By Kevin Flanagan
A little over 15 months ago, the Bruins were 60 minutes away from lifting the Stanley Cup on Causeway Street for the first time since some guy named Bobby Orr scored his famous flying goal in the real Boston Garden on Mother’s Day in 1970.
Just about five months ago, the oddsmakers had head coach Bruce Cassidy’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning club as the favorite to claim hockey’s coveted challis this past June.
There’s no need to remind B’s fans of “The Cup That Should Have Been” that slipped through the team’s collective fingers in Game 7 when the Blues claimed their first championship on the TD Garden ice.
Nevertheless, when the Bruins began the walk to the visitors’ dressing room in Philadelphia after beating the 2-0 the Flyers on March 10th, they were a wagon that was gaining momentum towards another Finals appearance.
How quickly things can change.
Now facing elimination from this COVID-19 crazy Stanley Cup playoffs at the hands of a superior Tampa Bay Lightning team that seemingly has toyed with them in Game 3 and 4, it looks as if it could be a while before the Black and Gold are considered championship contenders again.
The harsh reality is Monday night’s tilt is likely the last time that hockey fans in the Hub will see the core that brought the Cup back to Boston in 2011, breaking a 39 year-long drought.
The four-month and return to play in the Toronto bubble has further exposed 43-year-old team captain Zdeno Chara’s inability to keep up with the NHL’s much quicker pace of play.
Unless the future Hall of Famer chooses to bow out gracefully, the most challenging conversation that general manager Don Sweeney will have to have will be with the former Norris Trophy winner.
As John Buccigross of the four-letter network said during a recent interview on Boston sports radio recently, the proud towering pillar that became the foundation of this group’s nearly decade long run “is toast.”
And for those who still believe Tuukka Rask will be able to return to TD Garden next season – whenever that may be – and man the Bruins crease for the year remaining on his current contract are sadly mistaken.
No matter how noble his intentions were leaving the bubble to tend to family affairs, Rask will receive no respite from rabid B’s fans. The leather lungs that would curse out their on mother if she gave up a soft goal on a Saturday in December will be salivating at the chance to devour the once fabulous Finn without a second thought.
Add to that the likelihood that power-play specialist Torey Krug will turn in his Black and Gold sweater in return for that of the team willing to offer the most green will make Sweeney’s second rebuild on the fly almost as tricky as his first when he took over as GM in 2015.
When you combine that with the wear and tear that another season – as wacky as it has been – has had on the remaining core of Patrice Bergeron (35), David Krejci (34), and Brad Marchand (32), the task facing the Bruins brass becomes even more daunting.
In a year that almost all of us would like to forget entirely, it is somehow sadly fitting the heart of this B’s team that could have been a dynasty, will likely never beat the same again.