It is the act of putting so much pressure behind a substance that it squeezes out the far end of its container.
Did you, or one of your kids, have one of those Play-Doh presses with the dies of different shapes? If you snapped a die onto the end of the tube, loaded Play-Doh into the chamber, and pushed down on the lever, you could make long uniform sections of three-dimensional beams, tubes and all kinds of stuff.
As players gather for captain's practices and as the rookies come to Boston with their youthful dreams, we think about all the substance that the players will provide for the coming Bruins season. We try to imagine the circumstances and injuries and bounces of the puck and the chemistry of the team that will position the lever. And we attempt to recall the immense force that will build in the chamber to extrude something in a shape and form that we can examine: the character of this team, born from pressure and there for all to see.
Game 7 against Philadelphia was filled with such revealing moments, but for me, the most important came with about four minutes to play in the first period.
The Bruins had been as close to perfect as they could have been. They had punished two ill-advised Philadelphia penalties: the first by Scott Hartnell for high-sticking Matt Hunwick in the neutral zone, the second by Daniel Briere for head-hunting Dennis Wideman deep in Boston's end of the ice.
Zdeno Chara had drilled a Bourque-esque bomb certain to produce a rebound on the first power-play goal, and Michael Ryder potted it under Mark Recchi’s screening hop-step. Milan Lucic had sneaked in from the weak side to rap in the second goal on the man advantage. Lucic had caught Kimmo Timmonen pinching in Philly’s attacking end and led an odd-man rush from the right wing before snapping the puck inside the far post for a 3-0 lead. It was as close to a flawless start as any Bruins follower could have ever visualized.
Peter Laviolette called time-out and told the Flyers that they needed to score the next goal. Two shifts later, we got a really good look at some orange Play-Doh. Or something like it. Captain Mike Richards went in, hard, on the forecheck in pursuit of (pick one): the puck, Wideman, vengeance, an outlet for his frustration, a chance to spark his team or all of the above.
Richards attacked Wideman with everything he had, almost literally. As Wideman tried to control the puck along the end boards to Tuukka Rask’s right, Richards launched a check. We have looked at it more than a dozen times: in regular speed, slow motion, and frame by frame. Not only is it on the edge of the edge of the edge of the rules, it is administered with every bit of power that Richards can summon. Richards’ upper arm (almost his shoulder) blasts upward and forward with tremendous force — a little bit off Wideman’s shoulder and a whole lot off the side of Wideman’s helmet. Richards is exploding with such energy that he actually comes completely off the ice — but not until a tiny fraction of a second after making contact with Wideman.
The blow knocks them both to the ice, and it knocks the puck loose. As James van Riemsdyk approaches the puck he would wiggle under Rask’s right pad, Richards — from his knees — winds up and clobbers Wideman with his stick. As a former camper who used to have to chop down dead standing jack pine for firewood in the forests of Maine, I have to admire the man’s ability to swing an axe. Wideman wasn’t going to get to the puck. Van Riemsdyk was going to, and Philadelphia’s epic comeback had begun.
Rather than remembering this with a morose feeling, Bruins fans might be well served to study it. All winter, we are consumed with those individual moments on which games and series and seasons can turn. This, for me, was one to dissect.
Richards, in the back of his mind, must have known that what he was doing in pursuit of the puck was possibly punishable. The ref, after all, was within range of the flying shrapnel. If Richards’ stick caught Wideman’s glove, it’s slashing. If the ref deemed the stick swing to be forceful enough (whether or not it made contact), it’s slashing. If the shoulder blow was a direct-to-the-head hit, you can fill in the blank for any number of violations that already existed. If Richards left his skates before contact, it’s charging.
But it wasn’t, it wasn’t, it wasn’t, it wasn’t.
It was Mike Richards issuing a "fire every gun ‘til this ship burns to the water line" message to his teammates. It was desperation. Down 3-0 in Game 7, the Flyers were taking the risk and gaining the reward. Did Richards have nothing to lose? Maybe. But it turned out that he had everything to win. It was his ability to channel almost reckless energy into something that made a difference in a game, a series and a season.
It was the stuff we so often saw from the players whose names adorn the banners that hang from the rafters at the TD Garden. What we remember about those players isn’t so much their individual goals or checks or fights but their consistent determination and willingness to put themselves in harm’s way for the possibility of making something good happen.
Good quotes stick with you. This anonymous one bounced through my consciousness about 30 years ago:
Fame is a vapor,
Popularity an accident,
And money takes wing.
The only thing that endures is character.
The die is being cast, the mold is about to be set. The substance of the 2010-11 Bruins is assembling in eastern Massachusetts, and four weeks from now, Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli will begin to load the chamber. We will anticipate, wait and watch. Many in these parts hope that lessons past will improve the form the future takes.
We’ll know when the squeeze is on, because our hearts will be jumping out of our chests, our throats will hurt from screaming and our minds will be electrical storms of firing synapses. It’s what draws us to the rink: the abstract of human character bared, with all its flaws and all its extraordinary capabilities.
The Bruins have mended their broken hearts, and they have analyzed and worked to reduce their flaws. Summer ends. The buildup begins.
Just extrude, baby.