Boston goes Bruin-crazy

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:49 PM ET

BOSTON — They waved their black and gold towels pub crawling up Causeway St. after Monday night’s game, toasting the old (Mark Recchi), the new (Tuukka Rask) and perhaps taking a longer look at the dusty vintage Bruin memorabilia on the walls.

With a Stanley Cup drought just a few years shorter than the Maple Leafs, but multi-champions in everything else, this town is too sports-sophisticated to go ga-ga about one playoff series. But the six-game ouster of the higher-seeded Buffalo Sabres created enough buzz to distract people from the Red Sox and Celtics for a few days.

“You have to go back a few years to find a series the Bruins won that fans thought they weren’t supposed to,” opined a bar-keep at the venerable Fours in the shadow of TD Garden. “There’s a different feeling about this team now. Of course, about three weeks ago, everyone had given up on them.”

Redemption was indeed the theme in the Boston room after the 4-3 dagger put away the Sabres and sent them on to face either Philadelphia or Pittsburgh pending Wednesday’s Habs-Caps’ finish. The Bruins were only three points away from being the last seed in the East and four from missing post-season action altogether. They had no Marc Savard (cleared to play for the second round) and in the wake of Matt Cooke’s gooning of their star, ex-Bruins such as Jay Miller and factions in the media were decrying a lack of old-time toughness from the Olde Towne team.

Much of the pre-playoff coverage wasn’t about the Sabres’ series, as much as the draft lottery and whether Boston would end up with a No. 1 pick from Toronto to kick start next year. Even as Boston took a 3-1 lead in the series, having held the lead for less than 20 minutes, dire predictions were made about the Sabres awakening and dumping the Bs in the Erie Canal. Buffalo’s dominance of Game 5 had most people booking flights back there for a seventh game.

But in a series with its share of physical play — 458 hits tallied at the end — Boston showed it could compete in all three key parts of the rink. Rask looked right down the barrel of the Buffalo guns and at all-world goalie Ryan Miller at the other end and didn’t blink. Zdeno Chara’s leadership, quarterbacking and shot-blocking was more than a match for rookie Tyler Myers and in the greatest contrast, Boston’s special teams hammered their counterparts.

Buffalo had 19 power plays come up empty, the only team not to have one first-round goal, but to its credit, would not carp about injuries to Thomas Vanek and Jochen Hecht and what may or may not have been bugging Tim Connolly, who was Tiny Tim again in playoffs.

“I am not shocked,” a subdued Miller said of the end result. “We gave up a few leads in the series (they had been 30-0 in regular season when ahead in the third) and that’s what happens in a league like this.”

Ex-Leaf property Rask showed plenty of spunk for a playoff neophyte. Much was made that his superior stats to Miller’s before the series were an optical illusion based on fewer games. Yet head-to-head in six playoff games Rask edged Miller in save percentage, .927 to .926 and a 2.18 goals-against average to Miller’s 2.34.

“I don’t think it’s an upset for us,” Rask deadpanned. “Look at our guys. We play good defence and we get chances. I think we showed character.”

Keep in mind the Bruins could get Savard back in the next round, Milan Lucic finally got rolling in Game 6 and if any disaster should befall their young Finnish goalie, the Bs can signal for 2009 Vezina winner Tim Thomas.

As the crazy Eastern gameboard unfolds, the sixth-seeded Bruins could get home-ice advantage against the Flyers next round if Montreal completes its dethroning of Washington. Those two standard bearers for black ’n’ blue hockey haven’t been in the same ally in spring since 1978.

On a night when the fans had an unexpected series win to celebrate, for the first time since 1999 Boston clinched one at home, the added prospect that buses and trains full of Philly supporters could flood the city and fill Causeway coffers was also cause for joy.

“If we could beat the Flyers and Montreal upsets Pittsburgh,” the barman continued with growing excitement, “can you imagine us and Montreal in the final?”

And if it’s Sidney Crosby and the Penguins?

“People are going to say: ‘You don’t have a chance,’” Rask shrugged. “We won’t care about that.”


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