical showdown they would not lose.

The Canucks weren’t going away. Despite their emasculation for 9/10ths of the series, the Sedin sisters were always there, always lurking, always potentially breaking out and taking over as they had so many times before.

About 6:30 into the third, the Sedins were out there in a rare situation where Chara was not, and Seidenberg committed a rare giveaway in front of his own net. Henrik came up with the puck and made a move toward Thomas into the crease. At the last second, the puck trickled to the left where Boychuk was waiting to make a play, although Sedin did manage to get a shot off.

Thomas knew Boychuk could make a play on the puck. That left Thomas to make a play on Henrietta.

Notice Timmy never leaves his crease. By checking Sedin away, he was saying: “No. Not here. Not now. This is my area. You’ll have to shove me back to get this space.” And nobody was more surprised by what happened than Sedin.

Just like how the Canucks must have been surprised at how good the Bruins actually were. Like any great championship team, it started with the goalie. The Bruins scored four more goals that night, winning 8-1, then took three of the next four to win the Cup.


Of all the amazing things the ’10-’11 Boston Bruins accomplished, perhaps most amazing was taking a city where hockey had become an afterthought and creating an ice renaissance that could have long-lasting effects. So many kids who looked up to Ortiz and Brady and Pierce now look up to Chara and Bergeron and Thomas.

They want to pass and create like Krejci. They want to lead and score like Lucic. They want to bruise like Thornton, shoot like Boychuk, grind like Campbell and race like Seguin.

They want to come together with their hockey brethren and experience 1/10th of the chemistry, brotherhood and togetherness that created an unlikely champion.

Like the Patriots who demanded to be introduced as a team, the Red Sox who never stopped despite impossible odds and the Celtics who rallied around the African allegiance concept of ubuntu, these Bruins won together. Perhaps Thomas and the Chara/Seidenberg pairing led the way, but the team won because everyone made a difference.

Will we ever see anything like this again? Well, I guess that’s why we watch. Because we hope we might. We hope our teams will bring us the kind of joy and excitement this team brought New England.


MLB: A Sox Fan’s View of Derek Jeter

Robert Sabo/NY Daily News

While my stathead brethren would probably find a way to disagree, the true essence of baseball is the base hit. It’s what every hitter who’s ever picked up a stick of ash or maple (or aluminum, yecccchh) has tried to do at the plate. It’s what every pitcher on the mound and every fielder on the diamond has tried to prevent.

Some years ago it was decided 3,000 hits was the gold standard by which hitters in Major League Baseball would be measured. Before Saturday, just 27 men in history had reached that plateau. Derek Jeter blew the number away on Saturday, collecting five hits and notching 3,000 on a third-inning dinger off David Price.

Jeter made his MLB debut on May 29, 1995, a month after I turned nine. I’m now 25 with a job and bills to pay, but Jeter is still hitting, maybe not at the same clip as during his peak years of the late ’90s and early ’00s, but he’s still Jeter.

As a Red Sox fan for the last 20 years, I’ve watched Derek Jeter’s entire career from the other side. I’ve watched thousands of his at-bats, hundreds of those 3,003 hits and innumerable plays from his perch at shortstop for the last 16 years.

Immediately after he got his 3,000th hit, I tweeted a congratulatory message, but I couldn’t resist throwing in a barb about how Jeter is the most overrated player in baseball history. I believe this to be true: considering the attention paid to Jeter and the Yankees for the entirety of his career, the team and city for which he plays, his position on the field and the adherence so many baseball observers still hold to “intangibles” like leadership, class and “being a true Yankee,” Jeter’s play has been significantly inflated by media and fans through the years.

If Jeter had done the same things in Houston, or Kansas City, or Pittsburgh, there’s simply no way he’d have received the same accolades and pronouncements of immortality. Sure, Jeter is an all-time great shortstop. But he’s not the greatest, and he might not be in the top five, either.

The fact that Jeter is overrated isn’t his fault. And it could just be my anti-Yankees bias that informs this opinion. Really, I wish I could hate Derek Jeter. I wish I could have hated everything he’s done these past 16 years. I wish I could say he’s a jerk and an asshole and someone I despise with every fiber of my being.

But I can’t. Because none of that is true. It’s because of who Derek Jeter is that I sit here, having watched more of him than any non-Red Sox player in my two decades following this game, that I sit here in praise, and awe, of his accomplishments.

I define Jeter by his excellence in October (and November). Jeter has missed the playoffs just once in his career and sports an .850 OPS in 679 postseason plate appearances. I’ve seen so many of his playoff triumphs that it’s hard to remember them all: the Jeffrey Maier homer; the single most heads-up defensive play in baseball history; when he became Mr. November; his double that touched off the rally against Pedro in 2003 ALCS Game 7; and every time they won the World Series over the last 15 seasons, every time I was in the fetal position because of the Yankees’ successes, Jeter has been at the center of each moment.

I wish I could hate him for those moments. I do. But I can’t. And I know I’m not the only Red Sox fan that feels this way.

Jeter is a throwback. Every one of his 3,003 hits have been collected in the same uniform. George Brett can say that. Cal Ripken can say that. So can Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn and Craig Biggio. Those are five of my favorite players of all-time, and five guys who were loyal to one city and one group of fans during an era of rampant free agency. Jeter can now etch his name among them. The Yankees had the foresight to lock up Jeter to a 10-year pact during his absolute prime and they’ll probably wind up regretting his current deal based on the kind of performance they’ll get.

But I realized early in Jeter’s career that he would be a Yankee for life. He will never play for another team. He’ll quit before that happens. And that’s what I respect about him the most. I might hate the team he plays for and the fans he adores, but I love his devotion to that team and those fans. It’s palpable in everything he does.

In 16 years, I’ve never seen Derek Jeter give up on a play. In 16 years, I’ve never seen Derek Jeter not run out a ground ball or a pop up. In 16 years, I’ve never seen Derek Jeter show up a teammate or another player. In 16 years, I’ve never seen Derek Jeter disrespect anything except a hanging slider or a belt-high fastball.

If I ever have a son, and that son were to play baseball, there is no player that I’d want him to emulate more than Derek Jeter.

As a Red Sox fan, it’s a hard thing to admit. But as a baseball fan, it’s the highest compliment I can pay to any player.

Warning: NSFW language in video.



LIST: My Favorite Songs of 2011 So Far

2010 was an epic year for new music, at least in my opinion. Three albums released last year rank among my all-time favorites (The National’s High Violet, Jimmy Eat World’s Invented and Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) with two others hot on their heels (LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening and Local Natives’ Gorilla Manor). There were so many great albums last year that I had to spend at least a portion of this year listening to some of the 2010 awesomeness I’d missed (like Total Life Forever by Foals and Tourist History from Two Door Cinema Club).

So six months in, how does 2011 stack up? It’s hard to judge at this point, but it doesn’t appear it’s going to be quite as prolific as 2010. However, there’s been a lot excellent music so far. Here’s a rundown of nine of my favorite songs in 2011 to this point, in alphabetical order by artist.


The finale from Arctic Monkeys’ Suck It And See, the British band’s fourth album in six years, is perhaps their strongest overall song to date. It’s a far cry from the speed and intensity that marked Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, which back in 2006 was the fastest-selling debut album in UK history. Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Nick O’Malley and Matt Helders have experienced some real growing pains over the years, but on Suck It And See, they’ve finally figured out who they are. “That’s Where You’re Wrong” is literally the culmination of their career to this point. Cook’s melodic lead and Helders’ timely beats perfectly match the feeling in Turner’s croon. Who knew a two-chord chorus could hold so much power?


If you aren’t listening to Cut Copy, you’re definitely missing out. Informed by ’80s nostalgia and pages taken directly from the LCD Soundsystem playbook, their third album, Zonoscope, has definitely been my favorite album of 2011 so far. Every song feels like another step toward mainstream relevancy for electronica, a magnificent blending of all the styles that have become so vogue in indie these past few years. On deep cut “Alisa,” I think this Australian quartet hits their peak. Lead singer Dan Whitford sounds like Ric Ocasek and David Byrne’s lovechild while the band chugs along at an Aquanet-inspired backing track. This is a band with a lot more interest than just what’s going on out on the dancefloor, and it shows here.


On March 1, all-chick California surf-pop quartet Dum Dum Girls released four-song EP He Gets Me High. Three of the four songs are fantastic, including the aces title track and a rollicking cover of the Smiths’ iconic “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.” But it’s the first track, “Wrong Feels Right,” that I just can’t stop listening to. I’ve always been a huge sucker for Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, and this embodies what I’ve always enjoyed about Hynde. Lead singer Dee Dee hits a deep-voiced female confidence that Hynde has trademarked for the last 35 years. And while Dee Dee sings with such depth, the song is so bright and happy-sounding that I always find myself upset the song is only 2:31. Wrong does indeed feel right.


It took two albums, one sorta-album, a zillion tweets and campaigns, a boatload of headlines and questions that had nothing to do with music, but it finally happened. On “The Edge of Glory,” the finale of her latest record, Lady Gaga realized her artistic potential. Everything works perfectly here: the feeling conjured by her lyrics, the largeness of the hook, the epicness of the overall sound, the simplicity of the chorus, the attitude in the message. I’ve grown partial to calling Gaga “The Last Pop Star,” because that’s really what she is, and she finally earned it with “Edge of Glory.” Of course, the song would be incomplete without the astounding work of Clarence Clemons on what sadly became his last musical contribution to this earth. What a way to go out.


You wanna talk about fun? Look no further than this crew of New York nerds, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Their name might be complicated, but their tunes are anything but. On their first self-titled album they explored the vagaries of 80s noise pop and on this year’s Belong, they jump forward a few years, embodying the most fun of the 90s alternative rock singles I was weaned on. That fun shines through best on “Heart in Your Heartbreak.” It’s flippin’ adorable! Come on, tell me you don’t love the chorus of “She was the heart in your heart break/She was the miss in your mistake.” A perfect pop tune in any era, it’s capped off by a phenomenally not-ironic-at-all synth solo. PLEASE listen to this album, if just for the pure joy of “Heart in Your Heartbreak.”


Noah Lennox, the Paul McCartney of Animal Collective, went four years between the release of his landmark Person Pitch and this April’s equal-if-not-better masterpiece Tomboy. The standout track from this terrific collection of genre-bending electronic indie is “Friendship Bracelet,” which is without question the most complicated track on this list. By the time the first chorus comes to a close, it sounds like Panda Bear is playing three different songs at once. Yet all the varied sounds come together, strung along by Lennox’s trademark harmonic inflections. I can’t even begin to guess what kind of instruments he used to put this song together. All I know is it sounds amazing. The next song on the album, “Afterburner,” is also excellent for much different reasons.


Let’s face it: The King of Limbs is not a great album. Certainly not up to the impossibly lofty standards Radiohead has set for themselves. Releasing three generation-defining albums (The Bends, OK Computer and Kid A) makes the rest of your career awfully tough. That’s not to say Limbs is without great songs. One that I believe immediately enters their canon is the haunting, circular “Give Up The Ghost.” Here Thom Yorke pays tribute to someone we share as a hero: Neil Young. The influence of Neil’s attention to detail and minimalist recording techniques is felt throughout, right down to the way Yorke sings. I can totally imagine this as some long-lost outtake from the On the Beach sessions. Its proves sometimes the best crib from the best. That willingness pays off immensely on “Give Up The Ghost.”


These are young, brash Chicagoans I saw in Boston earlier this year. They played great but displayed immaturity and a lack of professionalism at the end of the set by bolting the stage before playing an encore. Like I said, they’re young and brash and will learn from their rookie mistakes. It may take some time before their personal maturity catches up to their musical maturity. “Weekend” is the Beatles-drenched opener of their second album “Dye It Blonde,” which is loaded with songs of its throwback ilk. “Weekend” is rife with catchy hooks and guitar licks and beautiful, longing minor 7th descending chords and tinges of young romance in the lyrics. There’s so much to love here. It’ll be nice when Smith Westerns start to love their fans back.


Outside of the extremely funky “Golden Age” from Dear Science, I guess I never thought of TV on the Radio as a particularly funky band. I mean, a lot of their songs are about sex, but when you look at the guys, they don’t exactly scream “deep funky sexiness.” The first time I heard their new record about a month ago, I thought it was very good through the first six tracks. Then out came “New Cannonball Blues.” Holy. Crap. This song is the hottest thing this side of Kate Upton. It sounds like it was baked in a kiln before being applied to disc. It’s so smooth yet so forceful at the same time. And it’s nothing like anything TVOTR has put out before. I was worried Nine Types wouldn’t stand up to its prolific predecessor, Dear Science. But Dave Sitek and crew assuaged any of those fears solely based on “Cannonball.”

What have I missed? What have you listened to this year that I may not have heard? Let me know. I expect to be doing some reviews here in time, I can tell the first one I do will be Bon Iver’s new self-titled album. Hint: It’s amazing and you should listen to it.