Friday, April 15, 2011

The Most Damaging Words

To win any games in the Stanley Cup playoffs, a team has to overcome another team just as hungry if not hungrier than their own. So it's a particularly telling thing to get words from a GM, a leader of a team, that spell out medium strength goals.

Reporters like to ask loaded questions. The one to Peter Chiarelli couldn't have been more loaded than:

"How far do you think the Bruins have to go in the playoffs for this season to be deemed a success?"

Round 3, in a roundabout way, was his answer.

Round 3? Where does one come up with such a response?

All fans of conference finalists know that going out in Round 3 is just as painful (no, more painful) than going out in Round 1 or 2. Everyone knows that the other team in Round 3 won't have those meek ambitions, and will have a nice time disposing of the team that is roundly patting themselves on the back for their successful season.

In one sense, Peter Chiarelli undercut the ambition of the Boston Bruins, which like any playoff team before a game has been played should harbour only one ambition - to win and win and win again.

To the outsider, Peter Chiarelli also managed to look like a fool. His team may have won the Eastern Conference two years ago, but last season they narrowly made the playoffs and then had the worst collapse in modern history in the second round. IN other words, coming into the season, they were well in the pack. And then a season in a division with Ottawa and Toronto and a Conference with plenty of weak teams, they put up a respectable, but not terrifying 103 points. This put them 4th in the East (not in the top 2), and with a legitimate case that Tampa is better, they don't make all lists as favourites for progression.

So his comments also managed to overestimate his team and in so doing put undue pressure on the group. Yes it would be disappointing to lose to a lower seed, but it would not be a surprise - Montreal has won the season and ages-long series. The second round would likely present a sterner challenge.

Chiarelli made a right mess with his comments. The quote that was made from his response was quite possibly the worst thing that could be attributed to the leader of a team on the eve of a playoffs. Over-evaluation and too little ambition all at once.

I'm not sure that what we saw from the Bruins was a response to this, but as those words loom over a team exhibiting their classic tendencies already, it may only be a matter of time anyway.

All successful playoff teams hope to get inside their opponents heads early, the head of the opposition coach to instill fear and doubt. Carey Price and Tomas Plekanec owe Peter Chiarelli a big thank you for starting that part of their task early.

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