Commentary

Bruins ready to take center stage

After Patriots' abrupt exit, they're embracing attention of Boston fans

Updated: January 22, 2013, 12:24 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- In the moments following the New England Patriots' loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, fans could be heard chanting "Let's go Bruins."

Even though the Boston Bruins players were watching from home while resting for Monday's matinee against the Winnipeg Jets, it's as though they felt the same way as their fans did after the Patriots' season ended in defeat.

"We're all big fans," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of the Patriots. "Yesterday afternoon, I sat in front of the television all afternoon watching football. I was a big fan like everyone else and just as disappointed.

"You turn around and say, 'OK, now it's our chance here to do something for this city.' We're fortunate to have some good sports teams here in Boston. No doubt, the fans get spoiled, but they're good fans, and they fill every building up. They deserve it."

The Bruins do have a chance to continue the winning ways in this city, especially given the fact they're built for a lockout-shortened, 48-game schedule and have every opportunity to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in a three-year span.

The Bruins' roster hasn't changed much since they won the Cup in 2011, and they're again favored to go deep into the playoffs. Not that they needed any more motivation, but watching the Patriots lose on Sunday gave the Bruins a little more jump as they defeated the Jets 2-1 in a shootout at TD Garden.

This is Julien's fifth season behind the Bruins bench, and the team has reached the playoffs every year of his tenure. When he first arrived in Boston, the Bruins drew the least attention of the four major sports teams in the city. That has changed, and while the Red Sox and Patriots still rule the landscape, the Bruins aren't far behind.

The Celtics are currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and last won a championship in 2008. The Red Sox have failed to reach the postseason in the past three years and have not won a World Series since 2007. The Patriots have been perennial contenders, but have not won a Super Bowl since 2004.

"Our team has climbed up the ladder a lot the last few years," Julien said after Monday's win. "We've regained a respect that we once had then we lost, and I think regaining it has been pretty important. What you've got to do in order to get that is give the fans the type of hockey they deserve to see. We're a great team, a hard-working team and our guys are pretty focused on making sure we give the fans what they want, the city what it deserves, and that has helped us a lot."

General manager Peter Chiarelli has built a winner here. The Bruins have scouted, drafted and developed the majority of their young talent, which has complimented the organization's core of veteran players.

It's all equaled success.

Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference has seen a big change in the fans' love for the Bruins since he arrived in Boston via a trade in 2007.

"We didn't want to be the lowly sister," he said. "We wanted to pull our weight and make people proud of what the product was over here as well. There's been a number of us who have been around for those building blocks, and there's a reason that everybody really loves hockey -- that's a given in this area -- but there's a difference between loving hockey and [being] proud of the Bruins.

[+] EnlargePatrice Bergeron
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagePatrice Bergeron is happy to have helped bring pride back to wearing the Bruins jersey.

"There's a lot of pride from the top down that we've created. I don't think anybody kids themselves where you can rest on your laurels either in this town. If you don't keep pulling your weight, fans will make sure you hear about that, too. That's fine. That's good pressure."

Ference is a big Patriots fan, and while he's disappointed about their failed bid to make it to the Super Bowl, he felt proud of what the fans at Gillette were chanting after New England's loss Sunday night.

"I'd much rather have them chanting 'Let's go Bruins' after a Super Bowl win because we obviously want everybody to do well," he said." That's part of what makes this area so special, that you have those teams that have an opportunity to win every single year."

Unlike last season's brutal 3-7 start, the Bruins have played well out of the gate with wins over the New York Rangers and Jets. The Bruins will practice on Tuesday before traveling to New York to face the Rangers on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

"I know everybody wants to really create a good atmosphere here and a good feeling, right through the organization and to the fans, just to get those positive vibes early in the season because it really counts for a lot," Ference said. "Last year, obviously, some people say it's the Stanley Cup [hangover]. I don't really buy it because we turned it on pretty good after those first 10 games."

Even though the Bruins had the core of the team back in 2011-12, they deviated from their style of crash-and-bang play to become more of an offensive-minded team, and that loss of identity was a factor in the abrupt exit from the playoffs. Boston lost its opportunity to repeat as Cup champions after it was bounced in the first round, losing to the Washington Capitals in the first round.

The Bruins seem to have the proper focus and mindset this season right from the outset.

"You see everybody's put a lot of onus on themselves to play their game, and I know the guys who didn't play in Europe [during the lockout] have put a lot of pressure on themselves to be prepared and not be dead weight on the team," Ference said. "It's a matter of guys taking pride in getting these first few under their belt."

Pro teams and athletes in the Boston area really do care about each other. It's not uncommon to see players of the various teams at the games of a different sport during their respective offseason or on a night off. In fact, the Bruins' Shawn Thornton is a close friend of the Red Sox's David Ortiz and Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

There's a healthy competition between all the teams in Boston. Prior to winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, it had been 39 years since the Bruins won a championship. It's something they want to accomplish again.

"It's something we had a lot of pride in, to get that back and also get that pride of wearing the jersey each and every time you step on the ice," Patrice Bergeron said. "The fans have always been there, always been waiting for that moment, and now it's about duplicating that and going through those emotions again. But it starts in the regular season and playing the right way and taking it a game at a time."

The Garden was electric again on Monday. It's only two games into the season, but it looks like it will be an exciting one for the Bruins.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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