For decades, Chicago Cubs fans have reveled in the lovable ineptitude of their baseball team, hoping for the best, expecting the worst. Win or lose, the beer will flow, the sun will rise, and their lovable baseball team will take the field again, warts and all. “Wait Till Next Year” has become as ingrained in the colorful history of the city as political corruption, Al Capone, and Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.
Boston sports fans have not been nearly so forgiving. There are fewer gut-wrenching losses on par with the Red Sox’ 1986 World Series collapse to the New York Mets. And Boston’s 2003 American League Championship Series loss to the hated Yankees on Aaron Boone’s walk-off Game 7 homer served as a slap back to reality for Sox fans who were sure that the Sox had a date with destiny.
The Red Sox finally ended 86 years of futility by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series — and then won it again three years later with another sweep, taking down the Colorado Rockies.
The Patriots, who endured their own star-crossed history through the first four decades of their existence, had everything fall into place late in the 2oo1 season when an injury to Drew Bledsoe opened the door for a young quarterback with a chip on his shoulder. A few months later, Tom Brady and his teammates were celebrating the first of three Super Bowl titles over four seasons.
Even the Celtics, the most successful and decorated franchise in NBA history, went 22 years between titles before raising banner No. 17 to the Garden rafters in 2008.
And then there are the Bruins. Back when bell bottoms, tie-dye, and peace signs were all the rage, the Bruins were the most dominant franchise in the National Hockey League, winning Stanley Cup titles in 1970 and ’72. But the Bruins have come up empty every year since, last reaching the finals in 1990, when they lost to the Edmonton Oilers four games to one. Heck, the B’s hadn’t even reached the Eastern Conference finals since 1992, when their Stanley Cup Playoffs run reached an end at the hands of the eventual Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Until Friday night.
The Bruins put the finishing touches on a four-game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers and will face the surprising Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference finals. A team that struggled maddeningly at times, with a coach that was an extended losing streak away from getting canned, and had gone 0 for its first 32 on the power play in the playoffs this spring, finds itself in unfamiliar territory. But the Bruins have unflinchingly trudged through the regular season and playoffs, proving critics wrong at every step.
Boston has long been considered a hockey town, and with the Red Sox struggling through the first five weeks of the season, the hobbled Celtics looking exceedingly unlikely to squeeze one more title our of the New Big Three, and the Patriots and the rest of the NFL in the throes of a lockout, the Bruins have captured the imagination of Boston sports fans who have waited a long time for this return to prominence. Only Mark Recchi was alive when the Bruins last won a title, and the NHL’s elder statesman was just four years old when Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and Co. hoisted the Cup.
The Bruins were 3-1 against the Lightning this season, but the teams haven’t met since March 3 and, clearly, a lot has changed for both teams since then.
In 2006, the Lightning won their first and only Stanley Cup title in their 12th season of existence, the first of three straight titles won by expansion teams. Both the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, two of the NHL’s Original Six franchises, have each won a Cup in the past four seasons. By advancing past the Lightning, the Bruins would be in position to make it three in five years.
But the Bruins aren’t about to look ahead. Not when they’ve had to wait so long to get back to this stage.