The 90th calendar year of the Boston Bruins fits the full definition of “memorable” as soundly as its primal competitors. The term does not carry strictly positive connotations, just like how some of 2013’s top headlines were not the sweetest moments for the palates of the Spoked-B faithful.
With that said, the plus points were rather qualitative and quantitative as well.
A full-length playoff run will all but effortlessly place a couple of items in the upper echelon of any sports franchise’s almanac. In 2013, the Bruins went on a run to the Stanley Cup Final and ultimately found themselves on the polar opposite ends of two unforgettably startling, series-deciding twists.
A series of transactions and one particular non-transaction beforehand and afterward had a role in either that playoff trek or the ongoing 2013-14 regular season. Meanwhile, a few homegrown specimens have blossomed on the blue line and in the blue paint.
The team also functioned as a critical catalyst at a time when its city needed normalcy, and the mere occurrence and full attendance of games made a vastly greater statement than the outcomes of those games.
More complete details on these developments and more are in the following slides as we rank the most momentous Bruins-related stories in 2013.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com and are through games of Sunday, December 22
If only for 33 regular-season and playoff games, the Bruins had a surefire Hall of Famer on their roster in Jaromir Jagr. The veteran of 20 NHL seasons, who is approaching 700 career goals and has already broken the 1,000-assist plateau, came via Dallas at the 2013 trading deadline.
The move ultimately gave Jagr the opportunity to serve as the lone playing constant in each of the three Boston-Pittsburgh matchups to ever occur in the conference final portion of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He was on the winning side with the Penguins in the 1991 and 1992 Wales Conference championship and was again victorious with the Bruins in 2013.
Within a few weeks of obtaining Jagr, the Bruins added another depth forward for their playoff run in Carl Soderberg. This transaction marked the long-delayed arrival of a player whose rights they had retained for nearly six years, all of which he had spent in his native Sweden.
It is also worth noting that one Bruin garnered a piece of league hardware in June when Patrice Bergeron received the King Clancy Award for exemplary professional conduct and community involvement.
As Neely said to talk show co-hosts Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti:
Certainly thought he had the ability to play well in this league and that’s why we wanted to have him in that deal. He’s developing faster, he’s playing well, but he’s also playing with some pretty good guys so that helps. But it’s been a nice, pleasant surprise this early in the season.
By the time of that interview, Smith had already tallied seven goals and 14 assists through his first 31 outings with the Spoked-Bs. He has since upped his totals to 11-14-25, tying him with Milan Lucic for second on the team’s point production leaderboard.
To give that a little context, his 36-game output so far in Boston more than doubles that of his 37-game output with the Stars all through last season.
Third-year top-six winger Brad Marchand’s twig went cold for the first round of the playoffs, when he mustered all of zero goals and three assists in seven games against Toronto.
He rekindled his production pace for the middle two rounds against the Penguins and Rangers, only to freeze again versus Chicago. Marchand finished the final series scoreless and with a minus-three in six games.
The agitator continued to agitate few beyond his own employers and rooters on the other side of the summer. A 12-game goal-less skid spanned between Oct. 5 and Nov. 7 and contributed to a demotion to the third line.
That reassignment gave rise to the notion that Marchand had been missing the characteristic sandpaper elements of his game. Whether he has at times overcompensated for that is an enlivening discussion topic.
Since splashing his goal drought Nov. 7 against the Florida Panthers, Marchand has at least avoided any pointless skids lasting longer than two games. Nonetheless, his inconsistency has remained a visible motif and discussion topic deep into December, especially with the addition of recent extracurricular actions.
At the start of the year 2013, and subsequently the delayed 2012-13 NHL season, Torey Krug was a staple on the Providence Bruins’ blue line. He was also trying to kick ice chips over the fresh memories of injuries he had fought through during the autumn of 2012.
Krug’s first extramural engagement of this calendar year, a visit to the Portland Pirates on Jan. 2, marked the end of a 25-day hiatus from game action. He gradually regained his persona as a productive point patroller but did not see any action with the parent club until March 27.
Even then, Krug found himself back with the P-Bruins by March 30. He remained in the AHL until a rash of injuries necessitated his return to Boston amidst the playoffs.
All he did was seize his moment to slug four slappers past Henrik Lundqvist to boost the Bruins to a stunning five-game knockout of the New York Rangers. He subsequently saw action in each of Boston’s 10 remaining playoff tilts and followed up by cracking the roster at his first NHL training camp.
With his positional aptitude and commitment, Krug has emerged as a welcome addition to Boston’s long-erratic power play. He already has a hand in 10 of the team’s first 18 conversions, tying him with David Krejci for the lead, having scored four and set up another six.
In any case, it was already clear that Tuukka Rask, who had last received the majority of the team’s crease time as a rookie in 2009-10, was the No. 1 netminder from here on out. The only jutting question was how he would hold up.
There is a good chance that the initial months of 2014 will mark a fatigue-induced letdown in Rask’s performance and numbers. By the same token, that is a testament to the success he attained for himself and his team in 2013.
The Finnish fortress finished the 48-game regular season with 36 appearances and a 19-10-5 record. He tied Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky for fifth among qualified leaders with a 2.00 goals-against average and placed third in the league with a .929 save percentage.
He followed up in the postseason by doing his part to push the Bruins to a sixth game in the Stanley Cup Final. Along the way, he outdueled the world-class Lundqvist in the second round and then confined the explosive Penguins to two goals in a four-game sweep.
Going into this week, with nine days left in the year, he has started 2013-14 and his de facto Olympic audition at 18-8-2 with a 1.87 GAA and .936 save percentage.
In all, Rask has played 86 games in this calendar year. In those games, he has logged a cumulative 5,239 minutes, faced 2,548 opposing shots and stopped all but 168 of them for 2,380 saves.
That translates to a 1.92 GAA and .934 save percentage between Jan. 19 and Dec. 21 with no more than four games left before New Year’s Day.
And did we mention the eight-year contract extension with a $7 million cap hit that he signed over the summer?
Amidst the NHL draft on June 30, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli told the assembled press corps of touted striker Tyler Seguin, “He’s got to commit to being a professional and focusing on the game. Simple as that. He does that, we don’t expect him to be crashing and banging. Just play your game.”
Four days later, Chiarelli exported Seguin to Dallas in a seven-player deal that also had Rich Peverley and minor league defenseman Ryan Button going through the egress. In return, the Bruins acquired the aforementioned Smith, Loui Eriksson and a pair of AHLers in Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow.
That ice-shaking transaction took place one day before free agency commenced, at which point a third established top-nine forward ended his Boston tenure. Nathan Horton signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets after three seasons as a Bruin.
Meanwhile, a player with less glamour but arguably more importance in his role took off as defenseman and prototypical leader Andrew Ference joined his hometown Edmonton Oilers. Ference had been in New England more than twice as long as Horton, Peverley or Seguin, partaking in the full length of the franchise’s rise from playoff no-shows to championship contenders.
Earlier this month, Shawn Thornton brought an early conclusion to his calendar year on the ice when he resorted to an ambush attack to try to avenge a teammate.
On the first shift of a Dec. 7 home game versus Pittsburgh, Loui Eriksson brooked a concussion on a hit by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. In response, Boston’s perennial fighting majors leader sought to settle a score with Orpik, who declined to drop the gloves.
Later that period, as extracurricular activity erupted after a stoppage of play, Thornton mugged Orpik with a slew foot and sucker punch. The resulting injury sent Orpik to the hospital with a concussion and impelled league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan to assess the incident for a full week.
First, he arguably sparked the Bruins by spurning them last season. Then, he gave them a boost by choosing them this past summer.
The likes of TSN had themselves a “Dewey Defeats Truman” kind of moment when they reported the apparent deal the Bruins had made to import veteran Jarome Iginla. As it happened, the hockey world woke up the next morning to learn that Iginla had overruled the swap in favor of a trade to the Penguins.
Iginla’s choice to go to what he implicitly saw as the most promising Stanley Cup contender, however, went for naught. None other than the Bruins threw the Penguins off their collective game early and often to sweep them out of the Eastern Conference Final.
As Lucic acknowledged in a subsequent address to the Boston hockey press corps, “We kind of took it (as motivation), in that sense that when a guy chooses another team over your team, it kind of does light a little bit of a fire underneath you.”
Precisely four weeks later, the free-agent forward reran Marian Hossa’s 2008 pattern by signing with the team that had just eliminated his club and ended his stint with Pittsburgh. He has since charged up 14 assists to tie him for second with Smith in Boston’s playmaking department and 22 points for fourth under that heading.
Iginla’s seasoned, hungry veteran presence may have also played a role in a hot start for his two linemates, Krejci and Lucic, who have practically been cruising as the club’s top producers.
There would have been none of the aforementioned Rangers and Penguins moments without this moment. That is to say nothing of the way this moment unfolded.
First, they spilled a 3-1 series lead to necessitate Game 7 in their first-round bout with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then, in that rubber match on May 13, they let an initial 1-0 advantage devolve into a 4-1 pothole by the 5:29 mark of the third period.
Less than four minutes later, the Bruins whittled that deficit down to 4-2, but the two-goal differential stuck for the next nine minutes and 20 seconds.
Not until then could anyone have proclaimed it to still be anyone’s game and series and met at least a few agreeing nods. At that point, Lucic shoveled home Zdeno Chara’s rebound from the front porch to make it 4-3 with 82 seconds to spare.
On the next play, Chara assumed Lucic’s previous post as part of a forest that Bergeron pierced with a straightaway wrister from the point. The two-way connoisseur’s second point in as many minutes drew a 4-4 knot and forced overtime, where he finished what he started by beating a poorly positioned James Reimer.
Bergeron’s clincher came at 6:05 of the bonus round, a mere 16:47 of cumulative playing time after Horton threw the first punch at the 4-1 deficit.
Afterward, NHL.com’s Shawn P. Roarke quoted defenseman Johnny Boychuk as likening the turnaround to that of the 2004 Red Sox. Boychuk added, “I know everybody in Boston was out of their chairs, either if you’re in the stands or at home.”
As noted, the Bruins followed their first-round comeback with upsets of the Rangers and Penguins in an incredible nine-game barnstorm. But upon meeting the NHL’s season-long top dog from Chicago in the championship series, they saw their steam run out after initially seizing a 2-1 upper hand in a seesaw bout.
It at least appeared that Boston would close its home slate on a high note as it harbored a 2-1 lead late in Game 6, seeking to force a decider back at the United Center. But the Blackhawks opted not to wait to polish off their five-month fairy tale if they didn’t have to.
Appropriately enough, the drained Chara was on the porch when Rask let Bryan Bollig beat him through the five-hole for a 2-2 equalizer with less than two minutes to spare in regulation. On the subsequent shift, Dave Bolland found another seam in Rask’s radius and buried a rebound for the eventual Cup clincher.
By this point, Chara was a standout symbol of Boston’s frayed condition in the latter phases of its matchup with the potent Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Bergeron was an incomprehensible testament to the sheer physical toll that constituted the fees for valiance.
After the deciding game, Bergeron divulged to the media that he had been playing with “a broken rib, a torn cartilage and muscles, and I had a separated shoulder.”
Staying on the subject of playoff wounds, one would be remiss not to mention Gregory Campbell’s persistence on his last shift of the tournament. The depth center missed the final series after breaking his leg on a blocked shot versus Pittsburgh, though he stuck around until the Bruins cleared the zone on that play.
As cliche as it might seem, to say that this moment was bigger than hockey is the only way to describe it.
Two nights later, the team and its paying followers reconvened at TD Garden for the town’s first major public event since the bombing.
A moment of silence lasting roughly 20 seconds preceded a touching tribute video, which Rene Rancourt followed by leading at least 17,565 fellow vocalists in the U.S. national anthem. A few hours later, both the Bruins and the Buffalo Sabres raised their sticks to the mutually appreciative audience.
In a series of exemplary gestures, Bruins players met with first responders for several hours following the game and invited them to participate in the “Shirts Off Their Backs” custom at a later game. Their April 20 visitors from Pittsburgh acknowledged the citizens and public safety personnel with a commemorative patch while Boston’s skaters donned police department logo caps for the pregame warm-up.
It was all a vital reminder of where athletic competition ought to rank in life but also of the unifying role that civic sports franchises and venues can play in a community.