There is a conceit in Vancouver that winning the Stanley Cup means more to the city; that the emotional investment of Canucks’ fans in their team is unequalled in the known world and somehow, some way that passion will turn the series.
That, at least, is our belief. But to be in Boston for the last week, to see these fans and the energy they create, is to understand we don’t have a monopoly on unconditional loyalty. Bruins’ fans have been waiting 39 years for this opportunity. In that time their love for their team has been tested but it has never broken.
And now that they’re this close, they can feel it as strongly as anyone in Vancouver feels it.
“It’s been a long time coming,” says Boston icon Ray Bourque in a phone interview. “I think we all feel part of it. I never left Boston and a lot of the guys I played with are still here.
“It’s such a passionate sports town. When you’re going good you’re on top of the world and when you’re not, you’re going to hear about it. But as an athlete, you want that. You want to be a part of that passion.”
And that’s where the Bruins find themselves these days. In the heart of the city.
As much as Games 1 and 2 were a love-fest for the Canucks in Vancouver, the last week has been Woodstock for Bruins’ fans. They’ve trotted out Cam Neely and Bobby Orr to hoist the team flag before the games and Orr’s flag featured the number of fallen Bruins’ forward Nathan Horton.
They then proceeded to pound the stuffing out of the Canucks, winning the two games by a combined score of 12-1 while the city adopted goalie Tim Thomas as its patron saint.
The support, of course, hasn’t always been gracious. There are now a hundred stories about Canucks’ fans being harassed in Boston. During Game 4, the Jumbotron also showed a picture of a baby wearing a Canucks’ jersey.
The baby, it goes without saying, was booed.
But, for better or worse, that’s Boston. It’s the city of Harvard and MIT and so much history but it’s also the city of Charlestown and South Boston and other working-class enclaves which are the ancestral home of the Bruins.
The Red Sox, as Bostonian Keith Tkachuk will tell you, will always be No. 1 in Boston.
“But the blue-collar fans always loved the Bruins,” he says.
“It’s been a long time coming. I think we all feel part of it. I never left Boston and a lot of the guys I played with are still here. - Ray Bourque
Tkachuk, who scored 538 goals in his 18-season NHL career, was born in 1972, the last year the Bruins won the Cup and grew up cheering for Bourque and Neely. His father, John, is a Boston firefighter who used to work on the crew that laid down the parquet floor at the old Boston Gardens.
John Tkachuk and his wife Geraldine are also from Charlestown, the setting for the movie The Town.
Tkachuk was asked if the movie is an accurate portrayal of Charlestown.
“It’s bang-on,” he says.
All of which means Tkachuk knows this place and knows what the Bruins mean to it. He doesn’t like the way some Canucks fans have been treated.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s just a few ignorant people,” he said.
But he also knows four decades of pent-up frustration are involved in the Cup final.
The Bruins, in fact, had become something of a forgotten entity in Boston in the early years of this decade. The Red Sox won two World Series. The Patriots won three Super Bowls. The Celtics won an NBA championship. And, as late as 2006-07, the Bruins finished 13th in the Eastern Conference
But that season, the Bruins also signed Zdeno Chara, Thomas took over as the starting goalie and Peter Chiarelli was hired as the general manager. The next season, Neely moved into the front office, Claude Julien was hired as coach and Milan Lucic was drafted.
And they haven’t looked back. This edition of the Bruins is also in keeping with the team’s tradition. It isn’t over-burdened with talent but it’s hard-working and tough.
Right now it’s also two wins away from the Stanley Cup.
“They’re the talk of the town,” says Bourque. “The Yankees are playing the Red Sox (in a series that ended Thursday) and you don’t hear a word about that.
”The fans have been dying for the Bruins to get back in the hunt. It’s been a long time and with everything else going around here, they were taking a back seat.”
Bourque was asked if he has a prediction for the series.
He paused, then said: “They’ve got some great momentum on their side.”
And the fans along with that momentum.