Boston Bruins: Will Anything Shy of a Stanley Cup Make 2012-13 a Failure?

Al DanielCorrespondent IISeptember 5, 2012

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 25:  The Boston Bruins salute the fans after Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 25, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Washington Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

New England sports fans ought to have known the drill by the time Joel Ward and the Washington Capitals abruptly terminated the Boston Bruins’  Stanley Cup championship defense this past spring.

They knew the motif from the Patriots circa 2001-02, the Red Sox circa 2004-05 and the Celtics circa 2008-09. Each local team delivered long-awaited fulfillment in the form of a playoff title, then brought on an epidemic of withdrawal symptoms when they could not get past, or even approach, the halfway point of the next year’s tournament.

For each of those other franchises, the blissful moments did not permanently flee so soon after their arrival. The Pats nabbed back-to-back Super Bowls in 2003-04 and 2004-05, the Sox won another World Series in 2007 and the C's reached another NBA final in 2010 and were one win shy of another appearance this past year.

If those recent trends are to hold any sway, the fanbase is bound to hold the Bruins to a similar standard when they reboot their effort to follow up on the 2011 title. If the demand in 2012-13 is rigidly nothing but another Cup, the fact that Boston still has 15 of its top 18 skaters from its championship run will do nothing to mollify that standard.

Certainly, if the Bruins want to retain the relevance they have earned long and hard over the first five years of the Claude Julien era, they will have to keep pace with their regional cohabitants.

At the moment, based on the state of the other local franchises, this means putting up seasons that are at least comparable to those of the Patriots and Celtics. All those two are doing this autumn is preparing to bounce back from a Super Bowl loss and a fall-from-ahead falter in a seven-game bout with the Miami Heat.

Even if the Bruins make it to the 2013 Eastern Conference finals and lose, they will risk losing a portion of their platform if either the Pats or Celts reach their respective championship round, let alone win it.

Regardless of what happens on the gridiron or the parquet, the fanbase and front office ought not to have a gripe, only a gain, if their hockey team at least gets to the next Cup final. After all, that would all but inevitably mean getting through one or both of the likes of the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

To even reach the third round most likely means having to conquer the Henrik Lundqvist-led Blueshirts or the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin-piloted Penguins. Or, if nothing else, it would entail defeating someone who showed surprise strength in lassoing one of those giants first.

At least in that event, Julien’s pupils will have strengthened the notion that 2011 was not exactly fluky. And, if all goes according to logic, they will have hung up a third consecutive Northeast Division banner and set up a more titanic tangle by first iterating that they have learned how to handle the role of favorites.

Mixed reviews from the bosses and bystanders are a given any time a contender’s season ends with something less than a playoff title. But for the Bruins, a 2012-13 campaign that sees them put in just their second third-round appearance in the last two decades, let alone one that features the slaying of one of the two presumptive Eastern Conference titans, would earn immunity.

While it is understood that no one who is running or rooting for a contender enters a season preparing to “settle,” a three- or four-round playoff need not warrant excessive lamentation. Nor should it have to diminish hockey’s relevance in comparison to the other pro sports on New England’s landscape.