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Hail to the victors: Winning on the road makes it even more special for the Bruins

Many of us would agree that winning the Stanley Cup—having to win four grueling rounds against teams that also want it badly, after playing an exhausting 80 game regular-season schedule—is the toughest thing to do in sports.

So hail to the Bruins.  For someone like myself, who can appreciate a team with the history like the Bruins have because I’ve seen them play since the late 1950s—and witnessed some very good and not-so-good Bruin teams—well, I can gladly tip my hat to them.

Who thought this would be the outcome, when the Bruins lost their first two games of the playoffs?  Three Game 7 victories were needed—including a somewhat shocking one in Vancouver, where they had struggled to score.

The nice story lines?

Claude Julien was fired unceremoniously by Lou Lamoriello with the Devils not that long ago (and by the Habs before that), so it’s nice to see a good, hard-working coach receive his just reward.

Who’s a nicer guy in the NHL than Tim Thomas?  Boston would have traded him if there were any takers after his injury-filled 2009-’10 season, yet he has just completed a remarkable season—and a post-season that went beyond even that.

Chara?  A commanding, towering presence.  Seidenberg was an MVP kind of player on a team with a few of them.

Recchi.  43 and after some rough moments off and on in the playoffs, the veteran winger completed a wonderful career with a Cup win, not his first but perhaps his sweetest.

Bergeron, the classy young veteran who has come back from serious injuries—and stepped up Wednesday night when his team needed him the most.

There were Horton’s game-winners before the injury that some feel turned the series around.  Skilled pluggers like Peverley making huge contributions, which championship teams always need.  Seguin brought an infusion of speed and skill exactly when his team needed it in earlier rounds, and Ryder (another guy we kept hearing the Bruins would have to move before the deadline because of the cap) was a difference-maker, too.

There isn’t a Bruin that didn’t deliver, and make a difference over the course of four rounds and that’s usually the story on Cup-winning teams.

And of course, Toronto fans thought about long-time Maple Leaf Tomas Kaberle: some wanted him to win a Cup, others weren’t so inclined.  I’ve posted often about Tomas over the past couple of years.  This included my thoughts on the team’s poorly-handled, clumsy approach to his departure and the classy way he went about his time in Toronto.  I’ve also posted often that he was, for the most part, underwhelming in these playoffs—a far cry from the guy who Pat Quinn turned to for 30 minutes plus a game many playoff nights when Kabby was a young d-man. (This was amplified by the fact that in the pivotal Game 7, he played less than a total of 10 minutes, less than every other Bruin.) 

Still, I feel very glad for him, because while he was a guy I would have loved to retire a Leaf, when you’re not wanted, it’s time to move him.  He did not star with the Bruins, but just for the record he did finish the playoffs with 11 points (all assists, no surprise) and while he struggled in his own zone on occasion, he ended up a plus 8 in the playoffs, averaging more than 15 minutes per game.

(His favorite player growing up was, we were told after the game, Ray Bourque.  He was not Bourque-like in these playoffs, but like Bourque, after a long, distinguished career in one city where he did not win a championship, he did earn a Cup in his next stop…)

I’ll write more about Kabby in the days to come.

And while some Leaf fans don’t want to hear about the “Seguin” debate, I’ll simply say this:  while Burke was gutsy in making a bold move, and Kessel may become an impact player when the Leafs are contenders (though we don’t know if he will play well in this kind of playoff environment), here’s the bottom line:  With Seguin and Kaberle, the Bruins have a Cup.

If and when the Leafs win one with Colborne and Kessel and any draft picks associated with the Kessel or Kabby deals, they’ll still just be “even” with the Bruins—assuming the Bruins don’t win another with Seguin at some point.

Some Leaf fans may choose to ignore the debate, and I respect that.  But part of the reality of being a fan is debating these kinds of things, and these trades will, understandably, be discussed for years to come.  The result on Wednesday night does not mean Burke made bad deals—simply that we shouldn’t dismiss that Boston did just fine.

Vancouver?  Again, I’ll post more at length on the Canucks in the days to come.  I salute their enormous achievement of getting to Game 7 of the finals.  They have a tremendous amount to build on.  They were the best team in hockey most of the season.

Many observers give Burke and Dave Nonis credit for building the Canucks into the team they are, and a fine team it is.

I’ll say two things, though, in that regard.  One is that all smart GM’s bring in good players.  Yes Burke and Nonis helped build the Canucks into the team they are now.  Current GM Mike Gillis added some very important pieces.

But this principle applies to other teams as well.  Bryan Murray put together a pretty nice Anaheim team.  Burke built on that and received much credit for the success of the Ducks when they won a Cup  Fair enough.

But before Leaf fans go too far in celebrating the great job Burke and Nonis did in Vancouver, the harsh reality is that, when the chips were down, this team (if we’re saying they built the team) came within a shot of mishandling a 3-0 lead in games in the first round of the playoffs against an under-manned Chicago squad.  And all the “top players” they brought to the Canucks, from the Sedins’ to Luongo, etc. did not get the ultimate job done when it was right there in front of them, and at home, no less.

We might all agree that grit and toughness, including mental toughness, are critically important ingredients in a team’s success.  The Canucks had a lot of that, to be sure, or they would not have gone as far as they did.  But many will wonder whether some of the “star” players lacked something when all was said and done. (And let me reiterate right here, there were plenty of guys on both teams playing hurt and that should not be forgotten…)

So if we’re going to credit the Leaf management duo with building the Canucks, let’s hope that, as they continue their next re-build with the Maple Leafs, they can add some of the ingredients that they might have missed in their Vancouver years.

Credit to the Canucks who went down to the wire, and to the Bruins, who won on the road when a lot of people, myself included, didn’t think they would.



1 comment:

  1. I think you can credit the gm for putting together the team but in the end the players win or lose the trophy. I find it hard to say burke nonis or gillis are really any less successful than chiarelli in doing their jobs (in Vancouver). The Sedins are very good. The Canucks may make another run. It's all very close.