The Boston Bruins are the first sports team I can honestly say I loved. Since I was six years old, I can remember watching them play on Channel 38 and NESN, watching the games with my Dad while guys like Bourque, Neely, Moog, Heinz, Donato, and Oates patrolled the Ice at the old Garden.
Then in the mid-'90s, after the Bruins suffered some playoff losses and moved to the Fleet Center it stopped being all about winning to the team. The three headed monster of Harry Sinden, Mike O'Connell, and Jeremy Jacobs did all they could do to ruin this team, focusing on the bottom line and decimating the roster until well into the new millennium.
Guys like Joe Thornton, Michael Nylander, Sergei Gonchar, Byron Dafoe, Bill Guerin, Sergei Samsonov, Kyle McLaren, Hal Gill, and PJ Stock were all mysteriously traded or released, frustrating the fan base and disconnecting them with the team.
There were several times when me and my Dad were fed up with the organization, but never gave up on them. They would always be the Big Bad Bruins to us, but the team's front office didn't seem to care about the fans.
Things all changed when Peter Chiarelli came over from the Ottawa Senators a few years ago. After a disappointing first season with Coach Dave Lewis, he brought in Claude Julien, a no nonsense, aggressive coach who did not tolerate mistakes.
Slowly but surely, things started to change.
The B's were ravaged by injuries last year, as Patrice Bergeron and Andrew Alberts went down on similar cheap shots. The B's scrapped their way into the playoffs as an eight seed and took the one seed Canadiens to seven games, after a gritty comeback in Boston.
After seeing the drive in last year's team, I knew this year's team would be special. As I write this, the Bruins are in second place in the Eastern Conference, despite playing three less games than the first place Rangers. Here are some reasons why this edition of the Bruins is in it for the long haul.
1. Youth Movement: Last year, we saw what kind of player Phil Kessel could be. Aside from being the team's best shootout option, he is a quick skater and a great puck handler, dangling in the other team's offensive zone to make plays. He has only gotten better since last years benching during the first few games of the Montreal series and now leads the Bruins in goals.
Who can forget about Milan Lucic, the rugged enforcer who always wants to fight, yet no one has really given him a challenge this year, except for Komisarek who got beat down for his efforts. This kid WILL take the body every time, and he knows that physical play is priority number one. A skilled passer who can grind out goals from time to time, Lucic is probably the most popular Bruin this season.
Other young guys like David Krejci and Blake Wheeler have also helped out a great deal on both sides of the puck as well. This makes it so that all four lines are formidable and if you can get offensive intensity every possession, it doesn't matter who is on the ice.
2. Superb Goaltending: To win a Stanley Cup, you need a goalie who can dominate at the drop of a hat. The Red Wings have had it with Hasek and Osgood, the Avalanche had it with Roy, and it looks like the Bruins have it with Tim Thomas this year.
His unorthodox style has been criticized for years, but the veteran goalie leads the league in both save percentage (.944) and GAA (1.77) but somehow those numbers aren't good enough to warrant a place on the all star ballot. Also, Manny Fernandez has accepted his role as a backup and for the most part has done a fine job keeping the Bruins' momentum going providing wins in their last two games versus Buffalo.
3. New Defensive Philosophy: The Bruins have been getting a great deal of production from their defensemen on the offensive side of the puck. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman (who is the best Defenseman on the team right now) are much more active in the offensive zone, taking the puck at the point and throwing it on net so that they can get a deflection or set up a rebound for one of the forwards.
This increased role in the offense is designed to get more shots, and get shots to the net quickly. I must say, its working.
The B's are getting respect from TSN and SI, as both have the B's in the top three of their Power Rankings, which gives top teams greater exposure. I cannot remember the last time there was this kind of electricity surrounding the Bruins, and hopefully they can reclaim their spot in the ultra-competitive Boston sports landscape.
The Bruins have spread the scoring around the entire team, and players like Mark Savard are benefiting from having other great play makers around them. This team is physical, exciting, and most importantly, smart. Sure the Bruins will suffer a hiccup or two here and there, but there is no reason this team shouldn't finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference come playoff time.
Until I'm proven wrong, the Bruins are back, this year is going to be interesting.