First things first. If all this column's predictions were as bad
as the one made before the Chicago game, then the Bruins really
will win a Stanley Cup before Ray Bourque retires. This resident
boob figured that the Bruins losing skid would continue against
the Blackhawks, but just the opposite happened. The Bruins went
on a tear, not losing at all while this fan and alleged columnist
was on vacation in the Caribbean.
Unfortunately, vacations end, and so do winning streaks. The
Bruins have lost two out of three games since then. So if any of
the more superstitious readers out there would like to pledge
cash to the "Send Matt on another cruise vacation for the rest of
the NHL season" Fund, to ensure that the Bruins make the
playoffs, all contributions would be welcome.
The Bruins won that Chicago game 6-3, with Dimitri Khristich's
first hat trick as a Bruin, and the first NHL goal from rookie
Cameron Mann. Dirk Graham, then the Chicago coach, commented that
being outplayed in your own building was unacceptable, and
apparently management agreed, as Graham was relieved of his
duties soon after. The Bruins brought up Cameron Mann a
while back, but he didn't seem to catch on. This trip, however,
Mann started to click when paired with Joe Thornton.
Then the Bruins went to Kanata, or whatever they call that place
where the Ottawa Senators really play, and handed a 5-2 whuppin'
to the best team in the east. Mann had two more goals, both
assisted by Thornton, and Khristich had two more assists. More
importantly, the Bruins solved goalie Ron Tugnutt, who has been a
tough nut for them to crack over the years. The Tugger let up
three goals in the first and was replaced at the start of
the second by Damian Rhodes, who didn't fare much better.
To top it off, the Bruins had a comeback tie against the New
Jersey Devils, who had also manhandled them in their last
meeting. This time, it was Cameron Mann doing the manhandling,
as he scored at 18:19 of the third to force the tie. Byron Dafoe
was the difference though, as the Bruins were outshot 39-28,
with a 15-7 New Jersey bulge in the third period.
Next came a win over Washington, with Khristich, Jason Allison,
and Anson Carter scoring four goals against their old mates,
going 3-for-5 on the power play. Byron Dafoe evened his record
at 19-19-8, so that he was no longer the best goalie in the NHL
with a losing record. He frustrated a 36-19 shot advantage for
the Caps, also his old team, leaving the lowly Caps to wonder
what might have been.
Next the Bruins beat the road-slumping Phoenix Coyotes, barely,
as P.J. Axelsson had a goal and an assist in the third period,
and Robbie DiMaio scored his first goal in about a decade (well,
more like a month). Cameron Mann scored his fifth goal in five
games, and Boston fans were saying "Where have I heard that name
Then the vacation ended. A day later, a dreadful 2-1 loss
against the Hurricanes, and the Bruins have had a 1-2-0 record
since then. Byron Dafoe was blameless, as both shots were
killers by unchecked players in the slot, and the Bruins' offense
was aimless, with only an Anson Carter goal in the first finding
its way past Arturs Irbe in the Carolina net.
After a lackluster effort against the 'Canes, the Bruins went
into New Jersey and tromped all over the Devils, winning 4-1,
playing their best 60 minutes of hockey all season. The Bs were
led by two first-period goals from defensemen Kyle McLaren and
Grant Ledyard, and an insurance empty-netter by Anson Carter.
So the Bruins optimistically went against the New York Rangers
with a four-point lead for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Simply put, they were stoned by Mike Richter in a 3-1 loss.
Boston outshot the Rangers 38-18, but as the Bruins proved
earlier in the week, shot totals do not get you points in the
standings. The worst touch was having Kevin Stevens, ex-Bruin
whipping boy, score the winning goal.
The highlight of the game came when Ken Belanger boarded Ulf
Samuelsson from behind in the first, rendering the Ulfster
unconscious. When Ulfie awoke, he was looking around and seeing
20 Cam Neelys, and the hometown Boston crowd booed the fact that
he was able to leave the ice under his own power. It's great to
be loved. Ulf left the game with a concussion, and in
need of stitches from a long cut on his face where his shield was
driven into his cheek. Belanger was assessed a five-minute major
and a game misconduct for hitting from behind. Belanger was not
particularly contrite, saying essentially that Ulf turned the
wrong way. Ulf didn't get a lot of sympathy from the NHL
offices, either, because he was on the giving end of so many
questionable hits of his own over the years. Heck, when your
former coach from last year, Colin Campbell, is the guy in charge
of meting out NHL justice, and Belanger doesn't get even a
one-game suspension, you definitely have a bad rep.
Overall, a 4-2-1 record over the last two weeks is hard to
complain about, compared to the previous stanza of 0-3.
Unfortunately, the teams nipping on the Bruins' heels in the
playoff hunt did as well or better, so the Bruins find themselves
still tied for eighth going into Tuesday's game against Florida,
only the tie is with the Rangers, not the Panthers.
One of the trends in Boston professional sports seems to be to
give away star players and get nothing in return. The Red Sox
have become proficient at this, letting both Roger Clemens and Mo
Vaughn walk away without getting so much as a pouch of Red Man in
exchange. The Patriots joined the Getaway Club by losing Curtis
Martin and Tom Tupa and Dave Walabaugh, two of them to the NY
Jets, who are rapidly approaching the hate level usually reserved
for the Yankees.
Not one to miss a trend, Harry Sinden decided to one-up the other
Boston sports teams in free agent futility. Harry, in his wisdom,
decided to PAY goalie Jim Carey to leave without compensation!
Trader Harry bought out the rest of the Net Detective's
multi-million dollar contract so he could jettison the young
fellow, who promptly signed on as a free agent with the
St. Louis Blues for no compensation. NADA! So in effect, the
Bruins paid Carey to leave. Not even a bag of pucks in return.
Now, we all know that trades aren't always what they seem. When
an All-Star gets traded for two fifth-round draft picks, you know
there are either favors owed, or future considerations, or an
agreement to trade my mess for your mess. But couldn't the
Bruins, who clearly were not going to use Carey for anything
except expansion bait, and St. Louis, which has been about as
hurtin' for goaltending as a team can be (excepting perhaps
Calgary), have worked out a deal? Boston could have paid part of
Carey's salary (no more perhaps than the buyout) and gotten a
player or two in return from the Blues, even if only for
Finally, an apology is in order. In writing of possible trades
the Bruins could make, I inadvertently confused Mats Sundin of
the Toronto Maple Leafs with his former Quebec Nordiques soulmate
Owen Nolan, who is indeed with the San Jose Sharks, and hopefully
will stay there. The confusion was caused by years of watching
these two apparently talented players display, side-by-side,
approximately zero leadership and grit. Colorado won a Stanley
Cup seemingly minutes after trading these two (well, actually, it
was more than a year later, since Sundin was traded to the Leafs
in June 1994). Nolan is a big guy who plays soft for his size,
and has only been on a playoff team twice in his career. Getting
him was arguably the worst trade the San Jose Sharks have ever
made (sorry, Al Iafrate) because they gave up Sandis Ozolinsh to
get Nolan - it doesn't get more one-sided than that. Note that
the Sharks have hardly made the playoffs since. So the
meaning in the column was that Nolan should stay a Shark. Sundin
hasn't had the privilege.
However, Mats isn't exactly the Gordie Howe of the nineties
either - he has only been on three playoff teams (this year's
Toronto squad will make four). While he is averaging better than
a point a game this year, and over his career, his limited
post-season play isn't up to that standard. However, he is not
the loser he was portrayed as in the last column. Still, the
Leafs can keep him. Maybe subliminal references to the player
Bruins fans really want should be sprinkled liberally (Tony
Amonte) throughout articles like this to have a potential (Tony
Amonte) effect on the general manager. Maybe if enough Bruins
fans chanted (Tony Amonte) at the games, at the dinner table, at
the Delaware North concession stands, on talk radio, on the T,
maybe Harry would hear the mantra of the great collective
unconscious. Then, Harry will trade for Owen Nolan - he is a
"can't lose" proposition for Harry, because if Nolan stars in
Boston, Harry is a genius, and if Nolan crashes and burns, then
Nolan is a high-priced bum who took Harry's money on false
pretexts. Did I mention Tony Amonte?
Thinking the unthinkable - the Bruins could end up as one of
those have-not teams, trading away players at the deadline, if
their play does not improve soon. The trading deadline is in
about two weeks, so when Pat Burns calls the upcoming games "the
week" it isn't too hard to read that as a two-edged sword
pointing right at some of his veteran players. One of the guys
who would seem to be most vulnerable would be Dimitri Khristich,
if only because he has more playoff experience than most Bruins
forwards. Khristich has slumped some since the All-Star game,
though still leading the Bruins in goal scoring. He might be a
hot property for teams looking to add depth, if the Bruins miss
the cut. Another might be Ken Baumgartner, if a contender
feels a little soft in the corners, or has an injured hit man at
One thing for sure - there isn't enough time left on the season
for Harry Sinden to bring back Steve Kasper to use as a
scapegoat. If the Bruins miss the playoffs this year, it is not
a failure in coaching, nor is it a failure by the players, even
if some of them did not perform as well as last year. Face it,
other teams got better, talent-wise, and the Bruins did not.
This would be purely a management failure. It is management's
job, for example, to realize that more Eastern Conference teams
than ever before will miss the playoffs, because of the
unbalanced number of teams in the conferences (14 East vs 13
West). Management must take responsibility for building a team
strong enough to withstand the changes, however unexpected,
in their competitors. Toronto's management did so, getting
goalie Curtis Joseph and young defenseman Bryan Berard,
transforming their team into a contender.
Boston, meanwhile, picked up Peter Ferraro and Ken Belanger,
hardly household names anywhere but in the Ferraro and Belanger
households. Ferraro has been sent to the minors, and Belanger
doesn't get a regular shift many nights, so what has the brain
trust done to improve the team? Heck, Curtis Joseph has five
assists for Toronto, more than Baumgartner and Belanger combined!
This is not a knock on the players on the team, or the guys
called up from Providence. The simple fact is that the Bruins do
not have the depth and skill to match up to the elite teams in
the league, and because of their relative inexperience, sometimes
they are overmatched by the middle of the pack teams as well.
The Bruins cannot sell out the FleetCenter regularly now, even
with price cuts and promotional discounts, even after having the
coach of the year and the rookie of the year last season. Think
about the cavernous echo of the FleetCenter all next year if the
Bruins are golfing in April.
Think of it this way, Harry: the fans would rather have you do
something than nothing. Fans look at the Kevin Stevens deal and
the Jim Carey deal and say, "They turned out to be stiffs!" But
they don't ever say, "Harry should have stood pat." They
appreciated the attempt, because it gave them hope. Have some
hope, Harry, even if you have to spend a little of Jeremy
Jacob's money to buy it.