When you are young, you think that the way your life is will never change. Your best friends that you play sports with and sit next to at the lunch table will be there every day. Christmas will always be toys and gadgets. Your bedroom, the one you have spent countless hours decorating with the perfect posters, will be where you always rest your head and delve into dream world. And, if you were a Bruins fan like I was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Bruins would always be relevant and circling the Stanley Cup Finals.
As a hockey-loving youngster, the Bruins were the Sun my solar system revolved around. It was a Bruins game I went to while my mom was in the hospital dealing with complications while pregnant with my younger brother (some would say those complications never stopped thanks to having two precocious young boys bouncing around, but I digress.) It was a Pete Peters crystal white Bruins jersey that remains to this day the best Easter present I ever received. I have mentioned this before, but I forced my mother (further adding to her complications) to open car doors for my imaginary friends who were always a member of the Bruins team. Most memorable and influential were my annual trips to Bruins Stanley Cup playoff games with my dad and his business associates. It was ironic that as the weather turned warmer, the sport that took over my winters became the end all and be all of my existence. But such was the case.
From the 1987-88 season until 1991-92, the Bruins advanced to at least the conference final in four of those five seasons. Players like Ray Bourque, Cam Neely, Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin made sure that the Boston Garden was rocking until late May. Along the way, the Black and Gold erased decades of historical persecution at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens and were so successful that a new arena was built. As a kid who dreamt of following in the footsteps of those heroes, tuning in to WSBK or NESN from Rene Rancourt’s bellowing anthem all the way until John Pierson’s last telestrated breakdown of a breakout was as much a part of my daily routine as cross-checking my brother during out games of knee hockey in the basement.
Needless to say, after the 1992 season ended unceremoniously at the hands of Mario Lemieux’s Pittsburgh Penguins, the years became lean. It took 18 seasons and numerous heartbreaks, but finally the Bruins are back on the sport’s grandest stage in the Stanley Cup Final. Of course, the Bruins didn’t do it the easy way, but would Bruins fans have it any other way? After winning the Northeast Division, the B’s spotted the Canadiens a 2-0 lead with two losses at home in the first round. Once the Bruins were able to come all the way back, winning three games in overtime against the Habs – including the clincher in Game 7 – there was reason to think this year would be different. That is, until the second round opponent was penciled in.
It had to be the Flyers. It just had to be. The 2010 playoffs which looked to be bouncing in Boston’s way – what with the 3-0 lead in the semifinals and then a 3-0 lead in the surprising Game 7 – ended in a heartbeat as the Flyers scored four in a row to complete their epic comeback. And there the Broad Street Bullies were awaiting Boston in the second round, chock full of confidence based on the crazy series one year ago. Three games in, the B’s had another 3-0 lead, resulting in almost every hockey pundit using the same “Has any team up 3-0 been as scared as Boston?” joke. This team was different. Rather than shy away from any comparisons and blank out 2010, the Bruins stared it down and annihilated the Flyers in four games to advance to the conference finals.
Awaiting the Bruins in the East final was Tampa Bay. A talented team, no doubt, but one that didn’t really get the blood boiling. Instead, the goal at the end of the series did that for Bruins fans. Four more wins and the Cup was within sniffing distance. The series, which went the full seven games, was a microcosm of the Bruins’ season in general. A putrid start followed by a furious rally and then missed opportunity. Why shouldn’t any possible Bruins berth in the finals be earned in a Game Seven? There was no more appropriate way for both the franchise and fan base to cross that hurdle. And the game was a beauty. Well-played hockey on both sides, and for once the sole mistake which ended a season was not made by the Bruins. Instead, it was a player whose absence in 2010 (David Krejci) was perhaps the turning point on a potential Cup run finding a guy who was never in the playoffs before this season and was on his way to a third game-winner and second series-winner (Nathan Horton). That goal – and the seven minutes of defense that followed – allowed Bruins fans to celebrate at once the joy of the present, the promise of the future and the familiarity of the past.
The past. In a strange way, that is what this journey over the past two months has been about and what excites me most about the next two weeks. Friends of mine on Facebook have followed my countdown from 16 to 4 at the moment, with the last four wins using pictures of great Bruins to signify one less victory to score to bring back the Cup. Before Game Seven against the Lightning last week, I watched highlights from the last Game Seven the B’s played in the conference finals against New Jersey in 1988. Everyone has that moment from their youth which signifies their first true sports memory. For me, it was that game against the Devils. I remember my mom having a work party at our house and all the men ditching their wives to gather around the TV. I remember a few of the guys baffled I knew all the lime combinations and was so intense. I remember one of my heroes, Ray Bourque coming in to take a faceoff after the center was kicked out and winning it perfectly back to Rick Middleton who scored. Most of all, I remember my favorite player at the time, Craig Janney, stealing a pass, breaking in alone and deking out Sean Burke for the goal that sealed the deal. Amazingly, he was tripped up after the goal and proceeded to sail through the air afterwards – just like Bobby Orr did in 1970.
The memories haven’t stopped since that night. Maybe the steadfast belief of the young that things will never change is true. I spoke with my best friend since first grade on Friday night. We talked about all those years of heartache and how this is just like when we were young. Then I asked him to be one of my groomsmen in my wedding. Next, I called my younger brother. Still a tinge mad that my dad took him to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in 1990 which went three overtimes and was a classic, we cried about the Bruins being back in the finals again. Then, we cried some more when I asked him to be my Best Man at my wedding. It wasn’t me and my brother in our matching Bruins sweaters in the basement throwing our sticks in the air at the same time Reggie, Cam and LB did, but I know that from almost 500 miles away, we both had our sweaters on and were experiencing the same emotions.
All types of people have spent a lot of time the past five days offering predictions and prognostications about what will happen once the puck drops in Vancouver Wednesday night. Do I have any clue what will happen? Absolutely not. I do think the Bruins have the better defense and the Canucks have the better special teams, but does that mean Tim Thomas will pitch four shutouts and the Sedins will score 15 power play goals? Nope. Truth be told, I don’t want to have a prediction. I grew up thinking the Bruins will win the Stanley Cup every year. Hell, I still do. But, 18 years of being wrong at that prediction has effectively retired me from that. Instead, I offer a challenge to Bruins fans. One that will be difficult for all of us.
If the 7,678 days which have passed since the Bruins lost to Edmonton to close out the 1990 Cup Finals have taught Bruins fans anything, it is this – experiences like this do not come along often. Instead of worrying about Tomas Kaberle and Milan Lucic, step back and appreciate that it was our team which was a featured player in Media Day on Tuesday. It is the Spoked-B all over NBC, Versus, NHL Network and the thousands of pieces of merchandise available. While it is unfortunate that tickets to the three games at the Garden look to cost upwards of $800 just to get in the door, also keep in mind that TICKETS TO GAMES 3, 4 AND 6 OF THE STANLEY CUP FINAL IN BOSTON COST THAT MUCH. Will it break our hearts if it isn’t the Bruins who hoist the Cup? Yes, it will. Will it erase the fact that the Bruins won three series-clinching games on home ice, took over the Boston sports scene and created such a stir that Bill Belichik was standing and waving a rally towel during games? Not in my mind.
The City of Boston, the loyal legion of Bruins fans and the team we all care for with a passion hard to describe is set to play the game under the watch of not just our region, but the entire hockey world. They deserve it, their play in the first three rounds shows that. At the same time, we deserve it. Our relationship with the Bruins, whether it is from a day in 1985 when you watched the Bruins and Winnipeg Jets battle in a cramped Boston Garden while your mom and future Best Man were engaged in their own battle or from a Mother’s Day in 1970 when a young Bobby Orr flew through the air, has brought us to this point.
Where things go from here, only the parties directly involved can shape. I know that my television would be tuned to NBC Wednesday night regardless of who was in the Stanley Cup Final. But to know I will be donning my sweater, putting on my hat and eating my usual pregame meal has me smiling as wide as Nathan Horton.
Enjoy the ride, Bruins fans.