BOSTON — Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three years, the Boston Bruins would like nothing more than to parade the trophy through the streets of the city that were left silent and empty following the Boston Marathon bombings.
The bombings on April 15, which left three people dead and 264 injured, have been both a source of inspiration for the Bruins, who will face off against Original Six rivals the Chicago Blackhawks in Game One of the best-of-seven series on Wednesday in the Windy City.
The Bruins’ run to the Final has provided a boost for Bostonians as the city slowly comes to grips with an attack that rocked the United States.
With a city left in shock, the team returned to work shortly after the bombings, clinching a playoff spot as first responders and some of those injured rallied around the team.
The ‘Big, Bad Bruins’ may appear gentle to the home fans but those stepping into their den this post-season have not found them as warm and cuddly.
Both Boston and Chicago enter the Finals on impressive rolls, the Blackhawks winners of seven of the last eight games and the Bruins winning nine-of-10, including a stunning sweep of the top seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final.
But to make it to the Final Boston needed to survive a seven-game scare against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round.
Down 4-2 with under 90 seconds to play in Game Seven, the Bruins scored two late goals and another in overtime to advance.
The Bruins then crushed the New York Rangers in five games before mauling Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in the Eastern final.
“We pride ourselves on our game,” Boston coach Claude Julien told reporters. “The peaks and valleys of a season sometimes pay off a lot more than people give credit for because you certainly grow from those tough times, you learn from those things, it makes you a better team down the road.
“I thought this year had its ups-and-downs but right now we’re probably playing some of our best hockey.”
The burly Bruins roll out four hard-working lines that play a punishing physical game.
But for all their reputation as a surly team, the Bruins also feature the playoff’s two leading scorers in David Krejci (nine goals, 21 points) and Nathan Horton (seven goals, 17 points).
Stopping goals, however, not scoring them, has been the foundation of Boston’s playoff success.
The Bruins own the post-season’s top ranked defense led by the giant Slovak Zdeno Chara and Finnish netminder Tuukka Rask, who posted two shutouts against the Mighty Penguins.
When the Bruins won the Cup in 2011 Rask did not play a single minute as Tim Thomas manned the cage, picking up the Conn Smythe Trophy as the post-season’s most valuable player.
This time it is the icy cool Finn leading the way and in line for MVP honors.
“Timmy did it for us for numerous years,” said Julien. “To a certain extent you got to hope that Tuukka learned from that as well, seized the moment when he had the chance.
“Although they’re different personalities, I think a lot of Timmy’s commitment and desire to be the best he could be every night has rubbed off on Tuukka.
“Right now he’s in a zone that you hope he can hold on to. Without that kind of goaltending, you don’t get a chance at winning a Cup.” (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Gene Cherry)