Bruins Taking Long-Suffering Fans on Magical Run, Poised to Reward Decades of Loyalty

Bruins Taking Long-Suffering Fans on Magical Run, Poised to Reward Decades of Loyalty Let's be honest here. You'd be hard-pressed to find a sports fan that has any sympathy for the futility of a Boston sports team.

The Celtics last won a championship in 2008, the Red Sox before them in 2007 and the Patriots prior in the 2004 season. In fact, as us locals and the outsiders who despise us know, fans in this city went from having exactly zero titles between 1987 and 2000, to six since 2001 (or February of 2002, to be precise).

Six world championships in the last decade.

How fitting now that the Bruins have a chance to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup for the first time since 1972 in 2011, nearly 10 years after Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal to beat the heavily favored Rams got the party started.

Just imagine a city seeing all four of its professional sports teams collect rings in the span of a decade. Most cities don't even have pro sports at the major league level, and the ones that do often don't have four — unless you're talking about New York, where there are about 34 different clubs to choose from throughout the city and state.

Yes, those of us here in the Hub are truly blessed … and, for that reason, hated by thousands … err … millions, really.

But, hang on. You see, hockey is an animal of another kind entirely. It's Canada's sport with a popularity that has slowly migrated to the United States, and it has pockets of dedicated fans throughout the country that are simply unmatched in other circles.

There's a reason the Boston Bruins' marketing department had a little fun with Tampa Bay Lightning fans. As good as the Bolts are (or were), Tampa is simply a lousy sports city when it comes to fan support. We've seen that with the Rays for years now, and that club is certainly not the laughingstock it used to be.

Hockey fans — true hockey fans — are as passionate as they come. While people may be hopping on the Bruins' bandwagon now, that's going to be gone come October of next season, win or lose this summer. Sure, some will stay after gaining an appreciation of hockey, but others will likely sit back and jump aboard again should there be an opportunity next April.

That's just the way it is. Hockey isn't a pink hat sport. Girls, for the most part, aren't running around talking about how dreamy Tyler Seguin is. When the Bruins advanced to the Eastern Conference final after overpowering Philadelphia, the team was congratulated at a Celtics-Heat playoff game as Brad Marchand was shown on the scoreboard. This guy has been phenomenal in the playoffs and won the team's Seventh Player Award during the regular season, but I'd be willing to bet most people at the Garden that night didn't have a clue who he was. Zdeno Chara? Sure, but how many 6-foot-9 Slovaks do you see walking around Boston? That guy stands out. Brad Marchand looks like someone you'd see doing curls a few feet from you at the gym. Big difference.

Still, in Boston there's a fan base that's long been suffering, those who don't care that the Red Sox broke an 86-year-old curse, that the Patriots won three times in four years, or that Danny Ainge's forward-thinking Big Three formula may have started a trend that could ultimately destroy the NBA as we know it.

Bruins fans have been withheld and often tormented since the early 1970s. Sure, the team makes the playoffs virtually every year but, until now, they've done so with a pre-2004 Red Sox-like support system that asks how it's all going to fall apart.

In 2008, the B's were the eighth seed and managed to push the top-ranked Canadiens to seven games in the opening round. That shouldn't have happened, and it brought many Bear supporters out of hibernation.

In 2009, the Black and Gold enjoyed a spirited sweep of Montreal in the opening round in a 1-8 reversal in seeding, before ultimately losing in the second round to Carolina, as villain Scott Walker netted the decisive overtime goal in his team's Game 7 win.

As for 2010, that was one for the record books, and not in a way fans around here would like to remember. In fact, it's probably just left unsaid.

And now this.

The Bruins fell behind 0-2 to Montreal to begin the postseason before catching fire. The win over Philadelphia was retribution at its finest and, in the conference finals, everyone watched with bated breath in a scoreless game that had ugly-goal-leads-to-unfortunate-loss-for-one-team written all over it. Instead, David Krejci made a beautiful pass to Nathan Horton, who delivered with such calmness that you'd never know this is his first postseason — maybe because the last two-plus months have already felt like years.

Friday night could have resulted in just another year where the B's got ahead and faltered. It didn't. There's something magical going on here, make no mistake about it. All the angst of the last 39 years could potentially be vanquished as the Bruins prepare for their first Stanley Cup appearance since 1990, when they fell to Edmonton. This time, it's another Canadian foe — the Vancouver Canucks.

Ask anyone knowledgeable of hockey — the B's are not supposed to win this series. The Canucks are a skilled powerhouse of a team with great goaltending, an incredible power play, solid defense and, well, the Sedin twins are basically two Dolph Lundgren's who, like in Universal Soldier, are programmed to destroy anything that gets in their way. More to the point, Vancouver makes this year's Montreal and Philadelphia squads look like the Bruins were facing AHL teams.

That being said, Curt Schilling — who incidentally was at Game 7 against Tampa Bay wearing a Bruins sweater — once said in 2004, "Why not us?" He even had T-shirts made.

And it's true; why not them? Ray Bourque never won here, nor team president Cam Neely or assistant general manager Don Sweeney. NESN analysts Rick Middleton, Mike Millbury and Barry Pedersen didn't raise a Cup in Boston, and neither did Adam Oates or P.J. Axelsson.

But Vancouver-born Milan Lucic could, as could Patrice Bergeron, Krejci and Tim Thomas, perhaps the man who has earned his stripes the most.

We're starting to hear all of the information come out. Boston and Vancouver are matching up for the first time in the playoffs, and the B's have long dominated the regular-season history between the clubs. The Bruins haven't won a title in 39 years, and the Canucks have never won it all in the 40-year history of their franchise, last reaching this point in 1994.

In the league's eyes, there's a great story no matter which team wins. For Versus and NBC, it's a win already because the ratings will continue at record-setting levels.

But, for the hockey fans of Boston, the people out there who bleed Black and Gold, there can be but one outcome. These fans are perhaps the most loyal and passionate of any sports-rooting group in this city and they live and die by a game that is unfortunately about as interesting as soccer to most people in the U.S.

Fans have earned the experience that the next two weeks will bring, and they've earned a duck boat parade that would be like nothing they've ever experienced before.

The Bruins won on home ice in Game 7 against Montreal in Round 1, followed suit in Game 4 over Philadelphia and we all saw what happened just a few days ago.

Should the B's do what was once considered to be the unthinkable, you can bet they'll do it in Game 6 at the Garden with tens of thousands of fans and alumni present and at surrounding watering holes near Causeway Street.

Let's be honest here. It's the only way it should be.

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