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The Pressure’s On for the Bruins

Boston Bruins Stanley Cup Parade, 1970

86. 31. 22. These three numbers represent, in years, the length of the championship droughts of the Boston Red Sox, the New England Patriots, and the Boston Celtics, respectively until they won their most recent (or most recent string of) championship(s). Now, those numbers are a just memory, a fact to look up on Wikipedia and easy trivia points for the Schwab. Now, the droughts are at one, five, and one, hardly anything for a city that has gone lifetimes without winners to notice. However, there is one number that is omitted from the above three: 37.

The Boston Bruins’ season opener against the Washington Capitals at the TD Garden on Thursday night marked the 37th straight time they’ve opened a season without having won the Stanley Cup the previous spring. The Bruins are now the Red Sox of Boston: the team to have the longest championship drought of Boston’s major sports teams.

However, most Bostonians haven’t cared that the Bruins haven’t won the Cup since 1972. Perhaps it is the fact that they don’t find the most amazing ways to lose big games like the Red Sox or that their drought is 49 shy of 86 years. The real reason, though, is that the B’s have always taken the backseat to the other three teams in the city. Everyone is second to the Red Sox, then there are the Patriots and then the Celtics. It’s how it’s been for a long time now.

But, that is beginning to change. A lot of people now care – or in some cases, just know – that the Bruins have been championship-less for nearly four decades. Their recent success – 2008’s surprising passion and grit against the Montréal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs and 2009’s first place finish in the Eastern Conference – have drawn attention back to the hockey. The Bruins get more than a few pages in the Boston papers, men have begun sporting B’s T’s on the street, all giving the indication that professional hockey is popular again in the Hub of Hockey. It’s a buzz that the team hasn’t felt in a long time. Expectations for the Bruins have risen just as fast and are at an unprecedented level: ESPN analysts are picking the team to win it all and the rest of the media is joining in the frenzy.

“If you listen to the radio, if you read the papers, [the media] sets the bar pretty high. [The fans] expect a lot from us, the Patriots, the Red Sox, and it’s great to have those expectations pinned high,” Milan Lucic stated in a recent interview.

With a line-up of hardened veterans like Zdeno Chara, journeymen-turned-trophy-winners like Tim Thomas, and young guns like Milan Lucic, it’s easy to see why prognosticators are choosing them. Even with the loss of Phil Kessel, the 2009-2010 Boston Bruins have a huge burden on their backs. A June arrival on Causeway Street by the Bruins without the 35-pound trophy of Lord Stanley would be a disappointment exceeding those of the Finals’ losses in 1988 and 1990. It certainly may not be the upset of 1986 for the Red Sox, but it would certainly surpass other heartbreaking moments.

While negativity never achieves anything, one still has to wonder what will happen if the team fails. Sure, life in Boston will continue on. The city is used to heartbreak and hardship, especially after enduring 86 years of it. Nevertheless, it would still be a difficult fact to overcome.

To not win this year, would be to lose for the foreseeable future. Chara is aging, Lucic will be a restricted free agent commanding plenty of offers at the end of the season, and Marc Savard will be unrestricted with just as many offers. Assuming Blake Wheeler meets expectations, he will be in the same boat as Lucic, and all of a sudden it will be difficult for GM Peter Chiarelli to fit everyone under the cap, even if players decide that they’d rather play in Boston than to follow the dollar signs. As a result, it is unlikely the team will be the same after this season; it won’t be a minor retooling of the roster, but most likely a huge overhaul of it. Therefore, unless one of the team’s prospects is all of a sudden ready to fill huge skates, the Bruins will not be serious contenders for the Cup in the near future, at least on paper.

Without a Cup this year or in the years to follow, Boston will once again go back to a city lacking interest in the Bruins. Sure, the TD Garden will still sell out quite often, but a complacent attitude will return again. Hockey is truly a bandwagon sport to the general population; no one really wants to care about it until their team is doing well. Once they begin performing, everyone’s cheering for them. Just ask Ben Affleck. While diehard fans enjoy this added buzz surrounding the team – which is probably tolerated more easily because the Bruins are winning – they know that when the puck no longer finds the back of the net, most people will stop caring except themselves.

But with a Cup victory, there is surely a great number who will also remain fans, especially impressionable youngsters (that’s how the Red Sox get fans hooked, or so “Fever Pitch” says). It would ensure the relevance of professional hockey – or, some might argue, hockey in general – in Boston for the future, something that would not only be great for the Bruins, but great for the entire city.

Of course, there’s no pressure or anything.

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