This is one of two times I really believed the Bruins could be champs.
As I write this, the Boston Bruins are nursing a 1-0 lead in Calgary, two games into a new phase of their 2010-11 push before the playoffs. Tomas Kaberle, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverly have been added, Mark Stuart, Blake Wheeler, a prospect (Joe Colborne from Providence) and draft picks have been sent away. For better or worse, this team is going to make a run for the Stanley Cup.
Can they? I suppose. But I haven’t completely bought in.
I’ve been very quiet in this space lately. Because of time and just a desire to watch the games and see what happens, I haven’t been much for analyzing actions and players lately. Like when I first stopped being a sports writer, I wanted to just be a fan, cheering at the TV and complaining over beer.
But these trades, specifically the 2011 first-round pick and Colborne for Kaberle, signal that the Bruins are making a run for a championship. At the very least, they’re creating the appearance of a Stanley Cup push. This warrants documentation of some kind, if only to preserve my increasingly spastic thoughts on sports, hockey and fandom.
When the Kaberle deal was made, my first emotion was excitement. Rarely have the Bruins been successful in addressing a need at the deadline. This is not a move with the future in mind, necessarily, though Kaberle could be signed long-term in the offseason. This was a move made in the now. This team is going for it.
But can they, actually? It’s hard for me to really put my faith in it. Twice in my life as a fan, I have been able to completely, without reservation, convince myself that this team could bring the Cup back home to Boston. Obviously, I’ve been wrong twice.
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The first time was in 1994. Boston had traded Joe Juneau to Washington for Al Iafrate, solidifying a defensive corps that already included Ray Bourque, Glen Wesley and Don Sweeney at their peaks, with David Shaw, Paul Stanton and Glen Featherstone rotating in the 5-6 pair. The belief came into effect after Boston dispatched the Montreal Canadiens, then the defending champs, in a seven-game series. This was huge. They then went into New Jersey and won the first two games of the series on the road.
I distinctly remember bouncing between seats on the bus with excitement after they went up 2-0 on the Devils. This was it! They were going to be champs! I had a Cam Neely t-shirt that I was wearing as fast as my mom could wash it at that point, anticipating a deep run through the playoffs.
The Bruins lost the next four games, victims of rookie Martin Brodeur’s magic in the net for New Jersey. Iafrate spent the next two years injured and never played for Boston again.
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The next time was ten years later, the 2004 push. Again, the Bruins made a deal for a top-flight defenseman — Sergei Gonchar from Washington, and along came his teammate Michael Nylander, a quick, creative center from Sweden. Andrew Raycroft was in the midst of what would be a Calder-winning season in his rookie campaign in net. The Bruins ended the season on a roll, too, taking out teams and playing with a confidence I hadn’t seen since, well, the early 90s.
But with three games to go, captain and franchise cornerstone Joe Thornton suffered an “upper body” injury that later turned out to be broken ribs. Thornton tried to play through the pain, but probably should’ve sat for the first round. Boston lost to Montreal in seven games after jumping up to a 3-1 lead.
Next came the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, and when hockey came back, the Bruins had been gutted — Nylander, Gonchar, Brian Rolston and Mike Knuble were all gone, Raycroft was a shell of his rookie self, and Thornton would be traded by November.
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So, seven years later, the Bruins have assembled a team that can easily be ranked as one of the top eight in the league. The best, though? It’s still hard for me to see. This season, I think Philadelphia, Detroit and Vancouver, at least, are better. The defense, fronted by Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Kaberle is as solid as it’s been in 20 years. David Krecji and Patrice Bergeron will keep making plays on the top two lines. Tim Thomas will probably keep playing like a beast. And I’m still not convinced.
Am I a jaded fan burned by 20 years of missed opportunities, or cold realist? I can’t decide.
Whether or not they do it, I’ll watch. I’ll always watch — the Bruins are my team, through and through. Of course, I hope they pull it off. But changing a defeatest mindset is easier said than done.