The 10-year anniversary of my favorite day ever spent in Boston comes around next week.
Maybe you feel the same about Saturday, June 18, 2011, the day the Bruins rolled through the city on duck boats, rollicking and rejoicing in their first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years.
I bet you do. I bet you feel the same, and the memories remain vivid. The weather that day was a few rays of sunshine beyond perfect, so idyllic that no Instagram filter could make it look lovelier than it already was. The air and the mood were equally warm. So many people you knew were there, lining the parade route. All of them were giddy. We haven’t had a better parade. Not sure we’ve had better Saturdays.
In Boston’s run of — I always have to pause and count them — 12 major professional sports championships this century, perhaps the only team more interwoven with the fabric of Boston than the 2010-11 Bruins was the 2013 Red Sox, and that was born not of joy but tragedy. Ten years ago, 20-something hockey players and a million fans felt like a community.
In the decade since, it’s a feeling Bruins fans have not experienced again. Instead, there have been too many June days like Thursday’s. The weather is lovely. The collective mood is not.
A once-promising postseason quest Wednesday night came to an end with a 6-2 loss to the Islanders in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series. The deeper, tougher, and more-disciplined Islanders won the last three games to eliminate the Bruins. The Bruins dealt with injuries and curious officiating during the season, but losing to the Islanders wasn’t an upset. It was justice.
In Game 5, the Bruins nearly rallied from a 5-2 deficit before succumbing, falling a goal short. Late Bruins comebacks always seem at least somewhat possible because of the memory of their can-you-believe-it rally from a late three-goal hole in Game 7 of a first-round series with the Maple Leafs eight years ago, eventually winning in overtime.
But in Game 6 Wednesday, there was no such suspense. The Bruins’ fuel gauge was well past empty when the motor finally quit. The Bruins gave up three goals in the second period — two coming as the result of brutal mistakes by usually reliable defenseman Matt Grzelcyk — to turn a 1-1 game into a 4-1 disaster. It was clear well before the traditional handshake line the Islanders would play on, and there would be another summer without a parade for the Bruins.
One of the reasons that the Bruins’ 2011 championship doesn’t feel like it was that long ago is because a few of the core players are still here, still prominent. Brad Marchand was a rookie in 2010-11. He had the Bruins’ lone goals Wednesday night. David Krejci was the leading scorer in the playoffs a decade ago. He anchors the second line. Patrice Bergeron was the Bruins’ best player then, and he’s the best player now, with the “C” on his sweater further confirming his status as a franchise icon in real time. Tuukka Rask was the more-than-capable backup to Tim Thomas then. He’s the Bruins’ all-time leader in regular-season and postseason wins now.
All of them own a permanent place in Bruins lore. But it’s impossible to avoid looking at them now and wondering why in the biggest games they collectively haven’t been able to come up with just a little bit more. They have the one Cup, and that is forever, but they also have their share of losses that will linger as what-ifs forever. They got pushed around and lost Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final to the Blues, a bigger but less-talented team. In 2013, they were a couple of minutes away from forcing a Game 7 with the Blackhawks when Rask gave up the tying and Cup-winning goals late in Game 6. In the seasons in which the Bruins haven’t reached the Cup Final since 2011, they’ve been knocked out in the second round or sooner.
This group of longtime Bruins has achieved so much, and yet the feeling nags that it could have been more. In Game 7 of the Cup Final at Vancouver in 2011, Bergeron and Marchand each scored twice in an overwhelming 4-0 victory. They wiped out the Canucks on their own ice, with the Cup waiting for its new possessor down the hallway. What a win. What a way to do it. So where have those kinds of statement victories been in the seasons since? When the stakes have been highest, the Bruins have been left to watch the celebration rather than having it themselves.
Krejci will be a free agent this offseason. So will Rask, of whom both his supporters and detractors have a point. He’s one of the most accomplished goalies in Bruins history, and he’s an enigma who has had some extremely weird plot twists in his career, starting with the blown 3-0 lead in the playoff series with the Flyers in 2010. He has had multiple opportunities to win the big one, and while it hasn’t all been his fault by any means, the truth is he has not been able to do it. It’s time for the Bruins to move on, if he doesn’t make the decision for them.
The Bruins will be a team worth watching again next season. David Pastrnak is one of the league’s elite scorers. Charlie McAvoy has arrived as the next great Bruins defenseman. Bergeron apparently has no plans to age. Despite his ineffectiveness later in this series, count me as one hoping they keep Taylor Hall around.
But the Islanders exposed depth issues that will be challenging to repair entirely. Perhaps more changes than we realize are on the horizon. Perhaps more are necessary.
The Bruins still have those familiar faces that put their names on the Cup way back when. Wednesday night, their quest to do it again officially came up short for the 10th straight season.
It could not go unnoticed that the Islanders, an opponent worthy of scorn and respect at once, played with similar let’s-end-this ruthlessness to what the Bruins flashed that night 10 years ago in Vancouver. They made the Bruins look inferior.
And for the first time, June 18, 2011, felt like a long time ago.