By Mary Paoletti
BOSTON -- The ad showed the frantic final seconds of an on-ice battle. It was the Philadelphia Flyers, a puck-clear away from the Eastern Conference Finals. Then the ad cut to the newly eliminated Boston Bruins. They skated back to their bench. They flew home.
"WATCH," the TV instructed, "AS THE BRUINS LOOK FOR REVENGE AGAINST THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS IN THEIR FIRST MEETING SINCE BOSTON'S STUNNING DEFEAT IN THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS." Or something like that.
Pregame stories trumpeted the same scene, each promising a bloodthirsty Bruins team "haunted by their epic seven-game setback" and ready for a "rematch."
The ad ran before the Bruins' game in Philadelphia on Dec. 1. But that wasn't all. Not a single mention of that game, in any medium, failed to tie it to last season's collapse.
Of course the Bruins wanted to punish the team who beat them. They confirmed it every single time they were asked. They were pissed off. They were both unwilling and unable to forget.
And that Wednesday night, 10 days ago, they skated into the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and took what they could get: A 3-0 win. Two points. Some satisfaction.
Yet meeting the Flyers on home turf tonight will be an even more of a headhunt, right? Go get that chum bucket! Roll out the sad-Bear commercials! Dip those game previews in venom!
For us. But for them? Are the Bruins sick of the media's 2010 Revenge storyboard and ready to move on?
"Yes,'' Mark Recchi said Friday. "That was last year. It's over, it's done with. It's a new season."
The tired winger's eyes were clear when he spoke. He had just practiced on the TD Garden ice for an hour on what would normally be an off-day. It was prep for Saturday night's fight, the third game in five days. Where there can be signs of physical exhaustion in a locker room the mental strain can only be imagined.
But Recchi took the time to make sure he was perfectly understood.
"We have to learn from it, obviously. But it's over,'' he repeated. "They've got a good team now to worry about. It's always been a good rivalry for us. They've got a good team, we've got a good team, and we've got to be ready."
Teammate Blake Wheeler reacted the same way when prompted about the media's playoffs fixation. He shook his head as he shucked elbow pads and turned to his locker.
"That was last year. Guys will never forget about it but that carries no weight this year. Obviously we're always going to remember that but it's something that's gotta be kept in the past and our focus is just on the present and keep continuing to play well at home."
Can you blame them. Rehashing past failures is miserable for anyone on any plane of life. To be poked and prodded into reliving it for reporters gripping voice recorders ("React! Emote! Say something provocative!") seems like it should be in some textbook about psychological trauma. How frustrating it must be to get dragged backwards when you're trying to forge ahead.
It's not that the guys won't be hungrier than usual for a win tonight. The hunger is just channeled differently. What it can do is fuel the Bruins toward the goal of being the better team in 2010. Because Lord Stanley doesn't care if you settled last season's scores.
But what about the fans? Are they as focused on the current season? Was that win in Philly as satisfying for the boys at the bar wearing Black and Gold as it was for the Bruins? How about the three generations of Hub hockey fans gathered around that antagonizing TV?
I wonder if they want blood.
I wonder if they're fantasizing about October of 2009 when Carolina came back into Boston. The Hurricanes, of course, were the revenge foil prior to Philadelphia after ousting the Bruins from 2009's Eastern Conference semis. And talk about revenge. Boston was murderous, unleashing a beating on both the scoreboard (a 7-2 win) and the ice (92 total penalty minutes).
The fans were deranged with happiness. They celebrated in the club seats and unleashed bedlam in the balcony. A victory that complete against the wretched 'Canes who stole their Cup was better than anyone had hoped for in a regular season rematch.
Wheeler imagines the passion will be there again tonight.
"It's a huge game for the fans,'' Wheeler said. "It's still fresh in their memories... what happened last year, so they want to see us come out and play a really solid game."
After the game day morning skate, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell agreed. "Itll be hostile, Im sure, to say the least. There are probably a lot of disappointed fans that were not only at Game Seven, but that were watching at home."
There's one little hang-up to this fan fantasy of a Boston massacre, though. Boston already beat the Flyers this year, remember? So who's looking for retribution tonight?
"We played a good road game in Philly," coach Claude Julien said of the Bruins 3-0 win. "It was a battle and I expect an even bigger battle Saturday, to be honest with you. Now you got a team coming back wanting to redeem themselves and get that win back that we stole from them in their home building and I would expect it to be a tough challenge."
Hate for Philly is a familiar feeling in this city. These two teams met in the playoffs not once but four times in the 1970s. This isn't the Broad Street BulliesBig Bad Bruins clash of that era but those memories are built into the brains of many B's fans who will come roaring into the TD Garden tonight.
Last year's playoffs loss is just another layer that will eventually be buried under others, a benchmark for the momentum shifts that happen in every rivalry. Boston won the Winter Classic on an overtime goal, then the Flyers won the playoffs matchup; this year Boston triumphed on December 1 and now Philadelphia has a chance to pay them back.
And you know what? The loser will have the motivation for "revenge" when they meet again in March.
The lesson: You can't compare. The only game that matters is the one in front of you. Hartnell can jaw all he wants about the past as he did Saturday morning, "We did a great job of fighting back and ruining a night when they were supposed to win Game 7 and dominate," but if his team loses again tonight those words will fall flat.
That's why the Bruins need to be, and are ready to, move on.