LONGSHOTS: Down 2-0 Mís for playoff payoff
by Dave Long
I love playoff time in the spring. Especially now that they put the games on at night in the weekend and you donít have to spend beautiful spring days inside watching TV. Not that weíve had to worry about it very much this century, or in the í90s for that matter, given the sad state of the Celtics and Bruins during that time.
Once upon a time they were killers in the playoffs and a trip to the finals was expected, though not always realized. And while the Celtics were better year in and year out, from the days of Orr and Esposito to Terry OíReillyís teams through the Ray Bourque - Cam Neely era, the Bruins always were a threat.
But alas, besides a few flashes, that hasnít been the case for a very long time. Thatís why the Monarchsí run during the last month has been so nice. Itís a reversal of fortune, as most know the Curse Of Howard Baldwin hung over the team when it came up empty five straight times in the opening rounds of the playoffs ó a streak that cost original Mís coach Bruce (canít win the big one) Boudreau his job when it reached four as the powers said his job was to teach the pups how to win come playoff time and that wasnít happening.
The thing about the playoffs is that, fairly or unfairly, performance in them can mark a player for life. My favorite example from hockey is just-out-of-Cornell Ken Dryden leading Montreal to the Stanley Cup in 1971. It was a hockey version of Francisco Rodriguez coming to the majors on September 15 and then being un-hittable as the Angels roared through October to win it all in 2002. Dryden had incredibly played in just six NHL games before shutting down the mighty Boston Bruins in round one, who had seven of the NHLís top 10 scorers and had finished 25 points ahead of Montreal. Of course beating Chicago a few weeks later for the Cup was just the start of a reputation for coming through in the clutch, as the Habs won five more times in eight years with him between the pipes.
For others itís a bit murkier. Like with Barry Bonds, who, despite all his MVP trophies, was a major bust come playoff time until he hit .471 in the 2002 World Series. Still, in 151 post-season at-bats heís hit just .245 and all but one of his nine post-season homers came after whispers of widespread steroid use began to dog baseball.
And then there are reputations gained from a single play that couldnít be farther from what the reality is. The supreme example in these parts, or perhaps anywhere, is the catastrophic boo-boo by Bill Buckner in Game Six of the 1986 World Series. You know the story, so I wonít rehash it, but if you ask 100 people, itíll be what at least 95 will recall. That little miscue obscures a career that included 2,715 hits, seven seasons of hitting over .300, as many as 31 bases in a season and three 100-RBI seasons, two of which came in Boston. Those numbers say he was a very good player, but sadly most just remember that play, as one ill-timed blunder in the spotlight locked that image in place for baseball eternity.
That might have been the case for Canít Win the Big One Boudreau, at least in these parts, if he hadnít gone out and won the big one the year after being dismissed. Turns out it wasnít him after all, because once he got a different set of groceries he cooked a dinner that led to a 2006 Calder Cup. That fact apparently wasnít lost on the brass in L.A., and those who laid the blame on Boudreauís inability to get the most out of the talent they had provided were swept from power themselves not long after Boudreau showed one and all that maybe the Mís went farther with him than theyíd have under someone else.
That little story adds intrigue to round three, as none other than Did Win The Big One leads (or led, depending on when you get this) his Hershey Bears into the Verizon Wireless Arena up 2-0 after the Mís lost weekend in Pennsylvania. Down 2-0 is not an envious place in a seven-game series because, as all but the mathematically challenged know, it means you have to win four of the next five to advance. But it has been done many times over the years so while a formidable task it is not insurmountable.
If the Mís need any inspiration beyond what coach of the year candidate Mark Morris can provide, they can look down the locker room to defenseman Doug Nolan. The avid Sox fan knows his favorite team trailed the Yankees 3-0 in 2004 before roaring back to make what is arguably the most dramatic comeback in playoff history, although you may get an argument from folks north of the blue line who see as even better the Maple Leafs eating Chicago in 1949 to become the first in any sport to make it all the way back from down three to none.
Be that as it may, the 0-2 position the Mís were in as they arrived home might have a silver lining. It gives GM Ron Hextall a chance to see if they have the mental toughness he referred to at the press conference held last summer to introduce him and Kings GM Dean Lombardi to the locals. And itís also the place where players can make a name for themselves ó one way or the other.
Weíve already seen some big moments like Patrick OíSullivan putting them in the driverís seat vs. Providence by getting two goals and an assist to lead them on to a huge win at the V. There were the last-second heroics by John Zeiler; Barry Brust stepping in for the injured Jason LaBarbera to go 2-1 with 1.81 goals against, and closing out the baby Bís on the road behind 27 saves from LaBarbera. Mostly, though, itís been a team effort where, in 14 games, 17 guys are on the plus side in the plus-minus stat, led by Marty Murray at +9. But at the moment theyíre down 2-0 to the defending champs. Will it be the end of a nice learning experience, or will they be able to fight their way out of this deep hole? Weíll see. Because it is playoff time ó where reputations are won and lost, and tickets get punched to the big time when you come up big when it counts.
That makes it the best time of the year for all concerned..
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).