It started in 2002 with the Patriots upset of St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl, then in 2004 the Red Sox ended 86 years of torture by winning the World Series, the Celtics followed in 2008 with their record 17th NBA Championship and finally last night after 40 years the Boston Bruins finished off one hell of a decade with a Stanley Cup.
Boston is truly the city of champions, as a New Yorker that’s a painful thing to say.
Funny thing about it is this; more so than the C’s, Pats, or Sox titles this Bruins championship is truly a work of wonders. The Bruins 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks was the culmination of a rebuilding process that was years in the making and was done without the glamour guys that make the Pats, Sox and C’s so regarded in sports.
Their most popular player and Conn Smythe winner was a goalie that bounced around the hockey world from places like Birmingham, Alabama to Helsinki, Finland before making his debut in the NHL at age 31 6 years ago.
Their captain is a 6’9” behemoth whose coaches told him that because of his height he’d be better suited to play basketball.
Their number one scorer is a rookie who was the biggest pest in the Stanley Cup Finals since Esa Tikkanen.
But it goes deeper than just the players; there were the ownership issues that drove Boston fans away from this once proud franchise. For ten plus years the Bruins became a punching bag for critics because of Jeremy Jacobs cheap ways that cost Boston its fan base and its respect.
The Bruins were hardly a player in the Eastern Conference in the last 15 years, missing the playoffs 5 times and only making it out of the first round of the playoffs 4 times. They traded away perennial all-star and the face of the franchise Joe Thornton, they ran through coaches, they had no direction.
The turnaround started with Peter Chiarelli who did an amazing job in drafting and trusting the future of his team in his young players like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Milan Lucic. His boldest move was keeping journeyman goaltender Tim Thomas over younger and more talented net minders like Hannu Toivonen and Andrew Raycroft. Thomas though seemingly too old and too aggressive in net became the new face of the franchise as he helped guide the Bruins back to the playoffs four years ago and helped turn the Bruins into a player for the Stanley Cup.
Slowly Bruins fans came back and the hockey hotbed was ablaze once again as the Bruins were winning division titles and last year were one win away from making their first East Conference final in 18 years.
We all know the rest of that story.
The B’s could’ve folded and let the bitterness of last season’s historic collapse carry over into this season but it didn’t. Thomas, Zdeno Chara (who both should win the Vezina and Norris trophies for outstanding goaltender and defenseman this year) and company guided the Bruins to another division title and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Yet once again this team found itself against the wall down 2-0 to bitter rival Montréal heading to French-Canadian territory with history past and present not on their side. The Bruins fought back to beat the Habs thanks to their physical play and Thomas’s brilliance in net and the series win catapulted them to a mini run in the playoffs that featured a vengeful sweep of the Flyers where the Bruins looked as dominant as Bobby Orr led teams and a tough seven game series win over up and coming Tampa Bay.
Even with their impressive postseason run the Bruins were heavy underdogs to Vancouver who looked like a team on a mission after beating nemesis Chicago in the first round of the playoffs and then breezing through the next two rounds. Vancouver’s skill and speed led to an early 2-0 advantage in the series heading back to Boston with the B’s wondering if their bruising style of play could lead to a victory in the series. Not only did their style of play lead to victories, it wasn’t even close.
Even before winger Nathan Horton went down thanks to a cheap shot from defenseman Aaron Rome the Bruins were beating up Vancouver in all areas on the ice. Brad Marchand became a wrecking ball, Shawn Thornton laid out Canucks with ease, Andy McQuaid and the other tough guys made each and every Canuck pay by delivering blow after blow on the ice and on the scoreboard. The Bruins became the unstoppable offensive force on the ice because their defense led to so many scoring chances.
They turned Roberto Luongo psyche to dog food and even though they lost game 5 in Vancouver they went back to Boston like it was nothing and forced a game 7. Their heart, determination and force got them through the Stanley Cup Finals and it also won it for them.
The Bruins had lost the previous three games in Vancouver by a total score of 5-2; they had wasted three dazzling performances by Thomas in net and were not about to do it again last night.
With Thomas standing on his head Marchand and Bergeron lit the lamp twice each and Chara and the defense gave Vancouver nothing to work with. It was another slaughter.
Once the final horn sounded the journey was complete. Helmets and sticks littered the ice, Horton returned from his concussion to celebrate with his mates, Thomas took home the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP and Chara lifted the 35 pound silver chalice over his huge body to celebrate the Bruins triumph.
It was a wonderful sight for guys like Chara and Thomas who probably never would’ve had the chance to be here if not for their determination. Thanks to them and the other 20 plus misfits on that bench the Bruins wiped away 40 hard luck years from “too many men on the ice,” to the Oates, Bourque ad Neely years were they came so close but never succeeded, to the doldrums of the last 15 years.
This was sweeter than the Pats, Sox or Celtics victories because this was a real comeback story for a once proud franchise that can now properly hold its place in the city of champions.
The Bruins are now the big dogs in Boston right where they should be.