March 14, 2011

Ten reasons the Bruins will finally win the Stanley Cup

by Jesse Connolly

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. (Getty)

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

 With Bruins team president Cam Neely and general manager Peter Chiarelli following through on their pledge to win this season with the acquisitions of Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and Tomas Kaberle, Bruins fans are as optimistic as ever that this finally will be the Black and Gold’s year.

But who’s to say the Bruins aren’t bound for another monumental collapse or about to inexplicably choke against an inferior opponent? What makes this season so different?

Is nearly 40 years of heartache finally going to come to an end? Can we finally stop hearing about 1972?

Actually, there are plenty of reasons to believe.

Here are 10 reasons why the Bruins will bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston:

1. Tim Terrific

No position in hockey — or perhaps even in all major sports — is more important than goaltending. Recent history alone proves how great netminding and long postseason runs go hand-in-hand. From legends Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur to those who valiantly fell short of capturing the Cup such as Miikka Kiprusoff and Dominik Hasek, a rock in net has been a common theme.

Tim Thomas is in the midst of one of the most impressive seasons by a backstop in the lengthy history of the Bruins. Throughout the 36-year-old veteran’s sensational season, Thomas admittedly has been on his game more so than at any point in his career. If that continues come playoff time, the odds of any team winning four times in seven games against the Bruins will undoubtedly be slim.

2. Big Z

After an off year in which he was hindered by a variety of injuries, Zdeno Chara is once again playing Norris Trophy-caliber defense for the Bruins. The 6-foot-9 blueliner is as determined as ever to get this squad over the hump after bowing out of the postseason via Game 7 losses for three consecutive springs. In the playoffs, coaches put a ton of focus on individual match-ups. If Chara can continue his stellar record against some of the top offensive players in the East, including Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin and Hurricanes center Eric Staal, Boston’s path to the finals will be considerably easier.

3. The quarterback

The Bruins finally landed their long-coveted puck mover on the back end in Kaberle late last month. Now armed with a bona fide quarterback on the power play, the Czech blue liner’s influence should be tremendous for a squad that was desperately in need of a player with his skillset. Historically, having two genuine No. 1s on defense has been awfully successful come playoff time. For evidence, look no further than 2007, when the likes of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger led the Anaheim Ducks to the Cup.

4. Leave it to ‘Looch’

Even dating back to his days as a member of the Vancouver Giants in the WHL, Milan Lucic always has come through in the clutch. The hulking winger, who has held the team lead in goals throughout the majority of the season, has come up big in every postseason for the Bruins. After being fairly quiet in the opening round against Buffalo last spring, Lucic led the way against the Flyers with five goals — two of which came in their devastating Game 7 loss. If the Bruins can finally put an end to their prolonged stretch of playoff futility, Lucic likely will be deserving of plenty of credit.

5. Weak East

Heading into the trade deadline, no team in the Eastern Conference had established themselves as a clear-cut favorite. In Pittsburgh, Evgeni Malkin had been ruled out for the season while Sidney Crosby remained sidelined indefinitely with concussion issues. The Capitals’ netminding has been suspect while Ovechkin is on pace for a career low in goals. Many question if the Flyers — the closest thing to a favorite but hardly a shoe-in — have what it takes in net to make another run. The Southeast Division-leading Lightning have a plethora of talent up front, led by Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, but their defense has been extremely unreliable for most of the season. With no truly dominant club stepping to the forefront, the Bruins have as good a chance as ever to make it through the gauntlet.

6. The ageless wonder

While Lucic’s propensity for coming through in crunch time is certainly admirable, Mark Recchi’s ability to rise to the occasion for more than 20 years in the NHL is really something to marvel at. The 43-year-old winger looked like a spring chicken during the postseason a year ago. Recchi led the Black and Gold with six goals and finished third with 10 points in 13 games. Now sporting a resume that includes 133 points in 164 playoff games, there’s little reason to doubt that the future Hall of Famer comes up big again for the Bruins.

7. Stacked in the middle

When Marc Savard was ruled out for the remainder of the season, many feared the Bruins would have to rely on a player inexperienced at center — be it Blake Wheeler or rookie Tyler Seguin — to round out their corps of pivots. Thanks to two key trades, Chiarelli put those worries to bed. With the additions of both Kelly and Peverley, along with mainstays Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Gregory Campbell, the Bruins now have five legitimate centers on whom they can depend. Whether needed for a big faceoff, contributions offensively or a key defensive stop, coach Claude Julien should have plenty of reliable pivots at his disposal.

8. Lessons learned

While a good amount of wheeling and dealing has taken place over the past few years, many of the faces on the Bruins roster have remained the same since Julien arrived. Fans can’t help but optimistically hope that all the heartbreak the team has suffered will eventually serve them well. Having participated in 31 playoff games under Julien, this band of Bruins must be one hardened bunch by now, fully aware of what it takes to reach the promise land. If the lyrics to Aerosmith’s timeless tune “Dream On” are true, and you’ve got to lose to know how to win, the Bruins sure should have the path to victory down pat by now.

9. Tough customers

While fighting takes a back seat during the playoffs, toughness is something you still don’t want to be short on. Luckily, the Bruins are chock full of it. From the back end with Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid, to Campbell, Lucic and Shawn Thornton up front, Boston has plenty of players that can dish out the pain, but also take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.

10. Reliable depth

After a string of injuries that reached a crescendo when Krejci broke his wrist in Game 3 against the Flyers, the Bruins proved incapable of overcoming bad breaks. Relying on pluggers such as Trent Whitfield and upping the ice time of the likes of Steve Begin exposed a lack of depth. With a seasoned McQuaid or possibly Boychuk taking on the role of No. 7 defenseman, Dan Paille serving as the extra forward with solid reinforcements in both Jordan Caron and Zach Hamill available in Providence, the Bruins are considerably better prepared for this go-round.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com