I had my suspicions, but I thought Tuukka Rask’s “lower body” injury might be in his hip.
During the series with the Islanders, he didn’t quite look like himself. Where he was so deceptively smooth sliding from post to post, he seemed to be laboring, pushing off of one skate and needing two jerky motions to get from points A to B. He’d go into his butterfly prematurely, knowing he’d need to cheat that extra second to get down into position properly. This didn’t seem like a hamstring or his back, this seemed serious.
This is all armchair diagnosis, of course. He missed 18 games in the regular season with a mystery ailment, and as good as he looked at times in the playoffs, especially in the first series against Washington, he wasn’t himself. It finally came undone in the last two games against the Islanders. Now the Bruins are out, Rask is scheduled to have hip surgery, and won’t return to the ice until at least 2022.
It’s a bitter finale to what had been a swirling, surprising season for the Bruins, one shortened by the pandemic, their first year with Patrice Bergeron as captain, shoehorned into a makeshift Metropolitan division where they occasionally looked like world-beaters. In the end, the world beat back.
And with that inglorious ending may have gone one of the greater netminders to ever wear the spoked B. Continue reading
In early 1995, I took my relatively new black Boston Bruins sweater to a sports store in New Bedford to get some gold numbers placed on it. In anticipation of this, I remember weighing whether to get Cam Neely’s no. 8 or Ray Bourque’s 77 on the back, or perhaps Adam Oates’ 12. I think even Don Sweeney’s 32 came into consideration.
That I walked in and — without hesitation — requested Blaine Lacher’s name and no. 31 be heat-sealed to this thing should attest to how ridiculously hot Lacher was at the start of his career.
Fresh off a national championship at Lake Superior State, Lacher entered a vacuum in the Bruins’ goalie depth, with just veteran Vincent Riendeau, who had served as Jon Casey’s backup, as a viable option. Casey had been allowed to walk as a free agent, while John Blue had been decamped to Providence in the AHL.
The NHL returned to play from the lockout in late January, and by the end of the month, Lacher was 3-1 with an absurd .958 save percentage and 0.98 goals against average. Lacher wound up appearing in 35 of the Bruins’ 48 games that season, plus all five starts in the playoffs. He finished fifth in the Calder Trophy voting (losing out to some guy who no one ever heard from again), and the Bruins had their goaltender for at least the next decade. Continue reading
I’m fairly sure I was in my car, on the highway somewhere between Quincy and New Bedford, when I got a call from Mick Colageo and his message was simple, to-the-point and more than a little excited:
“They got Chara.”
If you’re not familiar, Mick is a hockey svengali and criminally underrated. He sees the game clearly, understands its nuances and can place it all in context, be it historical or present-day. If he was calling me and that excited, this was a tremendous moment.
I don’t know if even he could’ve seen what was to come: fourteen seasons as the captain of the Bruins, lifting the Stanley Cup and creating countless Paul Bunyan-esque folk tales along the way. Zdeno Chara has shown would-be goal scorers the door and sent anyone who dared to harass a Boston netminder into the fifth row. He’s blasted in goals from the blue line with terrifying velocity and, when given the chance, shown skill and poise with the puck. He’s logged hours and hours on the ice, extending shifts and keeping the wolves at bay when needed. He’s been the ultimate quiet leader, treating teammates young and old with respect and demonstrating exactly how much work was to be expected — and if anyone was ever able to hang in the gym longer than him, I never heard about it.
Through it all, there were moments where it felt like Chara would tower over the Boston blue line forever. If I had known even half of that was to come when he signed up, I’d have careened off the road. Continue reading
Thinking about the idea of the NHL’s dueling “bubbles,” the image I couldn’t get out of my head was that, best case scenario, this ends with a team getting the Stanley Cup from Gary Bettman and celebrating to the echo of a nearly empty arena. No boos for the commissioner, not even the resigned gaze of those unfortunate fans who have to watch the visiting team hold the trophy aloft.
And because I’m not a player, my real issue with this was from the self-centered perspective of a fan — how is it going to feel watching a team win the championship in a vacant rink?
I don’t have an answer for that, and I won’t until this tournament winds down to a close some time in late September. But I do know, after watching the Bruins set the Carolina Hurricanes aside in five games, that I’m just about as invested as I ever am. I can’t go to a bar with friends to watch a game and I can’t even partake in the futile exercise of seeing how expensive playoff tickets are getting. Even the start times of these games — 11 a.m., 4 p.m., etc. — is messing with my equilibrium, nevermind the incongruous act of watching hockey in the middle of oppressive August heatwaves.
But I’m here, and I’m in, pretty much as deeply as I’m ever in. And while the Bruins are alive in the bubble, I’m in on Jaroslav Halak. Continue reading
There’s so much nuance to hockey that it can sometimes take a while watching a player before any inherent greatness becomes obvious. Watch Pavel Datsyuk or Jonathan Toews for the first time, for example, and their overall prowess might not stand out if they’re not putting the puck in the back of the net.
That was not the case for Jarome Iginla. Watch any game, and his virtuosity seemed to jump off the ice immediately.
I covered Iginla’s first game in Boston as a member of the Bruins. My memory — that he had a somewhat shaky first shift, followed by a dominating second swing through the ice — was confirmed by a column I wrote that night. He lined up on the right wing alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic, and from that shift on, he was a powerhouse. He didn’t score a goal, but it was impossible to ignore his impact on the game.
He would score 30 goals as a 36-year-old, tying Patrice Bergeron for the team lead, and was a rock on that top line. He more than filled the gap vacated by Nathan Horton and was a tremendous cog on a team that won the President’s Trophy. And with this week’s news that he’s earned induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in his first year of eligibility, it seems like a good time to look back on that single season in black and gold. Continue reading