BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins began this season on a mission to move past the ignominy of a historic collapse in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Now, the 2011 edition of the Bruins is one victory from making a little history of its own -- only this time it would end with jubilation instead of humiliation.
Boston became the third team in NHL history to lose a 3-0 series lead when the Philadelphia Flyers produced their miracle comeback in the second round last year. That was bad enough, but the Bruins also led 3-0 in Game 7 before the Flyers staged a comeback to complete the comeback.
One year later a franchise has washed off that stain, and the mental fortitude said to be lacking during the Flyers' rally now is one of its biggest strengths. The Bruins have exorcised demons during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Boston won a Game 7 against archrival Montreal in the first round this year, winning the series even after the Canadiens won the first two games at TD Garden to raise all of the questions from the previous spring. The Bruins raced to a 3-0 series lead against the Flyers in the second round, only this time they completed the sweep in emphatic fashion.
No team had won two Game 7s to reach the Cup Final in 20 years, but the Bruins did just that after knocking out the upstart Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference finals. Now Boston can become the first team in NHL history to win three Game 7s in one postseason.
Even more for the Bruins, it's the first time in the 87-year history of the franchise it'll play a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final.
"Obviously it's tremendous for the city and the organization and not too many people counted on us being at this point right now. It's a great feeling," Bruins forward Mark Recchi said. "This is what we dream of when you're little kids playing street hockey -- you know, you're in Game 7. We're going to go up there and we're going to go lay it on the line like they are, and I think it's going to be an exciting game. It's been three close ones up there and we've got to find a way to win a game to win a Stanley Cup and we're going to do whatever we can."
The Bruins dropped the first two games of the Final to the Vancouver Canucks, losing a pair of games in excruciating ways (the final minute of regulation and 11 seconds into overtime). They rebounded to trounce the Canucks 8-1 in Game 3 and followed that with a 4-0 victory in Game 4.
Boston lost 1-0 for the second time in the series in Game 5 and returned home facing elimination. The Bruins responded again, scoring four goals in just over four minutes to cruise to a 5-2 victory in Game 6.
"We have a lot of character in this room," Boston forward Michael Ryder said. "Everyone seems to step up at the right time. We've been in a couple series where it has come down to one game. We just know how to react to it. We didn't let the emotions get the best of us. We stayed calm and yet we still played with a lot of intensity. We have to make sure we do that and have the same work ethic we have right now on Wednesday."
There will now be a fourth and final chance to solve the Canucks at Rogers Arena. The Bruins have outscored Vancouver 17-3 at TD Garden in this series, but have more losses (three) than goals (two) in three games in southwestern British Columbia.
The Bruins have not won the Stanley Cup in 39 years. There are only five fan bases in the League that have waited longer, and only one -- Toronto -- that wasn't an expansion team.
One of those franchises that never has won is Vancouver, and the Bruins can expect not only a packed Rogers Arena but thousands in the streets rooting for the Canucks. If the Bruins need inspiration from an outside source, they can look to the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins. That team scored only two goals while dropping the first three games at Joe Louis Arena, but the Penguins were able to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 there to capture the Cup in enemy territory.
"We gave ourselves an opportunity and that's what this is," said the Bruins' Rich Peverley. "It comes down to one game and we haven't won there yet in this series. There is no better time to go in there and try to get it done."
Added Recchi: "We know the significance, '72 the last time this town got to see a Stanley Cup. (It's a) great sports town, great hockey town and it would be remarkable. There has been a lot of success with the other sports teams, and the Bruins included, but it's been a long time. We hope we can do that. I've enjoyed Boston so much, as we all have, for the time I've been here and it's an incredible city and the people are wonderful and the sports are just -- it's a fun thing to be a part of. I hope we give them, you know, what they deserve."
When we started our journey we made a commitment to our fans to be relevant and to see the Chicago Blackhawks become the best professional hockey organization. There are not two finer symbols of that than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago.
— Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz on signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to contract extensions