Boston sports fans are a generally unified people. We’re not New York or California, where each league offers multiple teams to root for. We’re not Florida or Texas, where college allegiances can push the population to the brink of civil war. We’re Boston, and as with most things, we keep it simple . . . traditional . . . routine. We worship the same heroes and despise the same villains. We’re one big, sometimes-happy-often-dysfunctional-but-never-bored sports family. And the playoffs are our holidays, a time when everyone stops what they’re doing and comes together as one. Yay, sports.
But if there’s such thing as a divide within the fan base, it exists between the Celtics and Bruins. Or more, it’s between basketball and hockey. It’s the game, the culture, the environment; the fact that the seasons so perfectly overlap. As a kid, you have to make a choice: Which sport do you want to play? As an adult, with time and money at an ever-increasing premium, you have to make a choice: Which games do you watch? Which franchise do you buy tickets to go see?
You can be a diehard Pats fan and still have plenty of time to love the Celtics. You can be a diehard Sox fan and still have plenty of time to love the Bruins. But between the overlap and inherent differences, the diehard Bruins/diehard Celtics fan combo is Boston’s version of the snow leopard.
In recent years, the divide has widened (at least on the surface) thanks to Mike Felger’s widespread and highly visible obsession with hating on the Celtics and the NBA in general, and this year, Felger got his wish: For only the second time since the turn of the millennium, the Bruins are still playing while the Celtics have gone fishin’. For the diehard Bruins fan, this is a dream — on its own merit and as it relates to the Celtics failure. For the diehard Celtics fan, this is . . . weird.
As a Bostonian, as a true sports fan, you want to jump on the Bruins bandwagon. After Monday night’s Game 7 comeback, how could you not? Buuuut, it’s a little difficult to invest yourself in a series when you have no clue what’s going on. In that light, here’s a quick preview of the Bruins/Rangers series in terms that die hard Celtics fans can understand and diehard Bruins fans will probably despise.
See you all at Thanksgiving.
The Match-Up: Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers
The Boston/New York rivalry transcends specific sports. We all understand the dynamics at work when these two cities meet on the field, court, diamond, ice, sky or wherever they happen to be. But with the Bruins and Rangers, there’s this added twist: They haven’t met in the playoffs in more than 40 years. The last time was back in 1973, when players didn’t wear helmets and goalies didn’t even wear masks. There’s no perfect Celtics comparison for that, so let’s call it a combination of the 2011 first-round bout with the Knicks, or (in terms of what’s at stake) last year’s second-round series against the 76ers. It’s a match-up that means a lot in terms of geography and deep hockey history, but a lot of that history has been lost over the course of the rivalry’s long layoff.
The Sideline Star: John Torterella
Rangers coach John Torterella is the anti-Doc Rivers. He’s basically Gregg Popovich with permanent ‘roid rage. He’s Bill Belichick’s angrier inner monologue. He doesn’t care about playing nice with the media, he has no patience for stupid questions, he’ll call out his own players, he’ll call out players on the opposing team — he basically doesn’t give a crap. And that’s led to some of the most intense, awkward and hilarious press conferences this side of Chaney/Calipari.
But like Pop, Doc and Bill, Tortorella’s also pretty damn good. The Boston native (Concord-Carlisle Class of ’76) is the NHL’s all-time winningest American-born coach. He won a Stanley Cup (and NHL Coach of the Year) in 2004 with the Lightning and has only one losing season in his last 10 years on the job.
Expect at least one major blow-up from Torts this series — probably after Dan Shaughnessy actually does accuse him of using steroids.
The Bruins Objective: SCORE
Obviously, but it’s not so easy against the Rangers.
Imagine an NHL team hired Tom Thibodeau to coach their defense, and in this case, goalie Henrik Lundqvist is playing the role of 2008 Kevin Garnett.
Lundquist was the Vezina Trophy (best goalie) last year, and is a finalist again this year. He posted back-to-back shutouts as the Rangers climbed out of a 3-2 hole in the first round against the Capitals. But like Thib’s defensive attack, it’s not all about that one dominant player in the middle, but more building a selfless and cohesive team attack around that dominant presence.
For the Rangers, that cohesion is demonstrated through a commitment to blocking shots. And we’re not talking about KG swatting a lifeless floater into the stands; this is a defender basically taking a bullet for his goalie. Throwing his body in front of a 100 MPH slap shot.
Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi led the NHL with 125 blocked shots this season. After round one, three of the NHL’s seven top playoff shot blockers (Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Ryan Callahan) play for the New York Rangers.
How do the Bruins deal with that?
The same way you deal with Thib's defense. By being patient, trusting your teammates, making sharp passes and praying like hell.
Also, as you’d probably expect from a team that enjoys jumping in front of slap shots, the Rangers are an aggressive and straight nasty up team. Like the Bad Boy Pistons or a sequel to Multiplicity starring Bruce Bowen instead of Michael Keaton.
Let’s wrap this up with a few rapid-fire comparisons between this year’s Bruins and Celtics of the past and present:
Patrice Bergeron is Paul Pierce: He’s the longest-tenured Bruin and an understated star who’s guaranteed to have his number raised to the rafters. Much like Pierce, Bergeron has been here so long, that you can’t help but sometimes take him for granted, but then there are games — the biggest games — like Monday night at the Garden where he comes up so big and you promise to never take him for granted again. But you will. Until the next time.
Zdeno Chara is Kevin Garnett: Chara is the only other current Bruin currently deserving of having his number retired by the B’s, and like Garnett earned that despite establishing himself elsewhere first. While Pierce and Bergeron were with Boston during the dark days, Garnett and Z were brought in to anchor the defense and ultimately helped put Boston over the top. And while nothing will ever beat: “Anythiiiiiiing’s possiblllllle!!”, this is pretty awesome, too.
Tyler Seguin is Rajon Rondo: He’s got the skills, but there are questions as to what’s going on in between his ears. Does he care enough? Is he tough enough? Is he too selfish and cocky to buy into the team dynamic? As with Rondo, the problems are a little overstated, and just a matter of time and maturity. But either way, Seguin’s the guy everyone expects to carry this team into the future (while also coming up big in the present) and he just hasn’t been able to do that consistently.
Brad Marchand is Avery Bradley: Hard-working, scrappy, irritating, loves to get under the other team’s skin and is damn good at it. He’s at his best when working in unison with Seguin (Rondo), but so far in these playoffs, neither guy -- and in turn, the pair -- has been good enough.
Milan Lucic is Rasheed Wallace: Bruins fans spent most of the season calling Lucic lazy and out of shape and questioning how much he cared about hockey. In the playoffs, he’s finally stepped up his game and proved his worth to the B’s. As a bonus, Looch has enough left in the tank to survive the extent of the postseason, as opposed to passing out dead in Game 7 of the Finals.
Jaromir Jagr is Shaq: A Hall of Famer at the end of the line, with one specialized skill that can potentially put Boston over the top. In Shaq’s case, it was the ability to rebound and control the paint. With Jagr, it’s that legendary knack for finding the back of the net. Thankfully for the Bruins, the only weight Jagr has gained since arriving in Boston has been on top of that glorious head of hair.
Shawn Thornton is Kendrick Perkins: An important presence behind the scenes, and good for occasionally roughing up an opponent on the ice. But you’re not expecting much else, and you won’t see him during crunch time.
Nathan Horton and David Krejci are the best-case Jason Terry: They’re who Celtics fans hoped Terry would be this year. Guys who were inconsistent in the regular season, but had history of coming up big in the playoffs . . . and, unlike Terry, actually have.
And OK, these comparisons have run their course.
Diehard Celtics fans: Considered yourself prepared.
Diehard Bruins fans: Considered yourselves annoyed.
But either way, we’re all in this together now.
Let’s go Bruins.