The Bruins’ 2011 ride to the Stanley Cup can be described many ways — magical, memorable, incredible, cathartic. It was all of those things, a golden experience with a 34½-pound silver souvenir to remember it by. What it wasn’t was a fluke.
By advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three seasons, the Bruins have enhanced the legacy and altered the perception of their Cup-winning run two springs ago. Lifting Lord Stanley’s hallowed hardware in Vancouver was prologue, not a final act.
Many can accomplish something difficult once. But the ability to repeat is the line between luck and talent, fortuity and ability. It was a famously imperious New Jersey guy who said, “Confidence is solely the result of demonstrated ability.” That’s Parcells, not Sinatra.
The Bruins have demonstrated they’re constructed to compete for the Cup perennially. Facing the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Wednesday in Chicago, with primarily the same core group is validation that what happened two years ago for the Bruins wasn’t lightning in a Black-and-Gold bottle, a historically hot goalie or hockey happenstance.
It was talent.
“Yeah, definitely, I think we wanted to prove as players that we’re better than the first-round exit [last year], and it wasn’t a fluke winning the Cup and getting to the Final that year,” said left wing Milan Lucic. “Going through what we went through and getting back to the Final with the exact core of guys, missing just [Tomas] Kaberle, [Michael] Ryder, and [Mark] Recchi, who were three big pieces of the last one, being able to get back here is definitely a huge accomplishment for us. But it’s still not over yet. We want more.”
The Bruins have 17 players who were on the team’s Stanley Cup-winning roster in 2011. Gregory Campbell’s ascension to hockey martyrdom after breaking his right leg on a courageous block of an Evgeni Malkin shot in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals limits the Bruins to a Sweet 16 from the ’11 team.
The goalie has changed from two years ago, as Tuukka Rask has taken over for Tim Thomas, but the quality of goaltending hasn’t. Other than a flawless puck-stopping succession plan, the core and esprit de corps of the team is basically as it was in 2011.
That’s by design. Under general manager Peter Chiarelli, a team that was once one of the most miserly in the league has handed out contract extensions to its own like they’re coming out of a Pez dispenser.
Coach Claude Julien said the club was convinced that 2011 wasn’t a one-shot deal.
“I think that’s why Peter tried to keep the group together as much as he could,” said Julien. “You’re always going to lose a player or two here or there, but overall we still believed that this team could get another opportunity to get there. All you had to do was look at our team two years ago. We’re still a young team.”
In a lot of ways these Bruins are like the 2001 Patriots. These guys are better than we realized.
The 2001 Patriots were a football fairytale with a happy ending. Coach Bill Belichick had taken a rag-tag team with a backup quarterback and jerry-rigged it for glory.
But the narrative looked a lot different after the Patriots won two more Super Bowl titles in the next three seasons. It turned out some of those overachievers were just achievers, guys such as Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Troy Brown, Willie McGinest, Roman Phifer, and David Patten.
And the second-string quarterback turned out to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
There probably isn’t a Tom Brady-esque talent on these Bruins, but there is more talent than they’ve been given credit for.
“I think Looch is bang on; 2011 wasn’t just a lucky run,” said center Chris Kelly, who signed a four-year, $12 million extension last offseason. “I think we have a great team that can compete year in and year out.”
It’s a team that could become the first to win two Cups in a three-year span or less since the Red Wings captured back-to-back Cups in 1997 and ’98. The Devils collected two in a four-season span, winning in 2000 and ’03.
It’s not just that the Bruins have reached the Cup Final again. It’s how they’ve done it. They’ve carved up opponents.
The Bruins have won 9 of 10 games. They’ve allowed their opponents to score more than two goals just once in that span, the 4-3 overtime loss to the Rangers in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Claude’s Crew has scored the most goals in the playoffs and outscored its opponents, 50-30.
The two leading scorers in the playoffs are Bruins center David Krejci (nine goals, 12 assists) and right wing Nathan Horton (seven goals, 10 assists). The top four players in plus-minus in the playoffs all sport the Spoked-B — Horton (plus-21), Krejci (plus-14), Lucic (plus-13), and defenseman Zdeno Chara (plus-12).
The patina of perception is funny and fickle.
If the Bruins hadn’t mounted a miraculous comeback in Game 7 of their first-round series against the Maple Leafs, we would be having an entirely different conversation about the same collection of players.
We would be lamenting how they were dispatched in the first round on home ice for the second straight year. Last year, Boston lost a seven-game series to the Capitals that featured seven one-goal games, four of which went to overtime.
Instead, we’re talking about the possibility of the team winning two Stanley Cups in three seasons and tossing the teams with the two best regular-season records (Chicago and Pittsburgh) in the dust bin to do it.
One-timers may be what the Bruins shoot, but it’s not what they are.