A college buddy of mine and his best friend — both of whom had grown up in Wilton, Conn., and were die-hard Yankees fans — went to a game in the Bronx in the late 1970s. They had attended scores of games together, and for this one they were sitting in the front row of the upper deck near home plate.
The windup, the pitch, and there's a foul ball suddenly coming back, not only closer than any ever has in their lives, but this one is hurtling right at them. The friend reflexively reaches out with both hands as the sphere comes sizzling from the world at large right into his personal space: a cosmic coincidence, a chance for a small bit of lifelong fulfillment, an instant heirloom being delivered by fate. The baseball screams right through his grip — battering both of his thumbs — rattles off a seat a couple of rows behind him and into the crowd of souvenir hunters/New York City animals (I can't get through this story without at least one bash of the Yankees). In an instant, the unanticipated moment is gone, the chance dashed, the ball never to be seen again.
The friend, in a plasma state of disbelief, anger and bitterness, looks around, unable even to bellow a primal scream. He snaps his glare left and right, looking for an object upon which to unleash his terrible reservoir of rage. At the lower rim of his vision he sees a stomped-flat paper beer cup, filthy after an hour of suffering the uncaring footwork of dozens of fans. He reaches down, grips it in his right fist, raises it to his mouth, opens wide, takes a huge bite and tears the thing in half with his teeth. He spits it out, but the taste of gritty sole mud must be a flavor his tongue can remember to this day.
That's the taste of frustration. And it's what the Bruins are trying not to swallow right now.
The B's were outplaying the division-leading Buffalo Sabres in the first few minutes Friday when Henrik Tallinder tossed a wrist shot toward goal. It flew slowly through the screen as if it were a no-see-um in June. Tuukka Rask took a too-late swat at the puck as it stung the net behind his glove.
The Bruins responded with heart and with desire — maybe too much, as Shawn Thornton, Vladimir Sobotka and Marc Savard got sent to the penalty box for overaggressive work. While Savard was in there, Thomas Vanek spun a rebound past Rask and it was 2-0 with two and a half minutes to go in the opening period. Against Ryan Miller, the best goalie in the world right now? It didn't look good.
Yet the Bruins persisted with the kind of thorough, integral effort that is a mark of a team of character. Too bad that character doesn't get the puck across the goal line. Playing from behind all night, they pressured, they challenged, they came oh-so-close after Milan Lucic halved the lead, but they couldn't score more than once. And they lost again. They are now 1-8-1 in their last 10, and the one win was by shootout in San Jose (go figure) after they had played 65 minutes of 1-1 hockey.
Moments after the final horn at HSBC Arena, Tampa Bay extended Anaheim to overtime. That point was enough for Tampa Bay — Tampa Bay! — to jump over the Bruins in the Eastern Conference standings. The B's have sunk to 12th in the East, and no matter the points, they are now in danger of having to overcome too many teams to get into the top eight. With 30 games to go, that may seem a silly concern. Take a look at the history and you'll see that it isn't.
This team was one bounce of a puck away from making it to the Eastern Conference Finals in the playoffs last spring. You never know when everything will line up just right again. Or if it will.
It smells as if there is a spoonful of aisle slime under our noses now.
The chance cannot have gotten through our hands so fast, can it?
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