Hadfield: The Rise of the Bruins – how did we get here?

The Bruins are the model franchise in Boston.
The Bruins are the model franchise in Boston.

The Boston Bruins blew a two goal lead in the third period of their match-up against the Penguins on Tuesday night, marking the fourth time this season the B’s have relinquished an advantage in the final frame which resulted in a loss.

Before going any further, let’s do an exercise. First, read that statement a second time. Digest it. Good? Actually, if you may, indulge me and read it again. Now, try to get mad. It shouldn’t be that hard to get riled up, right? You know the drill; this process is natural in fandom. Start by questioning the coach. Don’t stop there; call out a few players while you’re at it. Feeling frisky? No need to be shy about your anger, feel free to give the local sports radio hosts a forum to play general manager for roughly four hours a day. In this town, losses don’t spark reflection, they trigger rash action: Who has to go?

Seems a bit much, but this is who we are. As a sports city, Boston is inflicted with the disease of more. If we’re not winning then what are we doing here, right guys? While we think this mindset is charming – a passionate sign that we care so much, perhaps too much – outsiders probably think it’s batty. I don’t blame them, I mean, this is the same town that talks about the Patriots like they are the Detroit Lions. Good times!

But here’s the thing: I don’t think fans and media alike will greet the second half of this lockout shortened NHL season with a negative outlook. And that’s because aside from those four lapses, the Bruins have secured points in their other 20 games and, by most accounts, are considered one of the four best teams in the league.
It’s been a remarkable transformation, really. The Bruins are where every franchise wants to be in sports (Read that statement again, and then try to argue otherwise. Spoiler Alert: You can’t).

Peter Chiarelli has built a foundation of players, for the most part, in their mid-20s that understand the opportunity in front of them – a chance to win the Stanley Cup every year in the foreseeable future. Boston is the NHL’s version of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Yet, unlike the Thunder, they’ve already won; consequently, they aren’t forced to answer obtuse questions about being “clutch.” In 2013, where juicy narratives reign supreme, this is a critical disclaimer.

Even when Boston loses they say all the right things. Coach Claude Julien’s takedown of the Canadiens’ floptastic performance during his postgame press conference at the Garden a few Sundays ago was worth the loss alone. Wunderkind Tyler Seguin, who has already won a Stanley Cup and been to an All-Star Game, has made it clear that he wants to be a better two-way player and not just known for his penchant for scoring lots of goals (not that scoring is a bad thing).

This wasn’t always the case. Bruins fans didn’t have a complex the size of the Curse of the Bambino, but it certainly began to rival those proportions. You know the story. The nadir, of course, occurred during the second round of the 2010 postseason, when Boston blew a 3-0 series advantage – and then a 3-0 lead in Game 7 at the Garden – and bowed out to the Flyers. The team was thought to have bottomed out, but just a short-year later Tim Thomas did his best Spiderman impression, Zdeno Chara was a workhorse, and Claude Julien played Zen Master en route to the B’s first Stanley Cup victory in 39 years.

Looking at things from a broader perspective, it wasn’t until this year that we really could take stock in the good times. After any championship comes the burden of defending the crown. The Bruins tried and failed. And, to us, that’s fine (this was evidenced by the standing ovation the team got from the Garden faithful moments after being eliminated by the Capitals last season).

But now we get to really know these guys. The core guys slowly morph into more than just players – they become like family in some ways. We’re left appreciating the quirks in their personalities, understanding the flaws in each veteran’s game, hoping young talent (Dougie Hamilton and Seguin) tap into every ounce of their potential, taking in the good bounces, and shaking our heads at the bad ones. It’s a roller coaster ride without the baggage of an irrational inferiority complex, because (again) the Bruins already won.

In the overall scheme of Boston sports, these are weird and bizarre times. Think about it. The Patriots’ success breeds more scorn than appreciation (I’ll never understand this, but I suppose it happens after a few gut-crushing playoff and Super Bowl losses), the Celtics are playing out an admirable but likely futile season (like I wrote Tuesday, I love the C’s gusto, but don’t see them kissing the Larry O’Brien Trophy anytime soon), and the Red Sox are scrambling to woo fans back after two ignominious seasons in which they fielded a team whose likability was akin to the Miami Heat. This leaves the Bruins, who have enjoyed championship success most recently, as the toast of the town. And that’s despite losing its biggest star of that Stanley Cup run, Tim Thomas, to an unprecedented public relations disaster.

These things are cyclical – it won’t last forever, it never does – but the Bruins remain firmly positioned at the intersection of potential growth and championship expectations.

Ryan Hadfield is a columnist for Metro Boston. Follow him on Twitter @Hadfield_



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