By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
On Tuesday night, what has been perhaps the most evenly played series of the first round of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs – given that powerhouses like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, have already been bounced, and following Game 7 at the TD Garden tomorrow, either the Bruins or the Maple Leafs will be going home for the summer – one could argue that the tilt that will take place on Causeway Street could be the most difficult hurdle to get over on the way to representing the Eastern Conference in the Finals come June.
Both Boston and Toronto have had their moments over the first six games – both have won two out of three times on the road leading up to Tuesday night’s final clash – and both have had moments that they would like to have back during this first round of the greatest championship tournament in North American professional sports.
Come tomorrow night at around 10 pm, one team will be considered one of the top favorites to take home Hockey’s Holy Grail, the other will be left to ponder what could have been as they empty their lockers for the final time on Wednesday.
And for a game that literally can come down to a bounce of the puck one way or another under the best of circumstances, it is mind-boggling that an Original 6 franchise can provide a sheet of ice so pitiful, that one of the best players that calls TD Garden home is so critical about it heading into the biggest game of the season.
“They’ve played really well in our building so far this series and the ice has been terrible there so we might as well play with a tennis ball, skate around and see who can bounce one in the net,” said Marchand matter of factly, following Easter Sunday’s victory in Toronto.
“It’s been pretty bad,” said Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin, via Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. “But they’ve got to play on the same sheet we do.” And Leafs head coach Mike Babcock was critical of the playing surface following his team’s Game 5 2-1 win on Friday. “Defensively the ice was tough. It was humid in the building. … But I thought our guys kept grinding and stayed patient.”
So, you mean to tell me that a league that is so confident that they can create a playable ice surface outdoors in Dallas, Texas in 2020 can’t get the same from a team that has been playing in the same city since 1924 – and for 67 years called an arena that was built for boxing home with far inferior technology and was without air conditioning – can’t find a way to not make pucks act like “tennis balls” as Marchand is anticipating they will do in Game 7?
What a disgrace.
The NHL’s regular season is a grind – not only for the players but for fans, as well – and it what should be a crown jewel of a game when the sport is experiencing the most interest it has all year featuring two marquee teams in its history, has a very real potential of turning into a street hockey game played with super balls to decide who moves on and who stays home.
But it is the reality that faces both teams entering their biggest game of the season. And should the talk not center on the play of both teams – both good or bad – and a swing of momentum that could lead to one of the two playing on hockey’s biggest stage in a little over a month due to the poor playing conditions that are likely to occur, both fan bases will potentially be robbed of what should be an epic showdown.
And that’s not the end this highly entertaining series deserves. It deserves better, and so do both teams who have fought for over six months to get to this point.
If it turns out that a bouncing puck on bad ice results in the winning tally for either side, that would be a black mark on the best – and hardest – championship to win in professional sports. If that is the case, the Bruins – and the Jacobs family, in particular – should be held accountable for robbing the sport of what could be a game we might all remember for years to come.