Are you starting to believe in the Boston Bruins?

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BOSTON — It really is incredible how thin the margin between success and failure can be in the sports that’s played on a sheet of ice with a rubber puck amid a tangled web of legs and skate blades.

Case-slash-point: The waning seconds of regulation, Game 7, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs. Game tied. Boston defenseman Parker Wotherspoon sends a weak backhand to the middle of the blue line to try to clear the puck out of the zone. Leafs winger Pontus Holmberg stops the puck with body, gains control, and carries the puck into the corner. Charlie McAvoy bats the puck away. Holmberg leaves a nifty little pass for William Nylander, who retrieves the puck, curls away from the end boards, looks up and finds Holmberg all alone on the opposite side of the net.

With five Bruins skaters in his face, Nylander fires a pass to Holmberg, who could and should be able to fire home a one-timer from close range to give the Leafs an unbelievable last-second goal to win the game and the series. It was right there.

Yet Wotherspoon saw the pass and quickly adjusted his left leg and stick to break up the pass. He succeeded … but he also redirected the puck directly toward the net. Fortunately for him and for the Bruins, goaltender Jeremy Swayman was locked in, and he had his left leg pad down on the ice and made the stop to save the entire season for the Boston Bruins. 

The entire sequence took all of 10 seconds. And it nearly ended Boston’s season in shocking fashion while changing all sorts of narratives up in Toronto.

From there, you know what came next. David Pastrnak scored a thriller of a goal in overtime to advance the Bruins to the second round, and the team came out flying with a 5-1 victory in Florida on Monday night.

And just like that, the Bruins have gone from walking the tightrope of staying alive to building some real belief that a long playoff run is very possible. That’s how things can go this time of year.

Of course, everybody remembers last year, when the Bruins beat the Panthers in Game 1 en route to building a 3-1 series lead before letting it all slip away. And everybody knows the Bruins led the Leafs 3-1 in the first round, only to require a heads-up pad save from Swayman to prevent disaster at the end of Game 7.

So no carts are being placed before any horses. Understood.

Nevertheless! There was quite a bit to like from Game 1.

To wit:

–Jeremy Swayman continues to operate on a different plane of existence. He’s locked in and then some. He’s stopping everything he’s seeing, he’s seeing plays develop so that he can be perfectly positioned for redirects, and he’s in a ridiculous comfort zone at the moment.

Among goalies with at least four starts this postseason, Swayman is the NHL’s leader in save percentage by a mile, with his .955 being a full 30 points higher than Dallas’ Jake Oettinger and his .925. Swayman’s 1.42 goals-against average is also a half-goal lower than Oettinger’s 1.95.

And while the Bruins made Monday’s win comfortable, it was Swayman who was ready to roll early when he made an outstanding extra-effort save to prevent the Panthers from taking a 1-0 lead in the opening minute of Game 1.

We’ve seen this kind of run from goaltenders in Boston before, and we know how far it can take a team. There’s still a long way to go in that regard, but the early returns are simply exceptional for Swayman in his first postseason as the starting goaltender.

–They’re a different team when they get secondary scoring. David Pastrnak played well in Game 1, skating with purpose and confidence right out of the bat. Yet he didn’t score … and didn’t need to.

Before the empty-netter from Jake DeBrusk, the Bruins got goals from Morgan Geekie, Mason Lohrei, Brandon Carlo and Justin Brazeau. That quartet of players combined for 30 goals during the regular season, 17 fewer than Pastrnak scored himself. The Bruins will still need goals from their top six in Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Charlie Coyle, Pavel Zacha, and DeBrusk, but if they can get contributions like that from the bottom six and from the blue line, wins can be a lot easier to come by. Monday showed that to be true quite emphatically.

What’s more: None of those goals were flukes. Geekie’s goal came after his forecheck kept a puck in the Florida end, creating a chance for Pastrnak and Zacha, with Geekie burying the rebound. Lohrei’s was a picture-perfect snipe over Sergei Bobrovsky’s right shoulder. Carlo’s was a casual bar-down snapper with Marchand causing problems in front of the net. And Brazeau’s? Whew. It was slick. 

They won’t always get that type of production from their secondary scorers. But when they do, they are obviously a different team.

(Bobrovsky, by the way, allowed the four goals on 28 shots just two games after allowing six goals in 32 shots in Game 4 in Tampa. We’ll see where his confidence is when Game 2 begins on Wednesday.)

–Pat Maroon is doing his big scary man thing. Nobody in Boston needs to be reminded of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. But as a quick refresher, here’s this succinct summary: Pat Maroon bullied the entire Boston roster, feared zero opponents, and imposed his size and strength all over the ice. He was willing and eager to fight any Bruin, though nobody was really up for that challenge.


Maroon Chirps Bruins Bench After Bortuzzo Shot Deflects In Off Grzelcyk by
SPORTSNET on
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The big, bad Bruins looked anything but either of those things when Maroon was out there. (OK, that wasn’t that succinct. Sorry.)

Well, now Maroon is a Bruin. And thrown into the budding rivalry featuring two teams that seem to have a genuine distaste for one another, Maroon didn’t need anyone to tell him what to do in Game 1.

Maroon was yapping throughout the night on Monday, and he put himself in the familiar position of emasculating an entire bench full of professional hockey players. Then he got a taste of what it’s like to be a part of the goalie hug situation.

Jeremy Swayman hugs Pat Maroon

Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images


Maroon is a three-time Stanley Cup winner, and it’s not because he’s an elite sniper or playmaker. He’s got a rare skill set, and the Panthers got a rude introduction to it in Game 1.

After the violence of last year’s playoff series (which rolled right into most of the regular-season meetings this year between the Bruins and Panthers), the Bruins now stand a fighting chance of holding their own.

–Vibes. Have you seen the vibes? The vibes are vibing.

Pastrnak scores the series winner in overtime after getting called out by his coach? Vibe boost.

Carlo flies down to Florida on a private jet the day his son is born and scores a beauty of a goal to help the team win on the road? Dad vibe boost.

A jacket hasn’t derived such joy and admiration since Richie Aprile pulled that beauty out of the trunk of his Cadillac and gifted it to Tony Soprano.

Of course — of course of course of course — the Bruins are merely 31 percent of the way to reaching their goal of 16 wins this postseason. Each win gets more difficult as the postseason wears on. And those vibes are often only as strong as the next night’s performance.

Everybody understands that, and nobody is carving out time in June for the Bruins to be playing in the Cup Final.

It’s just remarkable how drastically the entire outlook can change so quickly, going from one inch away from disaster to riding high on genuine confidence. That’s probably why for so many people, this time of year can be devastatingly agonizing yet so fun.

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