Lord Stanley’s Cup is the greatest trophy in all of sports. End of discussion. It’s the trophy that you don’t get to keep, but you can put your name on it if you win. Every year the captain of the winning team raises the same silver chalice, hockey’s Holy Grail, over their heads as Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Steve Yzerman. It is won after there is only one team left standing following two months of brutality, endurance, and grit outlasting everyone else who wants it just as much as they do. As great as the Stanley Cup is to win, getting that close and coming up short hurts even more.
This is how the Boston Bruins feel this summer. They gave it their all this spring, but were outlasted by a more than worthy opponent. The Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks really were the two bets hockey teams of 2013. The Hawks were a team that Bruins fans found hard to hate, with the right balance of skill, grit, and defensive prowess. Neither team was the type of team to shy away from a hard hit, or sell calls to the refs. Neither coach was one to cry foul to the media. There was a lot to respect going both ways, and in the end, the better team won.
As satisfying as it was to see a worthy team win it all, it still stung to see the Bruins fall apart in the deciding Game 6. They were a team you couldn’t count out after their improbable comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round of the playoffs. That game now ranks with Carlton Fisk’s game winner in ’75 and Larry Bird’s steal in ’87 as one of the great moments in Boston sports history despite not winning a title that year. After that, the Bruins made short work of the New York Rangers, eliminating them in five games. At times they appeared to be able to score at will on Henrik Lundqvist, arguably the best goaltender. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Penguins were heavily favored, but that didn’t intimidate the Bruins. They got in the heads of Pittsburgh’s stars early, and managed to pull off a sweep thanks to the unrelenting commitment to teamwork best exemplified by Gregory “Soupy” Campbell’s final penalty kill.
By the time the Bruins made it to the Finals, they were banged up. Campbell’s absence from the lineup was felt in a big way. Nathan Horton was playing with a separated shoulder, and Patrice Bergeron was playing through a laundry list of injuries that seemed to grow by the day. They didn’t win, but there was so much to love about their effort. They gave it everything they had.
The 2013-14 Bruins will look different than the team we have seen in recent years. Jaromir Jagr and Jay Pandolfo are not returning to the team. Neither are 2001 Cup heroes Nathan Horton and Andrew Ference. The Bruins will move on and rebuild, but in some ways it’s an end of an era. In a year when there was no guarantee of an NHL season, the Bruins stepped up and raised the spirits of a city that needed them. Thank you, Bruins.