The visiting Boston Bruins went to the Stanley Cup Finals last season and high expectations in Beantown from both the media and fans demand that nothing less than a repeat performance this season will suffice. The Bruins have a comfortable Atlantic Division lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning, yet trail the Metropolitan Division leading Pittsburgh Penguins, so they will battle hard against the Blues tonight, who also need two points in order to play catch-up with Chicago for the Central Division lead. Both clubs are solid contenders and a lock to qualify for post-season play; both clubs seek home ice advantage in their respective divisions and conferences for the upcoming playoffs.
Despite last season's success, the Bruins had a tumultuous summer as six players left the fold, with only two significant additions in Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla. Due to salary cap restraints and personal preference, gone are goaltender Anton Khudobin, defenseman Andrew Ference and forwards Nathan Horton, Jaromir Jagr, Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley. Boston's core basically stayed intact, yet there is a new look to this season's team as younger players including goaltender Chad Johnson, defensemen Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Joe Morrow and forwards Reilly Smith, Carl Soderberg (acquired from the Blues for goaltender Hannu "Ears" Toivonen in 2007) and Ryan Spooner play their way onto the Bruins' roster.
Seven years after the formation of the NHL, Boston entered the league as an expansion franchise in 1924. A Vermont grocery store (First National) entrepreneur, Charles Adams, was awarded the franchise for $15k and promptly hired Art Ross (HHoF 1949) as general manager and coach. A former defenseman with two Stanley Cups on his resume, Ross was credited for being the first player to skate up the ice with the puck rather than immediately pass it to a forward. He was also one of the leaders of an organized player strike for higher wages in 1911. The NHL awards a trophy bearing his name to the leading scorer in the regular season each season. And it was Ross who dubbed his team the Bruins, a wild animal with speed, courage and cunning, while it was Adams who insisted on using the colors brown and yellow, the same colors used in advertising for his grocery stores.
The first-year Bruins were terrible, only winning six of that season's 30 games and finishing in last place. They did better in 1925-26, claiming 17 victories and four ties in 36 games, but failed to qualify for the playoffs. The third year was the charm as Adams wisely purchased the entire Western Hockey League, which was disbanding, from Frank and Lester Patrick for $300k in 1926. The deal included the rights to star defenseman Eddie Shore (HHoF 1947) and several other very good players. Boston qualified for the playoffs and made it to the finals, only to lose to the Ottawa Senators. The following season they finished first in the American Division, yet lost to the Rangers in the first round. By the end of the 1928-29 season, the Bruins finished first in the division and defeated the Canadiens and the Rangers to win their first Stanley Cup. It was a fitting ending to the first season in the newly constructed Boston Garden, the home of the Bruins for 67 years until 1995 when the Fleetcenter, now TD (Toronto-Dominion Bank) Garden, was completed.
In 1939 the Bruins changed uniform colors to the current black and gold and won a second Stanley Cup behind rookie goaltender Frank "Mr. Zero" Brimsek (HHoF 1966) and all-star defenseman Shore. Scoring was in the capable hands of the Kraut Line, center Milt Schmidt (HHoF 1961) and wingers Woody Dumart (HHoF 1992) and Bobby Bauer (HHoF 1996). Boston would repeat as Cup champions two years later, yet it would not be until 29 years later that they would win another Cup. Of course, that was in 1970, when the Bruins defeated the Blues in four straight games, highlighted by Bobby Orr's Cup-winning overtime goal against Glenn Hall and subsequent flight due to a frustrated Noel Picard's uplifting stick. The big, bad Bruins would repeat in 1972, led by Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Ken Hodge, "Pie" McKenzie, Freddy Stanfield, "Shaky" Mike Walton, Derek Sanderson, "Terrible" Ted Green and goaltenders Gerry Cheevers and Ed Johnston.
It would take 39 years for Boston to capture another Stanley Cup championship, their sixth, this time at the expense of the Vancouver Canucks. The Bruins lost the first two games in Vancouver, 0-1 and 2-3 in overtime. They won the next two in Boston, 8-1 and 4-0, yet lost game five in Vancouver, again by a score of 0-1. Back in Beantown, the Bruins prevailed 5-2, and then took game seven. shutting out the Canucks, 4-0. Tim Thomas played all 25 playoff games, recording an astounding 1.98 goals against average and .940 save percentage, easily earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. David Kreci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton were the leading scorers for the Cup champion Bruins in 2011.
Boston is averaging just over three goals per game, ranked fifth in the league, right behind the Blues, ranked second with 3.33 goals per game. Their strength, however, is defense, as they only give up 2.15 goals per game, second best league-wide, slightly ahead of the Blues, ranked third with 2.31 goals against per game. Expect a tough, tight contest between two NHL juggernauts tonight as they clash for two much-needed points in the quest for home ice advantage in the playoffs.