BOSTON -- Some people like gardening. Me? As a hobby, I much prefer traveling up here to New England and watching the sports teams draw their last breaths. But don't call me a sadist. I'm just a conscientious observer of all local customs.
Fans here, a twisted lot, take a perverse pleasure in their teams' shortcomings. When you wait 70-odd years for a World Series championship, maybe the mindset is understandable. But whatever the reason, there is no escaping the reality. People here just expect to lose. In fact, they make an annual celebration out of expiration. They seem to enjoy self-denial more than Jesuits.
It's been that way in baseball since the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth. And it's been that way in hockey -- especially in the playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens -- since, well, almost since Lord Stanley. This year is in many ways typical. Over at Fenway Park, Red Sox fans are booing Mike Greenwell into oblivion. And here at the Boston Garden, the Bruins and Canadiens are meeting in the playoffs for the ninth straight year, and the 27th time overall.
It is possibly the most storied postseason rivalry in the game, in any game. And it's been so one-sided. In games, the Canadiens have won 84 to the Bruins' 47. In series, the Canadiens have won 21 to the Bruins' five.
An entire cult has grown up around the series, a haunting litany of Lafleur and The Rocket and too many men on the ice. If it is April, the Bruins are supposed to be losing to the Canadiens. It is supposed to be the way of nature.
Funny thing, though. After losing 18 straight series to the Canadiens, from 1946 to 1987, the Bruins have won three of the last four.
Astounding thing, though. With their 3-2 victory Thursday night, the Bruins led this Adams Division final over the Canadiens, 3-0, heading into last night's game.
With 1:27 left in the third period, someone -- in flagrant disregard of more than six decades of history -- actually threw a broom onto the ice.
"I guess it's never happened before, but it's got to happen someday," reasoned the Bruins' Joe Juneau.
Why? Why does it have to happen? Don't they remember 1979, the seventh game of 1979, the overtime loss to the Canadiens that crystallized all of the emotions over the years? How can they forget? How can they forget Don Cherry and the too many men on the ice?
The Forum. The Canadiens. If it wasn't Maurice Richard, the man with those eyes (decades before Mike Singletary), restoring the natural order of things with a single flash of his stick, then it was Jean Beliveau, the longtime definition of the classy centerman. If it wasn't Guy Lafleur, swooping -- always swooping -- in on the wing, then it was Ken Dryden, standing so incredibly tall in the nets.
For the Bruins against the Canadiens, it was always something. And in 1979, it was too many men on the ice. The penalty came when the Bruins were nursing a one-goal lead in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals. Lafleur scored on the resulting power play with about a minute left in regulation. Yvon Lambert scored in the overtime. That was Don Cherry's last game as the Bruins' coach. That game is the one that was said to have scarred people here for life everlasting.
But then there was Thursday night. Then, with 1:27 to go, there came that broom onto the ice.
Sweep? Without Raymond Bourque?
"A lot of people said that, without Ray, we would be in trouble," said Rick Bowness, the Bruins' coach. "But (the defense) proved them wrong."
Bourque has succumbed to the latest of NHL epidemics, that of the slashed hand. On Tuesday night, the same night that Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux was knocked out of the Penguins-Rangers series by a slash, Bourque had the middle finger of his right hand broken by Montreal's Shayne Corson -- the same Shayne Corson who was suspended after last year's playoffs for pretty much trying to maim Bourque.
Anyway, both sides agreed that this slash didn't carry any intent to injure -- but Bourque is still out.
He isn't the megastar that Lemieux is, but Bourque still is one of the game's superstars. And his absence for this Bruins team -- a team that has been without premier right winger Cam Neely for all but nine games this season -- will just make things that much tougher.
In years past, that little broken bone would have been the pivot upon which an entire series turned. In decades past, an opening goal like the one Montreal scored Thursday night -- a wrist shot by Mike Keane just 1:32 into the game -- would have had the Bruins scurrying for their historical excuses.
But not this time.
"Once you get in the game, it doesn't cross your mind," defenseman Glen Wesley said, when asked about Bourque's absence.
"You realize he's not there," said a more reasonable Boston defenseman, Don Sweeney. "In every (big) situation, he's usually out there. He dictates when he's going to be out there. If any one of us tried to make up for him by ourself, it wouldn't work ... He's
a big void."