Perhaps it's the collision between politics and sports — in which elections are covered like trade deadline day and the "horse races" leading up to them are covered like game stories — that we're always preparing ourselves for the spin around a well-hyped game.
If the Boston Bruins skate out of TD Garden on Saturday with a victory over the Vancouver Canucks in their first meeting since the Stanley Cup Final … well, big deal, right? They already pummeled them when it mattered most last June. It's been well-established they're the bigger, tougher, stronger team with more consistant goaltending. It adds another exclamation point to a proclamation we already comprehend.
If the Boston Bruins lose to the Canucks on home ice … well, second in the Eastern Conference on Jan. 7 with a goal differential of nearly 70-plus is a nice cushion for that fall. They can go home, take out that glittery ring they won last spring and forget this ever happened.
This game isn't about the Boston Bruins. It's about the Vancouver Canucks. And win or lose, they really can't win.
The spin began earlier this week. Some players called the Boston game a measuring stick. Others called it Game 42 on the season, nothing more. Said Coach Alain Vigneault via NESN:
"It can't be that big of a game, we don't have one of the networks that's delivering the game tomorrow," Vigneault said. "It's a 1 o'clock game. I think like everybody else everybody understands that's it's Game 42. It's a non-conference game. Probably for the players at stake here is the fact that both teams competed real hard for the Cup. Obviously I think both teams will be ready, but I don't think if we go in [Saturday] and win they're going to give us the Cup back. We lost that last year. This is a different year, a different team. It's Game 42. It's a non-conference game."
To summarize: There's really only downside here.
The Canucks lose, and what does it prove? That the Bruins are the superior team? Skate out on the rink, look up, find the banner that has 2010-11 on it. We didn't need 60 minutes of regular-season hockey to reveal, or reinforce, anything.
The Canucks win, and what does it prove? That they can get up for a game in January? They've been called a regular-season champ that can't win the Stanley Cup for the last few seasons. That they can beat the Bruins on the road? Once more, with feeling: In January.
(It's a little contemptible that the same media which downgrades the Canucks' accomplishments in the regular season now places exorbitant importance on a game five days after the Winter Classic.)
Which is why the decision to sit Roberto Luongo on Saturday was genius, no matter the result. It protects him from a building, a crowd and a home team he not only couldn't beat last season, but one that caused him to surrender 15 goals in three games.
He lasted nine minutes the last time he played in Boston. Nine.
So the catcalls rise: He's a coward. He can't win the big game. He isn't mentally tough enough to win in a big spot on the road. To which we'd ask: Does your cable television provider stop broadcasting National Hockey League games after the first round of the playoffs?
If Luongo won in Boston, no one would have declared the demons exorcized. No one's pumping his tires. The same Boston writers calling him "weak sauce" today weren't going to pen soliloquies about his fortitude.
Even if he begged out, it's because he knows he doesn't need this crap in January. There's only one way to quiet the critics: Lifting the Stanley Cup. Maybe he goes through Boston to do this, and maybe he doesn't. Winning today doesn't erase 15 goals in three games.
So Cory Schneider gets the start, giving the Canucks an actual honest-to-goodness chance to win in Boston. But either way, they still lose. Such is life for the team that loses a Game 7 on home ice.