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Bob Ryan

Bruins are deep thinkers

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / April 15, 2009
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Gather 'round, young'uns, whilst we spin a tale or two about the Big Bad Bruins, winners of two Stanley Cups and shouldabeen winners of one more, for sure, and perhaps a few others.

Ah, no, not gonna bore you with that. Ask Daddy. Ask Grandpa. Ask Uncle Harry. Ask 'em all and watch 'em weep when they get to the subject of Bobby, Espo, Cheesie, the Turk, Ken Dryden, knees in general and that damnable WHA.

Still, those guys did win Lord Stanley's Cup twice, and they did own this town, and that's the truth. But that was a long time ago. The sobering reality is that the only current Bruin who was drawing a breath on this earth when the Boston Bruins last won it all is 41-year-old Mark Recchi, who was a 4-year-old hellion (just guessing) in Kamloops on that glorious day in 1972 when the Bruins took care of the Rangers to become hockey champions of the known world.

So this is Year 37 in the hereafter and so absolutely, positively, the answer to the question is Y-E-S. Yes. Yes, there is pressure on this team to go a long way in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs. That's what happens when a team that has taken one playoff series in 15 years wins 53 games and comes within a point of having the best record in the league.

We'll have none of that Dusty Springfield "Wishin' 'n' Hopin' " stuff this year. Much like the Celtics last year, it's gone way beyond that. Now it's a case of some Dickensian "Great Expectations."

"It was hope going into the season," concedes Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. "But that hope became expectation based on our regular season."

Just how much have the Bruins exceeded the original in-house expectation?

"We felt we'd be competing for the fourth or fifth spot in the conference," reveals Chiarelli.

Did he, or anyone else, foresee Tim Thomas leading the league in both goals-against and save percentage? We all know the answer to that. The Bruins were quite comfortable with the noble Catamount in the nets, but linking his name to that of Georges Vezina was something no one thought of. But if he doesn't win Mr. Vezina's trophy after the season he had, there will be screaming from Tewksbury to Truro, and God forbid any deviant voter wander up among the Gallery Gods or dare to enter Sullivan's Tap.

And remember all those seasons when the Bruins were offensively challenged beyond one good line? How many times did a season end with Harry Sinden standing outside a losing locker room at the conclusion of a playoff series, muttering, "A sniper. We need a sniper"?

If that mythical Hall of Fame sniper never did materialize, what has turned up is a boatload of quality scorers. True, there's no 50-goal guy on this squad, but there are seven 20-goal scorers and one 6-foot-9-inch 19-goal scorer who brings a few other things to the table. This is a team that scored five or more goals 21 times, six or more goals 11 times, seven or more goals five times, and even scored eight on one occasion. The goal judge cannot take a little siesta when the Bruins are on the ice.

Consider what Chiarelli has done in his three years.

In his first season, the Bruins scored 219 goals and gave up 289. There was, of course, no postseason play. Last season they scored 212 goals and gave up 222. They did make the playoffs, but they were the only team in the tournament with a negative goal differential. This season they scored 274 goals while being scored upon 196 times. That's a plus-88, which you'd have to say is pretty impressive, and that means there has been a 138-goal swing in three seasons, which is more than impressive.

That's utterly fantastic.

Chiarelli made a mistake with nice guy Dave Lewis as his coach that first year, but he cut his losses after one season, bidding adieu to the former Detroit mentor and hiring in his stead Claude Julien, late of the New Jersey Devils and, most notably, once upon a time the man in charge of the Montreal Canadiens their very own selves.

People cannot help dwelling on the delicious circumstance of Julien coaching against his old club in this first-round series, all the more so because when an eighth-seeded Canadiens team upended a first-seeded Bruins team five years ago, Guess Who was standing behind the Montreal dasher?

Mon Dieu!

Well, Claude's a Bruin now, and you're not going to get him caught up in deep angst over any extraneous story lines. To him, the Canadiens are the team on the current schedule, not some historic nemesis, not the team that once won 18 consecutive playoff series against the Bruins, and not the team that has won the last three playoff series between the two.

Now they are the team that ousted the Bruins (and him) last year, and it must be noted that the man currently at the helm of the Canadiens is Bob Gainey, who just happens to be his old boss in Montreal. So, sure, if and when the Bruins win this series, there might be at least the hint of a smirk during that handshake line.

Ottawa native Chiarelli, Julien, and the players aren't wrapped up in all the sordid Bruins playoff history, but the Bruins faithful certainly are. The most passionate and deserving hard core of all our sports fans haven't had a decent sniff of a championship since 1990, when the Bruins were bounced around in the Cup finals by Edmonton for the second time in three years. Their minimum demand is a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.

Since the fans last saw a Bruin skate around with the Cup held over his head, the Celtics have won six times, the Patriots have won three times, and the Red Sox have not only won twice but, like the Patriots, have become industry models. So Bruins fans look at this 116-point team and they are saying one thing, and one thing only:"Hey! Our time has come!"

"I can't give you the number of rounds I think we'll win," says Chiarelli. "Let's win the first round, and then I can give you a better picture."

Oh, there are many Eastern Conference minefields out there: Pittsburgh, with Messrs. Crosby and Malkin; Washington, with the great Ovechkin; and New Jersey, with The System and the stately Martin Brodeur in goal, just to name three.

Take it from me, Mr. C. Two rounds are a must. If the Bruins don't get that far, they'd be safer taking a cruise around the Horn of Africa.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of the Globe's 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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