Last night as I filed out of the TD Garden following the Bruins 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers my friend, a Bruins fan, said to no one in particular, “We really needed that one, what a perfect time to play the Panthers.” The guy in front of us, decked out in a Marchand jersey and a black and yellow Bruins winter cap, turned around, nodded his head in agreement and said, “you got that right”.
They laughed, shared their moment of random fan camaraderie while I hung my head in shame. The guy didn’t notice me in my Florida Panthers hat, I didn’t exist.
This was the sentiment all night. The Bruins had been struggling having lost four of their previous five games before last night’s matchup against the Panthers. If there is an antidote for losing hockey it has to be the Florida Panthers, just ask the Bruins, ask the Edmonton Oilers, ask the Buffalo Sabres, or ask the Philadelphia Flyers. Nothing cures losing like the Panthers on the opposing bench.
I explained this to my friend, who is a novice hockey fan, before the game. I told him that it is tough to feel confident about the Panthers chances coming into Boston and especially with the Bruins are struggling a bit. The Bruins struggling means they will not overlook Florida. The best chance for a Panther win in Boston involves the Bruins coming out slow, getting caught off guard by a fast Panther start and going down a couple goals early. Classic trap game. Unfortunately the Bruins had been playing poorly so rather than overlook the Panthers, the team and its fans were looking at the Panthers as an outlets for pent up frustration, never a good thing.
My non-hockey fan friend was astute enough to realize after the first period that things looked pretty even between the two teams, maybe the Panthers even had a slight edge.
“I would definitely say the Panthers won the first quarter.” He said. I didn’t bother correcting him.
The second ‘quarter’ came and the Panthers still hung in there. David Krejci fired a shot from the point that found its way through traffic and past Scott Clemmensen and Tuukka Rask came up big on a couple Panther chances to keep Florida off the board. After two, the Panthers were down 1-0 and still very much in the game.
The dagger came 4:09 into the third period when a Dennis Seidenberg shot squeaked through Clemmensen’s legs and sat invitingly in the blue paint until Brad Marchand got around to tapping it home. Seidenberg’s shot should have been saved and just like that, the Panthers were down two in the third period.
Its amazing what you see live that does not translate to TV. One thing I noticed was how you could really see the game open up for the Panthers once they went down two goals. When you are watching on TV and a team is down late, you know that they are going to star taking more chances in the offensive zone, you know the forwards are going to aggressively forecheck and you know the defenders are going to start pinching in almost any situation. You know this offensive mindset will leave your team open to odd-man rushes and deadly counterattacks but when you are watching on TV you still only see the puck and what is immediately around it.
In person when you can see the whole ice you get a better understanding of what the consequences of pushing offensively really are. When your team has all three forwards below the offensive face-off dots and one defenders jumps up to hold the puck in the zone you see the vast amounts of open ice waiting for your opponent if they can just escape the pressure for one instant. You see the one defender hanging back and you see how much trouble he will be in if the offensive pressure suddenly turns into a 3-on-1 the other way.
The Bruins third goal last night was a prime example of counterattacking against a desperate high pressure offense. As Chris Kelly carries the puck into the Panthers zone, Matt Gilroy is hustling to get back into defensive position. All Kelly has to do is put on the breaks and wait for the Bruins 4-on-3 to develop. The Panthers are late getting back and Kelly waits to hit the trailing Torey Krug who fires it high-glove-side past a helpless Clemmensen.
Something else you do not really get on TV is the feeling of the air going out of an arena when the score gets to 3-0. At the start of the third with the B’s up 1-0 there is a palpable intensity in the air. Bruins’ fans are nervous, they know that they cannot lose this game tonight but are in grave danger of doing so. After the second goal people relax a little but still everybody knows, a two goal lead is the worst lead in hockey. Nobody eulogizes anything just yet. After the third goal its straight up celebration time.
Even on the ice I could see things relax and slow down. It does not matter if you are a professional playing in the NHL or a mite playing the 7:00 am game at your local rink, if you go up 3-0 in the third period you are inevitably going to let your foot off the gas. Its human nature. The Panthers took advantage and Jesse Winchester deflected home a rebound from a Nick Bjugstad shot.
The goal was nice to see. I told my buddy early on in the first period that I just wanted to see one Panther goal tonight. I knew a win would be highly unlikely and living up in Boston, I do not get to many Panther games. All I wanted was one, I just didn’t want to see the Panthers get shut out. So it was nice to see the Winchester goal, his fourth goal of the season and third point in three games, and it was nice to see Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau get the assists. It put a smile on my face. I was happy, my friend was happy for me and I think the fans in my section, who were not sure if I was actually a Panthers fan or just wearing the hat ironically, were happy for me too.
Speaking of my Panther hat and the Boston fans, I did not get one negative comment all night about wearing Panther gear to the game and in addition to that, I only saw one other person wearing anything Panther related. (I spent a lot of time scanning the crowd for any Panther red and got nothing. The one person I saw was wearing the Panthers weird blue third jersey.) I do not know if the Bruins fans were just being nice, or if they thought I was just being ironic, or if they just straight up didn’t notice or if they did notice they didn’t care. Maybe the Panthers are too insignificant an opponent to bother berating the one loser kid wearing a Panthers hat to the game. The Maple Leafs are coming to town on Saturday maybe everybody was saving up their energy.
The only comment I got all game went like this: sometime in the third with the Panthers down 2-0, the forty-something lady behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said,
“Hey you with your Panthers hat. Can you get me Tim Thomas‘ number? I am going to marry him. He is going to be my husband. Find his number for me.”
I half laughed, tried to keep my eye on the game while assuring her that I will do whatever I could and attempted to end our interaction as quickly as possible so I could get back to the action. She got the hint and she let me get back to the game at hand.
In the third period shortly after the Bruins made it 3-0, the center-ice scoreboard played a clip of Tim Thomas Bruins highlights. The monitor then showed Thomas in a suit sitting in a box with the Panther healthy scratches. The crowd gave a standing ovation, Thomas stood up, smiled and bashfully waved. You could tell he appreciated the crowds support and you could also tell how much Boston loves Tim Thomas. As things settled down the ice-couger tapped me on the shoulder again.
“You see that? That’s Tim Thomas. I am going to be his wife.”