Here in the Hub of Hardware the Bruins had the misfortune of being the franchise with its nose pressed against the trophy case.
No longer. The Bruins have some hard-earned hardware of their own -- the Stanley Cup -- and a new identity.
Last night's 4-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final was nothing short of a hockey exorcism, the demons of disappointment and underachievement that had dogged the Bruins for years expunged. By vanquishing Vancouver, the Bruins put themselves on the pedestal with the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics. They're winners.
It was important for the Bruins to finish the job in British Columbia, not just for the psyche of their fans, but for the rehabilitated reputation of the organization. These weren't the same old Bruins. They had proven that by rallying from 0-2 down against Montreal, sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers, and outlasting the Tampa Bay Lightning. They had demonstrated it in the Cup Final by shaking off three tough one-goal losses at Rogers Arena to push the series and the season to the limit.
Win or lose last night, they had demonstrated championship mettle, but bringing back championship medal hammered home the point beyond debate.
It was validation for Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara and vindication for coach Claude Julien, general manager Peter Chiarelli, and reformed skinflint owner Jeremy Jacobs.
Honestly, the Bruins weren't the most talented team in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Sure, they had the Conn Smythe award winner in net in the transcendent Thomas, and David Krejci, who ended up as the playoffs' leading scorer with 23 points, does have some Pavel Datsyuk moments. But this team won with goaltending, great coaching, guts, grit, and gestalt.
This wasn't the Big, Bad, Bruins of the early 1970s with Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, who combined won five of six Hart trophies (league MVP) from 1969 to 1974. That's what makes this championship more improbable, and the team that delivered it more lovable. Die-hard Spoked-Believer or double-runner front-runner, it was impossible not to fall head-over-skates for this team.
Years from now we'll recall Timmy, Bergy, Horty, Krech, Big Z and the rest. They restored hockey to the forefront of the sporting conscious.
You had Thomas, a goalie with an unorthodox style and an even more unorthodox path to greatness that included stops in locales as far-flung as Birmingham, Ala. and Finland. Like the 2011 Bruins, the 37-year-old Thomas was a comeback story. He lost his starting job last year to Tuukka Rask and was viewed as an overpriced ($5-million), over-the-hill backup coming into the season.
He ends up setting a regular-season record for save percentage (.938) only to take his game to an even higher level in the playoffs. Thomas, who allowed just eight goals in seven Cup Final games and shut out the Canucks twice, rebuffed more rubber than any goalie in Stanley Cup playoff history, stopping 798 shots. The pensive puckstopper was 16-9 with a 1.98 goals against and four shutouts in the postseason.
You had Brad Marchand, the Bruins' Little Big Man who frosted opponents with his tactics and talent. Marchand, who had two goals and an assist in Game 7, set a Bruins playoff rookie record with 11 goals. Despite his diminutive stature, the rookie came up huge in the Cup Final with 5 goals and 2 assists. His short-handed goal in Game 3 was the most scintillating strike of the playoffs, and his pummeling of Canucks star Daniel Sedin in Game 6 was symbolic of the Bruins taking the fight to the favored Canucks.
You had Patrice Bergeron, whose availability for the rest of the playoffs was in doubt after he suffered yet another concussion in the clinching game of the Philadelphia series. Yet, he bounced back and scored the most crucial goal in recent Bruins history. Bergeron one-timed a backhanded feed from Marchand with 14:37 elapsed in the first to give him the first of two Game 7 goals, and the Bruins the first and only goal they would need to clinch the Cup.
You had Nathan Horton, who before being knocked out of the Cup Final in Game 3 by an Aaron Rome heat-seeking head-shot, had been the Bruins most clutch skater of the postseason, scoring series-winning goals against Montreal and Tampa Bay. Horton delivered once again yesterday, when he poured hockey holy water from Boston on the Rogers Arena ice pre-game. Poland Springs on line No. 2, Nathan.
You had Tomas Kaberle, who,...well, didn't screw it up.
You had The Timeout, Julien's brilliant call for a break in the action after his team allowed two goals in 55 seconds to go down 3-1 in the second period of Game 4 against Montreal. The Bruins would rally to tie the game, 3-3, by the end of the period and won it 5-4 in overtime to tie the series up 2-2.
You had The Save -- Thomas's lunging denial of Tampa Bay's Steve Downie in the third period of Game 5 that preserved a one-goal lead.
You have a Cup.
With this remarkable run the Bruins haven't just wiped out a 39-year Stanley Cup drought. They've wiped the franchise's slate clean. All is forgiven, if not forgotten: too many men on the ice in Montreal, the Game 7 home loss to Carolina in 2009 and the 3-0 (series), 3-0 (lead in Game 7), oh, no! collapse against the Flyers last season.
It is fitting that the Bruins, who entered this season as losers of their last four Game 7s and all three with Julien as bench boss, became the first team to win three Game 7s to lift the Stanley Cup, taking out Montreal in the first round, Tampa Bay in the conference finals, and finally the knucklehead Canucks.
It was representative of just how much they had changed. They weren't the same old Bruins.
They were the city's new champions.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.