By Mary Paoletti
BOSTON -- It was an unusually warm December day when the Flyers were in Boston.
Temperatureswere reported around 50 degrees and fans rolled into the TD Gardendressed in light layers; Black and Gold hoodies or hockey sweaters andscarves. Funny thing, though; the crowd wasn't heated. Not in temperament.
Therewas nothing unruly about Saturday night's spectators. Some forecastedpiano-string tension before meeting Philadelphia again. Those hatedFlyers. The team that made the Boston Bruins an answer to a triviaquestion.
"What club became the third team in NHL history to lose a playoffs series after winning the first three games?"
Yeah. That question.
MaybeBruins fans don't play trivia. Maybe they're content to go out withfriends, drink some beer and hope for -- but not need -- a win. Thatwas the vibe floating around as folks found their seats. A smatteringof boos were tossed toward the ice when the Flyers starters wereannounced during warm-ups. But it was nothing more than what Montrealreceived in November.
Boston's marketing department made aclever play. Minutes before puck dropped a montage rolled. "What aWeek!" the jumbotron declared. The slides showed a hell of a NewEngland sports recap: the Patriots beat the Jets, the Bruins beat theSabes, the Celtics beat the Nuggets, the Bruins and Celtics win againon the same night, the Red Sox sign Carl Crawford. "And it's notover . . . " the screen promised.
Was no one revved up enough about the damn Flyers?
Atleast the trick worked. The fans were properly roused by the week thatwas and broke into a chant just 30 seconds into the game "LET'S GOBRUINS! LET'S GO BRUINS! LET'S GO BRUINS!" And the rally cry wasrewarded with an early shot on Philadelphia's goal.
But as theB's quieted down so too did the arena. Instead of faces set with fiercedetermination, each section was littered with discontent.
There was that moment, though, during the second period . . .
TheBruins are down, 1-0. Braydon Coburn sends the puck from his Flyerszone down a long diagonal towards Boston's end. Andrew Ference and AdamMcQuaid race Philly winger Jody Shelley to the puck on the icing call.Ference moves to play the puck. McQuaid pulls up in a defenselessposition. Shelley is right behind him. Shelley throws his 230 poundsinto a thunderous hit on McQuaid, shoving him into the boards. McQuaidis down. He's not moving.
Fans rose in the wave ofindignation. A "FLYERS SUCK" chant rained down from the balcony andswelled to a deafening roar. A lusty chorus of boos met theannouncement of Shelley's five-minute major for boarding and gamemisconduct penalty and it felt like things would finally turn around.
It was only a moment. The power play proved fruitless and the mob grew restless.
Where was the energy? Where was the excitement?
Oneguy seemed worthy of emotion: Tim Thomas. It was the goalie's night. Itis his season. Thomas stopped 31 shots in Boston's 2-1 overtime loss onSaturday night but that burden doesn't rest on his shoulders. Nor doesthe crowd's frustration. His effort was a combination of body and willas he made save after save, each more inconceivable than the last, andthe fans loved him for it.
Their passion reflected the play. Youwonder why that rink wasn't rocking with full-tilt Philly hatred? TheBruins aren't playing complete hockey games right now. Maybe fansaren't compelled to stand and cheer for 60 minutes when the team isn'tgiving a 60-minute effort. It's hard to say.
But then again, as the sell-out crowd of 17, 565 filtered out into the cold night air, they weren't saying much.