BOSTON — By now, you find them annoying. By now, they have gotten on your nerves. By now, you cannot look at their colors without curling a lip.
But do you hate the Boston Bruins yet?
And if not, why not?
They are the sucker-punching Bruins, after all. They represent the last team standing between your team and the Stanley Cup final.
They are the players who want to steal your dream, invade your lands and rustle your cattle.
And so, when you look at the Boston Bruins, do you feel that lovable surge of hatred yet?
For years, it has been the byword to the NHL playoffs. In a seven-game series played for the survival of a season, the old players will tell you, the ill will would fester each game until it grew into a white-hot abhorrence for the opposing team. After all, the other team has the gall to want what you want. And don't you hate that?
By now, it is understandable if you are annoyed every time you see that spoked B on the front of the Bruins' jersey. After all, it kind of looks like Bruno Kirby's wagon-wheel coffee table from When Harry Met Sally, doesn't it? It is okay if you detest Milan Lucic's left fist, or Nathan Horton's right one, or Brad Marchand's mouth, or Tyler Seguin's legs. It is fine if you decide you have lost your taste for baked beans, cream pie and clam chowder.
After all, this is hockey. This isn't bordering nations. A little bit of hatred — the sports kind — is allowed.
"As you go through a series, you start hating them more, you know," Marty St. Louis said Tuesday morning. "You get challenged mentally and physically, and because of what the other team is doing, you hate them a little more as you go along.
"I don't know if it's really hatred. But you have to mentally want it more than them. If it means hating them, you hate them."
After Tuesday night, that should be easier to muster, don't you think?
The Bruins rebounded for a 6-5 win in Game 2 to even the series at a game apiece, and along the way, they made the Lightning look ordinary for the first time in weeks. All in all, it was a rather detestable night for a Lightning follower.
The truth is, you don't hear the word "hatred" in regard to playoffs nearly as often as you once did. Who knows? Maybe it's because there is so much hatred — the real kind — in the world. Maybe it's because we've seen too much to apply it to a game, even one as physical as hockey.
"Hatred is too strong a word," Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund said. "I don't hate anyone."
"It's not the right word," forward Ryan Malone said. "But you have to have that extra drive. You have to realize what you're playing for. It doesn't matter who you're playing; you grow to not like the opposition because they're standing in the way of what you want."
Even a few years ago, the rhetoric was different. The Lightning, a more emotional team in those days, talked openly of hating the Flames in the Stanley Cup final. Andre Roy, a defenseman on that team, put it the best.
"I hate olives, and bad traffic and soft music," he said. "And I hate the Flames." Also, Roy suggested that if he walked past the Flames pregame buffet, he might do something to the food.
Mostly, of course, we are talking about semantics. Even in the old days, when players talked about their opponents the way Hatfields talked about McCoys, it wasn't really hatred. No one wished harm on anyone else, at least not lasting harm. But when other teams get chippy, when other teams turn thuggish, yeah, teams find that stuff annoying.
As for these Lightning players, however, not so much.
Over the course of a season, coach Guy Boucher has noticed that emotions don't seem to do his team a lot of good. On those times the Lightning has gotten emotional, it has lost its focus. So Boucher has taught his team to compartmentalize its feelings until — voila — he is suddenly leading the Skating Vulcans.
"I don't think hating your opponent is passe, but every series is different," Boucher said. "We didn't hate Pittsburgh; we had extreme respect for them. There is a fear factor, a respect factor and a hate factor, and they all come into play at some point. We don't hate that team (the Bruins). If we hate that team, we're focusing on the things they're doing well against us, not on the things we do well against them.
"To me, it's not about hate. It's about battle level. It's about urgency. You're fighting Lucic on the boards or Marchand on the boards. It's not about hate; it's about getting the puck. If it helps some guys to hate to battle that hard, okay. But I think we have cerebral guys. When we get too emotional, we get into trouble."
And so they skate on in this, well, respectathon. This guy likes that one, and that one likes this one, and no one gets their dander up over a punch in the face.
Maybe it's me, but wouldn't it be a little more fun if someone were at least annoyed? You know, just for old times' sake.