VANCOUVER – Tim Thomas acknowledged it as recently as after his thrilling performance in the Bruins’ season-saving Game 6 victory last Monday.
The Bruins goaltender had just stopped 36 of 38 shots in the Bruins’ 5-2 win. Asked about possibly getting comfortable with a big lead, Thomas pointed out that the Bruins haven’t had the best experiences with 3-0 leads.
“Even during the regular season a couple times this year,” he quipped.
And that, folks is one of the biggest reasons the 2010-11 Bruins are now Stanley Cup champions. Except when they got sick of answering the same questions over and over throughout this season – and then when they were matched up with Philadelphia in this year’s second round and again grabbed a 3-0 series lead – the Bruins never shied away from what was one of the biggest collapses in professional sports postseason history.
Sure, about half the roster turned over from the time the Bruins finished squandering their 3-0 lead to the Flyers in the spring of 2010 until they opened this year’s postseason as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
But the core remained because general manager Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the Bruins’ brass believed in the star power they had assembled. Thomas (who was second string and, you can argue, a different player last year than this), Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Mark Recchi, Dennis Seidenberg and others all carried the scars of last spring with them throughout this year. And instead of shunning the past, they embraced it.
Basically, once you’ve blown a 3-0 series lead, and become just the third team in NHL history and fourth in sports history to do so, nothing worse can happen to an athlete or a team. That was rock bottom, so all the injuries, all the questionable officiating and league-office decisions, all the travel obstacles and media overreaction to every loss or bad play couldn’t possibly sink any of the Bruins from last year’s team any lower.
Chiarelli didn’t explode the team in reaction to the collapse, and the Bruins to a man found out that practically nothing could kill them. A 2-0 lead heading on the road to Montreal? No problem. A two-goal deficit in Game 4 in Montreal? Piece of cake. A late goal by P.K. Subban in Game 7, a two-goal deficit in Game 2 in Philly, a blown three-goal lead to Tampa Bay in Game 4? Come on, those are kryptonite to mere mortals, not to survivors of the Bruins’ crash of 2010.
“Somebody said you have to learn how to lose before you learn how to win. And I think that that’s the case here,” said assistant coach Geoff Ward, proving that when he’s allowed to speak he has some sage words to offer. “You look at the group. It’s a great group of guys. They took the loss and internalized it last year to Philadelphia. I think that put us through a lot of down points this year. There’s a little bit of a different look this year. Especially when you got down 2-0 to Montreal, 2-0 here, the guys embraced it. They weren’t afraid of it. As a result we were able to get ourselves back.”
Battling the highest-scoring team in the NHL, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final could’ve been a challenge too large for even the most resilient band of Bruins. Again Boston found itself down 2-0 in a series and then the Bruins were down 3-2 as well.
That’s when the graduates of the school of 2010 hard knocks tossed up their proverbial caps and gowns and made sure redemption was the only result for the 2010-11 Bruins. Recchi, Bergeron, Chara, Conn Smythe-winner Thomas … they all spearheaded the drought-ended Cup triumph.
“We were committed,” said Recchi, who had added to the Bruins’ devotion to redemption by letting his teammates know he would end his career if they could help him win the Cup. “We play our best when our backs are against the wall and Game 6 and Game 7 showed that. We scored that first goal and it was huge.”
Even if they allowed the first goal in Game 7, it’s doubtful these Bruins would’ve been counted out. A one-goal deficit is like cutting butter with an axe for a Teflon team like the Bruins.
You can’t erase history. And that’s the point the Bruins made all season. All they could do was make new history.
Thomas doesn’t have to worry about 3-0 leads or any other things that have tarnished his or the Bruins’ recent resume. Now all anyone will ever want to talk about with his or his teammates is ending a 39-year drought.