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Fevered city awash in the spirit of ’72

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By Peter Schworm and Laura J. Nelson
Globe Staff / June 15, 2011

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With the Bruins a victory away from a Stanley Cup for the first time in nearly four decades, a sports-crazed city that had all but forgotten its once beloved hockey team is clearly once again in the grip of fever.

Across the city yesterday, with anticipation surging for tonight’s climactic Game 7 against Vancouver, fans wore every piece of Bruins clothing they owned and eagerly snatched up new ones at crowded kiosks. Cafes hung Bruins placards in their windows, a tobacconist sold Bruins cigars, and Melrose-Wakefield Hospital dressed newborns with tiny Bruins hats.

In Brookline, a pizza shop said it will give away pies emblazoned with the letter B during the game. And at just about every sports bar in the city, at least a few fans were glued to lead-up coverage.

“It’s been a long time coming,’’ said Ben Pimental, 26, from Raynham, who was heading to the TD Garden to buy his mother, a recent Bruins convert, a shirt for the big game. “We’ve been the forgotten ones. But now we’re front and center, and everyone’s watching.’’

Field trips and city tours were chock-a- block with Bruins garb, and the names Marchand, Thomas, and Peverley peppered sidewalk conversations. Strangers with spokes on their chest high-fived each other. In the trial of former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, one female juror wore a gold Bruins hoodie to court.

For perhaps the first time since the 1970s, when the Bruins captured the city’s imagination by twice winning the Stanley Cup, the team was the toast of the town.

“It’s our moment,’’ said Joshua Mades-Alabiso, 19, from Melrose, wearing a gold Bruins jersey to show his team spirit. “Everyone has suddenly switched their Red Sox hat for a Bruins hat.’’

In recent years, as the city reveled in a sports renaissance, Bruins fans endured disappointment after disappointment, left with only their nostalgia for the great teams of old.

But this spring, the Bruins have reclaimed their former glory, to the delight of fans who have waited their entire lives for a Stanley Cup, now so close they can taste it.

“It would feel the same as when the Red Sox won in ’04,’’ said Paul Caulfield, a lifelong fan from Cambridge born in 1972, the last time the Bruins won the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup. “I’d shed a tear.’’

In anticipation of Game 7, Caulfield bought two Terry O’Reilly patches at North Station, one for his car and one for his bedroom. O’Reilly, a former Bruins captain who played in the ’70s and ’80s, was his favorite player growing up, and now younger fans are coming of age with this team, he said.

“They are creating a whole new generation of fans,’’ he said. “Look at all the kids wearing Bruins shirts today.’’

Joe Kelly, 16, from Melrose, was among them. A Bruins fan for as long as he could remember, he was overjoyed that the Bruins had closed in on yet another title.

“A Bruins win would show how dominant Boston has been as a sports city,’’ Kelly said. “It would put an exclamation point on the decade.’’

Bruins fans deserve a title, Kelly and others said, for keeping faith through the lean years, through crushing losses that made winning the Stanley Cup seem like a fantasy.

Eduardo Velasquez, 38, from Dorchester, decked out in Bruins wear, could name every one of those losses and how they happened. So he was not about to make any predictions or talk about what a Stanley Cup would feel like. With something this important, he was not taking any chances.

“Talk to me tomorrow,’’ Velasquez said.

Lin Grande-Sena, 41, who serves drinks at the Tam on Tremont Street and keeps a garden gnome with a Bruins hat behind the bar, grew up going to Bruins games with her family. During the lean years, the Garden was so empty players could hear the fans yelling at them, she recalled.

“We’d be on the Jumbotron four or five times a game because no one was there,’’ she said.

Now, she said, the city is falling for the Bruins again, even if they should have loved them all along.

“They’re the team that tugs at your heart,’’ said Grande-Sena.

As he does on all game days, Anthony Cogliani will pluck an Excalibur Dark Knight cigar stamped with the Bruins logo from the boxes lining the counters of L.J. Peretti Co. Tobacconists and walk to the Public Garden for a smoke today.

“If it’s a really sweet cigar, I know it’s going to be a great game,’’ said Cogliani, 48, a Bruins fan since his father took him to games in the 1960s and 1970s. When Cogliani’s father died last year, he was buried with a Bruins cap, and Cogliani now watches every game in his dad’s old bedroom.

In the haze of cigar smoke inside the tobacco shop, Cogliani and friends reminisced about players they have seen on the streets and about years of Stanley Cup dreams.

“We’ve already waited 39 years,’’ said Maurice Trotman, 41, from Dorchester, who played hockey for South Boston High School during the 1980s. “Thirty nine years! Sometimes you kind of get discouraged, but you never give up completely.’’

In the TD Garden, where fans were gobbling up Bruins souvenirs, one college-age fan was anything but discouraged. Bruins jersey on his back and shopping bag in hand, he bounded out of the fan shop, jumping and pumping his fist in excitement. People stared, but he did not care. The countdown to Game 7 had begun.

“Bruuinnss!’’ he shouted. “Stanley Cup champs!’’

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com.

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