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For Bruins, story has been penned

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  November 11, 2009 08:33 AM

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For the Black n’ Gold, the simplest precedent comes in black and white. A year ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins effectively sleepwalked through the first four and half months of the NHL season. Today, they are the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

Get the picture?

"You can write the story of a season a lot of different ways," Pittsburgh wonderboy Sidney Crosby said yesterday morning at the TD Garden before the Bruins shut out the Penguins, 3-0. "It’s not October and November or March and April. It’s a season. It’s a long road and you’re going to face tough times sometimes. Maybe you’re better off facing them early."

No analogy is perfect, of course, and the obvious truth is that there are significant differences between these Bruins and those Penguins, who were a mediocre 27-25-5 on Feb. 15 of last season. For starters, those Pens had Crosby. They had Evgeni Malkin, Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz, and the last two proved critical after being acquired just before the trading deadline. Then there was the cataclysm that was the firing of head coach Michel Therrien, the man who had taken the Pens to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007-08.

Following Therrien’s dismissal, the Penguins went a sterling 18-3-4 in their final 25 regular season games, going from an also-ran to fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh then needed 24 more games to hoist the Cup – six, seven, four, seven – completing a dramatic story that unfolded over the span of nearly nine months.

Crosby himself left no doubt when asked to identify the pivotal moment of that Penguins season.

"The coaching change," said The Kid, referring to the upheaval that led to the hiring of Dan Bylsma. "That was kind of our last-ditch effort. We knew we didn’t have a lot of time."

So here we are now, amid the most hyped Boston hockey season in years, and one cannot help but wonder if New England should find great solace in the words of a 22-year-old sage. You can write the story of a season a lot of different ways. Last night’s win over the Penguins gave the Bruins back-to-back victories for the first time this season, an astonishingly modest achievement for a club that finished first in the Eastern Conference a year ago. At various points this year, the Bruins have suffered from injury and ineptitude. At the worst moments, they have suffered from both.

Let’s make this clear: barring an entirely shocking development, head coach Claude Julien isn’t going anywhere. For one thing, Julien is the reigning Jack Adams Award winner as Coach of the Year. For another, the Bruins rewarded him with a contract extension before the season began. If these Bruins are indeed destined to win the Stanley Cup this season, they will have to write the story of their season in a different way than those Pens.

Still, the Bruins would be fools for failing to recognize that the reigning Stanley Cup champions plodded through the first half (and then some) of last season as if bored, complacent or both.

"We have talked about that, about how Pittsburgh did just that," Bruins vice president Cam Neely said yesterday afternoon during his weekly appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub. "They didn’t start the season very well … and they won the Cup."

Does that ensure that these Bruins can do the same? Of course not. What it does mean, however, is the early stages of this Bruins season should in no way be seen as a barometer of things to come. Before last night, the Bruins played a recent stretch of games without Marc Savard, David Krejci and Milan Lucic. Factor in the absence of Phil Kessel, who was traded to Toronto, and the result was that entire first line from last season was entirely erased from the mix. The Bruins went nearly three full games without scoring a goal, and they went a preposterous 0 for 20 on the misnamed power play.

Whether those problems will persist in the spring is certainly open to debate, but in the interim, know this: Lucic is aiming to be back in slightly more than a week. Savard may not be much further behind. Meanwhile, the Bruins have allowed seven goals in their last seven regulation games, and general manager Peter Chiarelli has made it clear that he intends to use a cache of bargaining chips to fortify the roster through trade before the deadline. As a result of the Kessel trade, Chiarelli has piled up more draft picks than Bill Belichick, meaning that a Guerin or a Kunitz (or both) appear to be in the Bruins’ future.

Certainly, the Bruins would have preferred an easier, smoother path to their first Cup since the Nixon administration. But then, the Penguins probably felt the same way last season.

"We’ve got to make sure we don’t make it like that every year," Crosby mused.

But ultimately, we’re willing to bet that all he really cares about is a happy ending.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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