BOSTON -- The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” played over the TD Garden speakers as the Bruins took the ice for overtime. One-by-one, they emerged from the tunnel, through a sea of high fives and inspiring words from fans. “Let’s do this, guys!” “We love you, guys!” “You got this, guys!” “The Penguins f*cking suck!”
As you know, Baba O’Riley (aka Teenage Wasteland) contains one of the more classic intros in the history of the world. It’s about 40 seconds of random and repetitive synthesizer, and while that doesn’t sound appealing, it just works. It sucks you in. You can feel it building to something bigger and better.
And that pretty much sums up the first three periods of last night’s game. It was nothing spectacular, but more just a steady stream of equally random and repetitive awesomeness. Bruins and Penguins. 1-1. Back and forth. One team that couldn’t afford to lose against another that just really didn’t want to. Sixty minutes of the most emotionally charged and evenly played hockey you’ll ever see. And all along, it was building to this moment: Sudden death overtime.
From my seat near the Boston tunnel, I watched every Bruin make the short trek on to the ice or over to the bench. Finally, Jaromir Jagr came into view. He was the last player in line, and would be the last to take the ice for the opening shift of overtime. Jagr slowly made his way to the edge, stopped for a quick second to gather his thoughts (like Terrence Mann right before walking out to the cornfields) and then —
DUNNNN DUNDUNNNNN . . .
DUNNNN DUNDUNNNNN . . .
The song kicked. He exploded onto the ice, and the crowd went nuts. For him and the song and the start of overtime. He couldn’t have timed it any better. And in that brief second, I could see the future: “Jagr’s going to win this game!”
How could he not? That was too perfect. This was his moment.
Of course, he didn’t and over the next two overtimes, I lost track of how many other perfect moments had come and gone.
There was Sidney Crosby, stationed behind the Bruins net in the second OT, with the puck in his possession and no helmet on his head. The potential setting for a highlight that would live on forever. There was Jarome Iginla out on a breakaway, on the verge of flipping the “He dissed the Bruins” narrative on its head. There was every time Tyler Seguin took a shot, because he has to score at some point, right? There were both Bruins power plays. Both Penguins power plays. There was that flash of Matt Cooke with the puck in front of the net, and all the misery that would follow.
There are a million moments like this in overtime playoff hockey. Where in a split second, you see history before it happens. You see heroes and goats. You see a 3-0 lead and the Stanley Cup Finals or a 2-1 lead and a whole heap of trouble. And a split later, it’s gone. Until the next time.
After a while it can drive you insane. Take this conversation I had with my dad before a faceoff in front of the Penguins net:
Dad: Did you see that?
Dad: Horton just did something.
Me: What did he do?
Dad: I don’t know. Just did something with his arm. It was kind of cool. He’s got this. He’s got this.
Crazy, right? Even crazier, I believed him.
By the second overtime, there were periods of prolonged silence at the Garden. This is while the game was going on. It was like the crowd was starting to pace itself a little bit. After all, it was already late, and a third overtime was looming. Everyone was mentally drained. There are only so many times you can get your hopes up (or down) before your mood starts to even out.
And then it happened. In an instant. A nice pass from Jagr to Brad Marchand and then a better pass from Marchand to a streaking Patrice Bergeron. In one motion Bergeron handled the puck, flipped it past Tomas Vokoun and that was that.
Dirty Water came on the speakers, and the celebration was underway.
In the end, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that Bergeron’s the one who put Boston over the top. There’s no one in either locker room with a better (recent) track record of encountering a potentially historic moment and not letting it slip away. This is what Bergeron does. His legend grows with every passing game. And last night, that legend (and oh yeah, the hottest goalie on the planet) left the Bruins one win away from another trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.