All season long you watch the local team. You hope for the best, and expect the worst. The flaws and holes on the roster are obvious, yet you defend their shortcomings at the bar while simultaneously overemphasizing the small victories to your buddy from New York. For months, we play the waiting game until, finally, almost miraculously, yours is one of the last two teams standing. You try to soak it in, appreciate the moment, and put things in perspective, but honestly can’t – it’s impossible – there’s more work to be done and, if your team happens to lose, it will almost hurt more than it would have if they never had been relevant in the first place. Up to this point, the Bruins playoff run has been nothing short of this central tenet. Fans are overdosing on anticipation and the only remedy is sheer euphoria. By all accounts, this stretch of playoff hockey has resembled a fairytale.
That’s not a bad analogy, actually. Think about it: Fairytales need the seemingly unbelievable to come to fruition and transpire. To believe it, you need to see it, and we all saw the Bruins author a surreal, mind-bending comeback in Game 7 to survive their first round series against the Maple Leafs. Fairytales also need villains. Boston took down the Penguins and more particularly Matt Cooke, a vulturous henchmen and bounty hunter, like a real life Boba Fett, whose name conjures up memories of his dirty hit that ended former Bruin Marc Savard’s career. Finally, fairytales need a character’s journey to greatness (oh hey, Tuukka Rask), and elder statesman’s path to his Heroes Journey (Jaromir Jagr’s first Stanley Cup appearance in over two decades qualifies).
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What a fairytale, under any circumstances, cannot have is an anticlimactic ending. And if the action in the Stanley Cup Final has taught us anything so far, it’s that this Bruins-Blackhawks matchup will be a close and well-played series of recent champions looking to reestablish themselves at the top of the NHL. There is mutual respect, because both teams recently etched their name’s on Lord Stanley’s Cup. But while watching the Blackhawks fans sit for most of the three overtime periods during Game 1 of the series, one thing remains transparent: Success is the best (and worst) achievement to happen to a fanbase. The ambiguous “will they or won’t they?!” melodrama wanes, because championship glory changes everything.
Put harshly, this Stanley Cup Final series contains no drama beyond talks of whether either team will rise as the next “dynasty” or “team of the decade” in the NHL, which, by and large, feels silly given its 2013, and the decade is a long ways from over. The urgency surrounding the outcome here has everything to do with potential legacies, and almost nothing to do with the present. We’re living for tomorrow, not today.
There are no villains (besides Brad Marchand for Chicago, I guess). Rask has already solidified his spot as The Guy. And the B’s aren’t going to blow up the roster or fire Claude Julien if they lose. Let’s face it: We aren’t living on the edge anymore. The stakes are incredibly low, and that’s somewhat depressing. Of course, some will juxtapose the B’s run with the Boston Marathon bombings to claim the Black & Gold is a “team of destiny that’s winning for Boston!” That’s nice to think about, but so is Santa Claus and world peace. You get my point.
So, aside from the predisposed (and premature) conditions to think about such grandiose matters, the only other narratives in play on the peripheral seem forced (Do you really care about the Original Six pairing besides thinking to yourself, “That’s kind of cool?" I don’t.) Even the other fans, those pesky Midwesterners from Chicago, appear to be delightful people, quickly pulling those “Chicago Stronger” shirts from the market, and coming up with lighthearted lists, made in jest, of why their city is better than ours.
It’s not about who’s better, because in sports the better team doesn’t always win (See the ’07 Patriots as the primary example. Also, no matter what the outcome, I’d argue this iteration of the B’s is better than 2011’s team, but that’s a different column for a different day). And it’s not about who deserves to win, because in sports “deserve” has nothing to do with it (If it did, the 'Hawks would’ve forgone the series and relinquished the Cup to Boston, citing Gregory Campbell’s effort.) Nope. For once, it’s just about the game. That’s vapid, dull, and lacks appeal … but it’s also kind of refreshing, isn’t it
Follow Ryan Hadfield on Twitter @Hadfield__