B's mark bittersweet Cup anniversary
Everyone associated with the Boston Bruins was completely drained physically, emotionally and mentally on June 15, 2011.
The mind-blowing elation felt that day -- by Bruins ownership, management, coaches, training staff, equipment staff, public relations staff, fans, media and especially every player -- will last a lifetime.
It was an incredible run for the Bruins as they hoisted the Stanley Cup exactly one year ago Friday in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Before facing the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup finals, Boston had defeated the Montreal Canadiens in seven games, swept the Phialdelphia Flyers and required another seven games to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning
In the finals with Vancouver, the home team emerged victorious in Games 1-6. But in Game 7 at Rogers Arena, the road team won as Boston defeated the Canucks 4-0 for its first championship in 39 years.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman handed the Cup to Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and the 6-foot-9 bearded Slovakian native accepted hockey's holy grail and pumped it into the air in celebration.
In Game 7 against the Canucks, Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron scored two goals and added an assist. After Chara handed the Cup to veteran and future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi, he handed to Bergeron.
"It's something that I will never forget," Bergeron told ESPNBoston.com. "A dream come true and every June 15 will be a special day for me and will bring back a lot of memories -- great memories."
Remember, Bergeron suffered a concussion in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and missed the first two games of the Conference finals, but his game was never affected because he was a force the rest of the way.
Bergeron can't believe it has been one year.
"Unreal!" he wrote in a text.
The Bruins were built on defense. Goaltender Tim Thomas recorded a historic playoff run en route to the Cup, the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies.
Besides the play of Thomas, the Bruins' defense played spectacular. Chara and blue line partner Dennis Seidenberg completely shut down the each opposition's top players. Unlike a year ago, the Bruins have been on vacation since April 25 and when they reflect on what they accomplished last spring, it almost seems like a decade ago.
"I can't believe we were still playing hockey last year around this time," Seidenberg said. "It's crazy."
When asked if he watched the finals this season, he said: "Yeah, I did. But it was a little bit boring, I thought."
Even though nothing in professional sports is more exciting than the Stanley Cup playoffs, from the Bruins' standpoint it was tough to watch the Los Angeles Kings raise that Cup because it's now officially someone else's.
"We considered it ours for a year and we worked so hard to get it and now that it's not ours anymore I think it really hits home and kind of allows us to get that hunger back and hopefully strive for it again this year," said Bruins forward Gregory Campbell, who recently signed a contract extension to remain in Boston.
He joined teammate and assistant captain Chris Kelly, who also avoided free agency and signed a four-year deal with the Bruins. Kelly had a career year from a statistical standpoint during the 2011-2012 season, but it can't compare to what he experienced in his first season with the Bruins in 2011.
Kelly admitted that it was tough to watch the Cup finals this season.
"I didn't watch much of the playoffs once we were eliminated," Kelly said. "I found it a little difficult to watch. Like Gregory said, it's the part of the season that everybody wants to be a part of, and I watched L.A. raise the Cup the other night and it almost makes you kind of get that sick feeling. You know, it stings a little bit knowing that that was us a year ago and how great that felt, and you want that taste back.
"So it is nice to have the extended offseason to kind of mentally prepare and heal whatever bumps and bruises you have, but I think at the end of the day if you're playing into June, you and your team have done something right, and I think that's what everyone strives for, and I think that's the reason why Gregory and I signed back in Boston, is for that opportunity to consistently play in the month of June."
The Bruins' championship reign isn't ending, it's just on hiatus.
It won't be another 39 years before the Cup returns to Boston. Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said it best after the team lost in the first round this season to the Washington Capitals: "We've got to tell the Stanley Cup winner this year that the Cup's on loan to them. It's going to come back home here in the near term."
That's clearly the goal for GM Peter Chiarelli.
That's why he's keeping this team intact. The Bruins had a realistic chance in 2012, but the hockey gods decided the Kings should own the Cup for at least a year.
The Bruins want it back. They think it's very possible for this group, these players and their fans to enjoy a Cup celebration again soon. The reason that could be possible is clear to Kelly and that's why he wanted to resign with the Bruins.
"Everyone checks their ego at the door, and whatever needs to be done to help the team win, they do that -- right from Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, right down the line," Kelly said. "That's a rare thing in pro sports with the amount of egos that are out there. That's not the case in our locker room, and that's a breath of fresh air I definitely found when I got traded to Boston. It's something that I want to be around as long as I can."
When his teammates were told that Campbell had signed an extension, he received a text message from each and every one of them.
"Aside from all the other strengths that this team has, one of the big strengths is that we are such a close group of guys and want to play for each other and want to win for each other," Campbell said.
The Bruins celebrated their championship for the final time on Oct. 6, when they raised the Stanley Cup banner to the rafters of the Garden. They earned another postseason berth in hopes of repeating as champions, but suffered an early exit in the first round to the Capitals.
That end-of-season failure provides extra motivation for next season as the Bruins try to recapture that magic feeling from June 15, 2011.