BRIGHTON, Mass. – Veteran Bruins players that have been there before always have the expectation that something special is going to happen with each and every hockey season.
Perhaps it’s just part of the culture that the Bruins have built over the last 12 years, and a key optimistic part of what’s pushed the Bruins to three Stanley Cup Final appearances over the last eight years. Certainly it’s the mindset that 42-year-old captain Zdeno Chara brings to the table every season, and has made the Bruins a playoff team in 10 of the 13 seasons that he’s been in Black and Gold.
“There are always some moments and sequences when you can look back,” said Chara, when asked if there was any moment that he knew this Bruins team had the makings of a special group. “I’ve never felt any differently this team. The team that we have is always one that I believe in. That won’t ever change. That’s the biggest thing for me.
“I always believe that the group of guys we have, the players we have, the coaches, the system and what management goes, I always believe that’s the way we go and I follow the lead that’s set by the organization. I just go and try to make the best out of it.”
But optimism was high coming off last season when the Bruins pumped 112 points out of their regular season, even if it was a little bit guarded with the knowledge that they still needed to get by a Tampa Bay Lightning juggernaut in their own division.
As circumstances would have it, the Bruins once again had an excellent regular season in 2018-19 even if it wasn’t the kind of historic campaign put together by the Lightning. Then they outlasted Toronto in the playoffs and all of a sudden people started paying much closer attention to a Bruins team that had a clear pathway to the Stanley Cup Final once Tampa, Washington and Pittsburgh all fell by the wayside in the first round of the playoffs.
But let’s not shortchange this Bruins team either. They have been one of the NHL’s best teams for most of this season, and they truly do deserve to be in the Stanley Cup Final, whether they received breaks along the way or not.
“I’m proud of the guys. We’ve earned the right to be where we are and be in the Stanley Cup Final,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We’ve beaten three good teams. There’s a bit of unfinished business here, but I think our guys understand that there are four more steps to go here.”
They traveled all the way to China during training camp, took the Winter Classic crown when they defeated the host Blackhawks at Notre Dame’s football stadium, ripped off points in 19 straight games down the stretch and have pieced together an impressive seven-game winning streak during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Bruce Cassidy felt like the Winter Classic and the “Peaky Blinders” outfits worn by the Bruins players was a turning point moment for the B’s when things really started coming together.
“There was the core [group] right from the beginning, right? But some of that core group wasn’t in China, so it was a lot of the young guys that had to take charge. Guys like Jake [DeBrusk] and Charlie [McAvoy] that had been here for a year got a little more vocal. I think the Winter Classic was a little bit more of a turning point if you want to look back. The whole ‘Peaky Blinders’ theme really brought the guys together, and I think that was Torey Krug’s doing if I’m not mistaken.
“But in the game itself we seemed to take off from there. That was one instance where we really came together. I think that was the first time we had probably had everybody healthy with the group we thought we’d start with at the beginning of the year. We’ve always allowed the players to kind of have that room. It’s Zee, Bergeron, Krejci and Tuukka, these guys have won a Cup. We’ve never really interfered with it too much and have always viewed it as a positive that [the players] can kind of police their own things.”
Certainly the Bruins season has been about overcoming adversity with the Bruins losing both Patrice Bergeron and Chara for an overlapping month, losing David Pastrnak toward the end of the season with a freak thumb injury and not getting a truly effective Charlie McAvoy until after the midpoint of the season. That as much as anything else has defined the Bruins over the course of this NHL regular season and steeled them against many of the things thrown underneath them over the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“There are a lot of things that brought us together throughout the season,” said Brad Marchand. “The Winter Classic was a pretty special thing to go through as a group, but another one was [the trip] to China. We had a lot of fun over there as a group, and a couple of long nights and fun bus rides. Those are the things that bring you together and you look back on as building relationships. There were a lot of different things that we went through this year and things you can look back on. But it’s also something we stressed in the room and take a lot of pride in. It’s really paying off for us right now.”
No trash talk from John Tortorella “denting” Tuukka Rask was going to throw the Bruins off track, and no amount of scrutiny thrown at Brad Marchand was going to make him shrink from the big moments, even if the entire Canadian media seems to be against him at any given moment.
This Bruins team has proven time and again that they are big game performers and that they are survivors who will be there at the end of the day. Those two things as much as anything else allow the Bruins to be there still standing at the very end of the Stanley Cup playoff tournament, and lying in wait for a challenger in the Western Conference that’s going to be the underdog in the final series, no matter who it is.
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