Before this Stanley Cup Final is over, the Bruins will be our Boys of Summer — on skates. And at this hour they are a feel-good team on a par with the 1967 Red Sox, the 1970 Bruins, and the 2001-02 Patriots.
There was a rainbow over Causeway Street when fans filed into the West End ice palace before Game 3 Monday night. By the end of the evening, Garden legions were thinking about the silver chalice that is the pot of gold in the National Hockey League.
On the latest date an NHL game has ever been played in Boston, the Bruins defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 2-0, to take a 2-1 series lead in the Cup Final, which resumes Wednesday night at the Garden. If the Bruins win Game 4, they will have a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup on the ice of the United Center in Chicago Saturday night. Call JetBlue and American Airlines ASAP.
OK, that would be getting ahead of ourselves. But it’s easy to get swept away by the Black-and-Gold tide washing over New England in the spring/soon-to-be-summer of 2013. The Bruins are the team you love to love.
More than a month ago they were down and out in the third period of that seventh game at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then they staged the greatest Game 7 comeback in Stanley Cup playoff history and they have not looked back. In the words of club president and ultimate Bruin Cam Neely, they have no rearview mirror.
So we are not shocked by the shocking event unfolding in front of our tired, rink-shaped eyes. We saw these Bruins dominate the Rangers in five games. We saw them demolish the heavily favored Penguins in a four-game sweep. Now they have rallied from a stake-through-the-heart, triple-overtime loss in the first game in Chicago. They have won two straight against yet another favored opponent. They have won seven consecutive playoff games at home.
We are a hockey town on the brink of summer. While the talking heads at ESPN drone on about Doc Rivers, we are listening to the dulcet tones of Doc Emrick. While others envy the golden pipes of Chicago’s opera-star-turned anthem singer Jim Cornelison, we rally at the sight of Rene Rancourt’s triple fist-pump.
Claude Julien is pulling the strings more effectively than Claude Rains in “Casablanca.’’ Julien’s new line of Daniel Paille, Tyler Seguin, and Chris Kelly is a latter-day incarnation of Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Wayne Cashman. Patrice Bergeron wins every faceoff and the Bruins kill every power play. Jaromir Jagr is skating like a guy with “Take that, Mike Milbury” in the back of his mind. Tuukka Rask is having a better playoff series than Tim Thomas enjoyed two years ago when the Bruins won the Cup in Vancouver in seven games.
A couple of Bruins were asked if they were sensing a closeness to another Cup.
“Yes and no,’’ said Seguin. “It gives you even more incentive being two games away, but we need to stay focused. We’re just trying to enjoy this one tonight.’’
“Absolutely not,’’ countered Kelly. “All we’ve done is put ourselves in a better position. They can say that they are only three games away from winning the Cup. They’re a great hockey team.’’
The Blackhawks are supposed to be a great hockey team. They won the Cup three years ago and set an NHL record when they came out of the gate without losing any of their first 24 games in regulation. They recovered from a 3-1 series deficit against Detroit. They overwhelmed the defending Stanley Cup champs from Los Angeles. They went 10-1 in their first 11 home playoff games.
But something changed after Chicago dominated the first period of Game 2. The Bruins came out flying in the second period of Game 2 and have crushed the Hawks’ spirit over the last five periods. The Blackhawks are taking on the look of the Penguins. They can’t believe how hard it is to score against the Bruins. A couple of fights broke out Monday in the closing seconds.
The Bruins are playing better defense than the 2003-04 Patriots. They don’t allow good chances. Rask kept them in Game 2 with spectacular work in the first period, and his defenders have made it relatively easy over the last five periods.
“They box you out, they’ve got big bodies, and they block shots,’’ said somewhat frustrated Chicago coach Joel Quenneville.
It is a mistake to think this series is over. We know better. But the Bruins are just two wins away from another Cup and they are playing textbook, almost perfect hockey. They even managed to get it done without overtime in Game 3.
Friday is the first day of summer and the Stanley Cup is within the grasp of the Bruins. Life is good.