Watching it was reward for time served



Long live the Stanley Cup playoffs, one of the only things left in grown-up sports that's really, really great.

It's all been said before. The drama, the tension, the way a player's fate -- or a team's, or an organization's -- can hinge on the slightest things. Long, grueling seasons coming down to one goal, either labeling you a winner or a choker. It's just the best.

Boston and Toronto staged a classic series, one sure to be best remembered for its finish. The Bruins, down 4-1 with 11 minutes to play and 4-2 with two, pulled out an epic 5-4 overtime win Monday night that fans of each team may never forget.

Maybe you watched it, although maybe instead you were like my wife and had a tennis match. She heard about the comeback at her match, and we talked about it when she returned home.

But we didn't watch highlights as we often would. It wouldn't compare. There's no way by watching a condensed version of it to match the gripping, emotional extremes the game took you to. It's not enough. You can't replicate the shocking feeling of watching Boston's tying goal without having sat through the long stretch of this game where it seemed the Bruins couldn't complete a neutral-zone pass, let alone score a goal.

Not only did you have to watch the whole thing, you needed to see a lot of games for it to be so powerful. You need a sense of appreciation for how unlikely Boston's comeback was, and that only comes from experience as a fan.

You needed that extended period -- was it an hour, or more? -- where your mind drifted to pondering what a Toronto win would mean. To both teams. What it would be like to hear about Phil Kessel's vindication, scoring in the third period to help knock out the team that famously traded him en route to a Cup win. What a second-round Rangers-Leafs series would be like, and how close Toronto would be then to perhaps another series win, and then who knows? We would have heard a lot about Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle and how smart they are, Burke for assembling a team "built to win in the playoffs" and Carlyle for flying it through a thunderstorm.

What do we do instead?

And all that time too considering what Boston's fate might be after a second straight opening-round Game 7 home ouster. You know how we do it: Does the coach need to go? Was leadership a problem? Except for that finish, the conversation about the Bruins for the next six months or so would have been entirely about what's wrong with them.

Now it's not.

The countless hours (more like months) I've spent watching sports paid off for me last night, which is rare, as mostly what it does for me is build within me a feeling that I've already seen it all.

I need the possibility of something new happening. This is why Buffalo offers me such intrigue as we still search for a title we can cling to. As I've written before, rooting for, say, Boston would have me feeling completed as a fan, perhaps by the last 10 years alone. Buffalo is much more interesting.

You just can't beat the playoffs. The competition is fully convincing, highly dramatic and riveting for its tension and excitement. When do pro athletes anymore look as joyous as the Bruins did upon Patrice Bergeron's winning goal? And the pain of the Leafs strikes deep. It is, for us, familiar and relatable.

There are points to make and columns to write about the officiating (no penalty on that Lucic hit?), advanced statistics (while teams with better records won only three first-round series, teams with the better Fenwick Close won six), broadcasting (pretty sure no one at NBC has ever heard of Fenwick) and other topics too. But for today, for this modest writing, it's just about one thing:

Long live the Stanley Cup playoffs.


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People : James ReimerPatrice Bergeron