Whoa, you don't have to die an' go to heaven
Or hang around to be born again
Just tune in to what this place has got to offer
'Cause we may never be here again. Ow!
I want the best of both worlds
An' honey I know what it's worth
If we could have the best of both worlds
A little heaven right here on earth. Come on!
Van Hagar song aside, the tune's title pretty much sums up where the Boston Bruins are right now.
They scored an NHL-record three shorthanded goals (on the same penalty) in 1:04 to take a 3-0 lead at home over Carolina, and then hung on for a 4-2 win to not only clinch a playoff berth, but earn a no lower than seventh-place seed. Whether they keep sixth place depends on whether Toronto beats Montreal tonight (and if that doesn't happen) and if the B's can take tomorrow's game against Washington to close out the regular season.
The cynics will say that they would rather have seen the Bruins miss the playoffs, because this team, as presently constructed, isn't going anywhere. Well, I agree with the idea that an extended playoff run for Boston isn't likely, but at the same time-- you play to win. Rooting for a team to miss the playoffs to get a draft pick that would only be about five or six spots earlier than where they will pick as one of the lower-seeded postseason clubs is a strategy I've never subscribed to.
Once you get in, anything can happen. And, if goaltending is the ultimate x-factor for the major sports, then having a white-hot Tuukka Rask going for you isn't a bad thing if you're the B's. Rask is not a typical rookie; two full years as a starter in Finland's elite league from 18-20 years of age, followed by two full years as a starter in Providence of the AHL has given him the kind of experience and swagger that most goalies who come out of major junior or college here in North America don't possess at age 23. If anyone can keep his team on a roll, Rask can.
But, it's that Toronto pick that should spark some genuine excitement among B's boosters. When the trade was made for Phil Kessel back in September, most conventional wisdom saw it falling anywhere from 10-15-20, believing that Brian Burke's Maple Leafs were a better team on paper than they actually were. After a horrendous start (much of it because of porus goaltending from Vesa Toskala and Johan Gustavsson) the Leafs just didn't have what it took to get back into the race, and have now handed the Bruins a lottery pick and the chance to take the best player in the 2010 draft if the balls go Boston's way on Tuesday.
Toronto had brief flashes of brilliance, especially when Kessel first started playing after missing the first month recovering from shoulder surgery, but when Burke dismantled his offense to bring in Dion Phaneuf and J.S. Giguere, the writing was on the wall. Sure, give the young Leafs and players like Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stalberg, Christian Hanson and Nikolai Kulemin credit for bringing more of an offensive attack down the stretch than I thought they would. They did a pretty good job of replacing the veteran forwards Burke sent packing, but it was still not enough to get them out of 29th place. The Bruins got help from the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, all of whom could have tanked, but won just enough games when they had to in order to keep the surging Leafs in the rearview mirror.
It's been a long season, and I've enjoyed following the Leaf draft pick "tank" watch on this blog. Come Tuesday night, we'll know Boston's early draft position and we can close the book on the 2010 tank watch and look ahead to the same thing for next season, as Toronto owes Boston the same thing in 2011 (minus the second-rounder, of course).
But the important thing is-- the Bruins are in the dance. I said in a blog post earlier that if you're Boston and going to miss the playoffs, this is a pretty good year to do it because most of the Western Conference non-playoff teams have better records than the Bruins. That said-- I am not a believer in accepting a non-playoff fate just to improve the pick position. You play to win in this game, so Bruins fans should be pleased that not only does their team get the opportunity to compete for the championship, they'll also see that same team picking up a player that should have gone to one of the NHL's doormats. Back in 1997 and 2006, the last time the B's have selected so high, the team had lousy, life-draining seasons to account for. It's nice to have a shot (albeit a looooooong one) at the Stanley Cup and the chance to draft a potential franchise cornerstone, too.
So, to break out an old saying: to the victor go the spoils. It's the best of both worlds, so enjoy it while it lasts.