BOSTON — When things are going wrong, it pays to have relatives that have endured similar experiences.
In Tomas Kaberle’s case it paid off both for him and the Bruins.
Once last night’s Game 7 victory was through, Kaberle had proven to be the latest “comeback kid” among the many of slumping players head coach Claude Julien has stood by to come through over the course of this magical season.
Scrutinized like an extra terrestrial here on Earth ever since he came to Boston in a February trade — and let’s face it, a puck-moving defenseman has been alien here over the last several years — Kaberle might’ve hit rock bottom in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final when he coughed up the puck on the tying goal and then was on the ice for Tampa Bay’s game-winner.
That’s when Kaberle, who inexplicably had been letting the media and fan criticisms get to him (this guy played in Toronto for more than a decade for crying out loud), decided to turn his father and brother, both named Frantisek.
While the elder Frantisek was once a member of the Czech national team, Kaberle’s brother Frantisek once won a Stanley Cup with Carolina. The younger Frantisek now lives in Tampa, which was quite a fortuitous coincidence for the Bruins blueliner.
“I talked to my family and stuff and they told me – especially my dad and my brother – they said obviously just trust yourself and your teammates,” Kaberle explained amidst the celebration last night after Boston’s 1-0 win over the Lightning. “If you believe the media, it’s not going to help you and your game. So I stick with it and I talk to them every day. And like I said, this is a great team and we help each other out there. This is a game of mistakes and mistakes happen.”
That Kaberle didn’t continue on a downward spiral is a credit to his family, the coaches and his teammates, but mostly to him and his desire to win. Once toiling as a poster child for a Maple Leafs organization that seems to be endlessly chasing its tail, Kaberle recognized the opportunity he finally had at 33 to do things numerous players stuck in Toronto are left to dream about.
Kaberle’s renaissance wasn’t just reflected in his two assists in Game 6 or his plus-2 rating over the final three games of the series
It was about the shots he got on net and the ones he attempted that didn’t get through. It was about the passes he made to set up scoring chances, even when Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson was making unthinkable saves to keep the Bruins off the board in Game 7.
And, more than anything, it was about Kaberle’s ability to play sound defensive hockey within the system and limit his mistakes, while still having the confidence to carry the puck (and even make an end-to-end rush late in a scoreless game) and add that offensive element he was brought here for. He was blocking shots and getting his stick in the passing lanes, which was much appreciated by his teammates.
“I noticed that he was really playing hard and even finishing checks, blocking some shots,” said captain Zdeno Chara. “He slid down, in the second period, I think twice or three times and prevented them from making some plays or passes. For sure he was really hungry and he wanted it really bad just like everybody else.”
Obviously, the last time kind words were written about Kaberle, he flushed away the good will with that Game 4 debacle. But now he’s on to the Stanley Cup Final, which means the Bruins relinquish another second-round pick to the Leafs — a pick they were always hoping they’d never get to make.
Kaberle, who admitted he didn’t know there was going to be more to the trade, would’ve wanted Toronto to have that pick as well.
He obviously hasn’t lived up to the expectations he carried with him from Toronto — at 5-on-5 or on the power play. But championships have a way of weighing even the most lopsided trades in terms of talent toward the side that immediately benefits the most as a team. The Leafs might win out in the end, but it’s the Bruins who are playing for the Cup.
“Kaberle is such a great player,” said center Chris Kelly. “I’ve thought that since my, I think my first game was against Toronto in the NHL. Being from the Toronto area, I watched him. To see him bounce back, he never really gets rattled.
“For him to come up huge is one of the reasons we’re going to the finals.”
The chance to enjoy last night’s accomplishment was part of the reason Kaberle only had one team — Boston — on his OK list for potential trades for the last couple seasons. And it’s part of the reason the Bruins are winners of that deal for now.
“Obviously when you’re making decisions, things happen sometimes for a reason or whatever, you know? I just played it by ear. I’m happy to be here and I’ll do my best to help this team,” he said.
In some demented way, maybe the scrutiny worked in Kaberle’s favor. It caused him to retreat to the familiar advice of his family and rethink his approach to the game. Had he been traded somewhere where they care less, he might’ve just played out the string until free agency without a hint of improvement.
Now he has bigger goals on his mind.
“It’s great. What can you ask for more? You dream as a kid to be in the finals and hopefully win it,” said Kaberle. “This is a great chance for this team and we’ve got a lot of great players here. We’re going to play hard.”
Kaberle’s style of play might cause more stomach aches over the course of the Cup final. He might continue to finally emerge as a comfortable, confident back-line force. Whatever the future holds for Kaberle, it won’t be from lack of support from his family and teammates. Maybe a little more support from us outsiders would do him some good as well.