By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Just prior to the start of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals, ESPN’s Joe McDonald wrote a column praising the Bruins organization, and lauded team president Cam Neely, then general manager Peter Chiarelli, and head coach Claude Julien for their roles in the team’s success. As an opening line to his piece, McDonald wrote, “Whether or not the Boston Bruins win the 2013 Stanley Cup, this organization should be considered among the elite franchises in the NHL.”
And he was right, with a heavy emphasis on the word was.
As it played out, the series between the Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks was an epic battle. It was a heavyweight bout between two original six foes and started appropriately, with the Hawks winning the opening game at home in triple overtime. The Bruins bounced back to win the next two, but the beaten-up B’s couldn’t stem the tide of a very talented Chicago club, and the Blackhawks ultimately prevailed in six games.
Game six, in particular, was a pure heartbreaker for the Black and Gold. Leading 2-1 with in the waning minutes of the third period, the spectacular series seemed destined to return to the Windy City for game seven. Instead, with only 76 seconds left to play, Bryan Bickell scored to tie the game and just 17 seconds later; Dave Bolland knocked in the game winner, sucking the life out of the Garden and handing the Hawks the Cup for the second time in four years.
After the series ended, it was revealed that Patrice Bergeron – in ultimate Bruins’ fashion – entered game six with a separated shoulder, torn rib cartilage, a broken rib, and a punctured left lung that eventually collapsed, causing him to be hospitalized. For as bad as the Finals loss hurt – literally for the Bruins assistant captain – everyone assumed that there was a high likelihood that these teams would meet again on the same stage.
Everyone was wrong.
Not that anyone could have known it at the time, but the game six loss on June 24th of 2013 marked the beginning of the closing of the window – at least temporarily – for the Bruins, as far as being considered among the elite franchises in the NHL.
As famously portrayed in the first Behind the B episode on NESN that fall, Tyler Seguin’s play – both on the ice and off – led to the budding superstar being dealt to the Dallas Stars. That coupled with Nathan Horton’s decision to sign with Columbus Blue Jackets as a free agent – a decision rumored to be driven by some of Seguin’s off ice actions – dramatically changed the team.
While the Bruins would regroup by adding Jarome Iginla – who had spurned the club at the trade deadline the previous season – and go on to win the President’s Trophy in ’13-14, the second-round loss to the Montreal Canadiens that year would set the Bruins back further than anyone could have imagined.
Now, as he watches his dismantled team take the ice against the Blackhawks on Thursday night, Neely has got to be asking himself how it went so wrong for his organization. The defending champion Hawks are once again a favorite to win it all this spring, while his team grappled with the choice of being a buyer or a seller at this year’s trade deadline.
It is mind-numbing to think that it was just three years ago that the Bruins were considered an organization to envy, and now they face the Herculean task of building back up what has been torn down. Seemingly unsure of what they want to be, the Bruins are in hockey’s no man’s land. They are a slightly above-average squad that has a penchant for puking on their shoes when put on a big stage, something that the two Cup Finalist teams thrived on.
The different paths the two teams have taken since that Stanley Cup Finals series in June of 2013 couldn’t be more divergent. The Hawks team that won the Cup that year was the product of the most successful rebuild in the NHL’s salary cap history. After winning a championship in ’10, Chicago general manager Stan Bowman took a blowtorch to his roster, trading or not resigning Antti Niemi, Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Colin Fraser, Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd and Adam Burish.
Yet, only three seasons later, he built back a team that is the closest thing to a dynasty you can get in the salary cap era. Perhaps the purging that has taken place on Causeway Street over the last two seasons will allow Neely and his hand-picked general manager Don Sweeney, to resurrect the fortunes of a team that not that long ago, was considered among the handful of great teams in the NHL.
Nonetheless, it is sobering to see just how much has been lost in such a short period of time by the Bruins. One has to think that when the likes of Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, and Tuukka Rask look across the rink tonight at the Blackhawks, the thought “that should be us” has to enter their minds.