Boston Bruins cult heroes: Dean Chynoweth

With summer about to arrive, we’re still weeks away from the return of NHL training camps, so it’s time for another entry in the Bruins cult hero series with defenseman Dean Chynoweth, former 1st-round pick and depth defenseman who played just 94 career games with the B’s out of 241 career NHL contests, but was known for his toughness and willingness to pay the price for the team. He’s held numerous coaching jobs in junior and pro hockey, and is currently one of Rod Brind’Amour’s assistants with the Carolina Hurricanes. Much of this piece is lifted from an interview I conducted with Chynoweth in 2001, when he was head coach of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, and we had a chance meeting at the NHL draft in Sunrise, FL.- KL

When you think of the Boston Bruins, Dean Chynoweth’s name won’t be on the tip of your tongue.

The hard-nosed defenseman only played a total of 94 games with the team, scoring 2 goals and 10 points while totaling 259 minutes in penalties.  However, in his short time with the club, Chynoweth fit the traditional Bruin stereotype of a hockey player who battled hard for his team any given night, and while perhaps not the most talented, played the sport with toughness, tenacity and honesty.

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All The President’s Men: The 1990 Boston Bruins (Part 3)

Today, we wrap up the tribute to the 1990 Boston Bruins, the franchise’s first President’s Trophy-winning team, with the run through the playoffs. This was written 20 years ago and has been updated in certain sections, but apologies for some of the wooden writing- we’ve come a long way since 2000. Hope you have enjoyed this look back at that team and season.- KL

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As the 1990 playoffs began, the Boston Bruins were riding high with a regular season title, but knew they faced a tough opponent in the Hartford Whalers, who had an impressive and ever-improving young core. The B’s and their fans knew that all of the goodwill of a President’s Trophy would be for naught if they were knocked out in an upset, and the Whalers had the talent to do it.

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All The President’s Men: the 1990 Boston Bruins (Part 2)

(The 1989-90 President’s Trophy Boston Bruins retrospective continues with the second half of the regular season. Part 3 looks at the 1990 playoffs and will be posted soon- KL)

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         In the first couple of days in 1990, Sinden pulled off a key trade, acquiring veteran two-way center and former Frank Selke Trophy winner Dave Poulin, the Philadelphia Flyers’ captain in exchange for Linseman.  When the deal was announced, Poulin was less than enthusiastic about joining Boston, having been a Flyer his entire career and visibly stunned that he had been traded.

            “I’m going to go home, sit down with my wife, and go over our options,” he remarked when initially interviewed.  “I’ve tried to keep my options open.”  These words were hardly a ringing endorsement from Poulin, who had just been dealt from the only team he had ever known.

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Friday Flashback: All the President’s Men: the 1990 Boston Bruins Pt. 1

Wrote this about 20 years ago for the 10-year anniversary of the 1989-90 President’s Trophy Boston Bruins team that came up short in their quest to bring the first Stanley Cup back to the Hub in 18 years. It would take the B’s another 21 years, but at the time, it was just another promising group that did everything but win the championship. I originally wrote the piece in 2000 to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the team’s only (at the time) regular season championship, but have updated it in the years since with a new intro today and thanks to later access to players who were a part of the club to insert quotes and memories of that team.  Given that it is a complete season recap including playoffs, the word count comes in at around 9,000 words, so we’ll break this up into 3 parts over the next few days.- KL

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The Boston Bruins are one of the National Hockey League’s more storied franchises, yet they’ve also been somewhat star-crossed in their near century of existence, coming up short in numerous opportunities to capture more than the six Stanley Cup championships in team history. Most recently, the B’s and their fans saw heartbreak in 2019, losing a decisive game 7 at home to the St. Louis Blues.

30 years ago, another Boston hockey club took their fans on a dizzying ride and tantalized the region with an unforgettable run that had more than its share of peaks and valleys after a terrific regular season. It almost ended before it began with a near-upset at the hands of a younger, upstart Hartford Whalers team, followed by another memorable matchup against an archrival and an extended run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This is their story.

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Boston Bruins 1979 Draft Flashback: Ray-sing the Stakes

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As the decade of the 1970s drew to a close, the United States struggled through a sluggish economy, long gas lines, and growing tensions in the Middle East with ominous warning clouds gathering over Iran and Afghanistan. 1979 also marked the year in which the Boston Bruins held the most important and impactful draft in the team’s history.

            Even if the fruits of the ’79 entry draft (the first year of the name change after having previously been known as the NHL amateur draft since 1963) did not result in a Stanley Cup championship in Boston, each of the seven players the B’s drafted saw NHL action. In fact, the elements of that wildly successful class of players ensured that the B’s remained contenders throughout the entire decade of the 1980s and first half of the 1990s, with a pair of Stanley Cup final appearances in 1988 and 1990, as well as three more trips to the conference final series between 1983-1992.

            The fact that the 1979 NHL draft class as a whole is considered to be the greatest of all (though 2003 will challenge that assertion when all is said and done) underscores the importance of Bruins GM Harry Sinden and his scouting staff’s tremendous haul, the centerpiece of which was a defenseman who would go on to be a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest offensive producers in NHL history with 1,579 points in 1,612 career games with the Bruins and Colorado Avalanche: Raymond Bourque.

            The Bruins could have called it a day alone with the selection of Bourque, but they went on to add a pair of 200+ NHL goal scorers in Keith Crowder and Mike Krushelnyski, while landing one of the powerhouse Brandon Wheat Kings’ biggest stars in Brad McCrimmon, who would go on to be one of the top stay-at-home defensemen, with more than 1,200 career big league games under his belt.

            Although this group was unable to secure hockey’s ultimate prize for Boston, the B’s Class of ’79 is rivaled only by the 1980 and 2006 team drafts as the most critical in franchise history.

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Boston Bruins Cult Heroes: Dave Poulin

Sorry, folks- been on a bit of a hiatus preparing for the USHL Draft and then all of the things we do afterwards. We’re back with a re-post of a Where Are They Now? story I did on Dave Poulin for New England Hockey Journal about 20 years ago when the former B’s standout and Selke Trophy winner with the Philadelphia Flyers was still coaching his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. He always was and is a class act, calling giving me his personal cell phone to call him back when he wasn’t in his office at the time he had set up our interview. He missed it, but called me and had me call him at home that night so I didn’t miss my deadline. Enjoy.- KL

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Dave Poulin spent 165 games as a member of the Boston Bruins from 1990-1993 providing the kind of leadership and veteran savvy that helped the team rise to the top of the National Hockey League’s standings and remain there throughout his tenure.

Poulin’s ability as a defensive forward, as well as his maturity, provided the Bruins the kind of depth around which championships are built.  Although none of his teams reached that elusive prize called the Stanley Cup, Poulin’s name is synonymous with words like heart, character, desire and skill.  Seven years after walking away from his playing career, Poulin still cherishes the time he spent in Boston as a member of its storied hockey franchise.

            “What I remember about playing for the Bruins was that it was two distinctly different teams,” Poulin, 42, told the New England Hockey Journal.  “The first team I was on featured Craig Janney, while the second had Adam Oates.  The first also had Cam Neely, while the second did not.”

            Poulin was the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers when B’s GM  Harry Sinden made the move to acquire the 1987 Selke Trophy winner as the league’s top defensive forward, in exchange for Ken Linseman on January 16, 1990.  At the time, the Bruins were making serious noise as a Stanley Cup contender and in Poulin, Sinden no doubt recognized the value of one of the league’s most renowned leaders and the benefits that would have both on the ice and in the locker room.

            “I enjoyed my time in Boston immensely,” said Poulin.  “I loved that town and we had a great bunch of guys on those teams.”

            Poulin was a free agent signee with the Flyers after a great career with the University of Notre Dame and a stint in Sweden.  He helped lead Philadelphia to a pair of Stanley Cup finals appearances in 1985 and 1987, falling short in both instances to the Edmonton Oilers.  In his first season with the Bruins under head coach Mike Milbury, his new team reached the finals only to succumb once again to Edmonton in five games.  However, looking back on that 1989-90 Boston Bruins hockey club, Poulin says that they certainly had a shot to win it all, and a lot of the credit for that should go to Milbury.

            “Mike was terrific for us,” he said.  “He was the perfect coach for a veteran team.  He didn’t try to bring in a lot of systems, but he realized that there was so much leadership inside that locker room and he pretty much left it up to us to go out and win hockey games.  It was a great situation for the team given our talent level and veteran presence.

            Perhaps Poulin’s greatest moment as a Boston Bruin took place on April 11, 1990, in Game Four of the Adams Division Semi-Final Series against the Hartford Whalers.  With the favored Bruins trailing in the series two-games-to-one, and with team’s captain and defensive stalwart Ray Bourque sidelined with an injury, Poulin led one of the greatest comebacks in Boston Bruins history.

With the team down 5-2 after two periods, he scored a pair of third period goals en route to a 6-5 victory that stunned the Whalers, ultimately dooming them to defeat in that series.  Poulin’s heroics began in between periods of that contest, when he asserted his leadership skills, exhorting his teammates to make amends for such a poor showing in the game’s first 40 minutes.

            “I was very emotional that night,” Poulin recalled of his sentiments in the dressing room before the final period of play.  “At that time, I had only been on the team a few months, but I realized that one of the things I brought with me was my leadership and when you’re in a situation like that, something just comes over you.

            “I knew we had a better team than we had showed to that point.  We needed everyone in that locker room to beat Hartford that night and I told them that much.  I think some guys were surprised at some of the things I said, but when the third period started, and I scored on the very first shift from Glen Wesley to make it 5-3, I think they were kind of like, ‘Wow- it’s one thing to say it, but it’s another thing to actually do something about it.’  Then, Bobby Beers got one, and Dave Christian scored a great goal to tie it.  When we won the game, I knew that we were going to win that series.”

            According to Poulin, those Boston Bruins teams were full of leaders, none more important than the captain himself.

         “Raymond’s leadership is so underestimated,” he said.  “He was a very vocal leader, but I think that he encouraged the perception that he was quiet off the ice.  As far as being a team leader however, he acted quite differently in the locker room.  I think he was happy when I came to the team because he knew that I had been a captain in Philadelphia and that my experiences in a leadership role would take some of the responsibilities off of him to be the team’s focal point.”

            Poulin left the Bruins in the summer of 1993 to sign with the Washington Capitals, where he spent two seasons before retiring from hockey with a year left on his contract to pursue the head coaching position at his alma mater. Since retiring, he has led the CCHA’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish to an 81-124-30 record in seven seasons.

            Although Poulin’s time with Boston Bruins was far too short, fans who were privileged enough to see him play for the team will always acknowledge his key contributions to those clubs that reached one final, and two conference final series while he was an alternate captain.  Poulin’s class, skill and leadership make him a fan favorite to this day.

Best and Worst Bruins Draft Picks 1-30; 1963-2019

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I recently posted this to the Bruins sub-Reddit- and thought it deserved a place on my blog.

Took a swing at the Boston Bruins historical draft choices, analyzing the team’s selections since the NHL implemented a rudimentary draft system 56 years ago. Bear in mind that in the pre-1969 years, the draft was different- starting in 1963 thru 1978 it was called the amateur draft before changing to the NHL Entry Draft in 1979 when the teams were allowed to draft 18-year-olds. With fewer teams in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, selections outside of 10-20 were 2nd round or later, but for purpose of exercise, I’m going to look at picks 1-30 and call it like I see it.

I’m bucking convention by starting out with 1st overall and work up to 30- in a lot of cases, the early selections for the B’s have not been kind, but in full context- most of the time the team was picking 3-7, it came in the days before the current draft system. And because the B’s had made the playoffs from 1968-97, unless they owned bad teams’ 1st rounders, they rarely got a chance to pick inside the top-10 during that time frame.

1- Best: Joe Thornton, 1997: 1st ballot HHOFer- nuf ced; Trading him opened the door for Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard to join the B’s in 2006, but he’s been everything Jumbo Joe was projected to be as a teen titan with the Soo Greyhounds in 1997. He just turned 40 in July, which, given the shaggy, golden-locked kid who showed up in Boston 22 years ago at not quite 18, seems impossible to square with the grizzled graybeard who has been with the San Jose Sharks for nearly a decade and a half.

Worst: Barry Gibbs, 1966: Journeyman defenseman. He at least played in the NHL to the tune of 796 career games, most of them not with the Bruins. However, Gibbs leads the No. 1 overall bust hit parade not because of what he did, but because of the player who was selected right behind him at No. 2 in ’66 by the NY Rangers. Wait for it…Brad Park. Can you imagine Bobby Orr and Brad Park together on the Boston blue line? It actually happened for a handful of games right before Orr left for the Windy City, but had they been able to play together in their primes, we’re talking at least 2 more Stanley Cups in that era. Yikes. (H/T to Reddit user Timeless_Watch for pointing this out- I moved Kluzak down to HM)

HM: Gord Kluzak, 1982: Oh what could have been? What if…B’s had drafted Brian Bellows or Scott Stevens there instead of Kluzak? Kluzak had knee injuries in junior hockey days and then got blown up in his 2nd NHL season- without the technology to repair knees that we have today, it doomed him to being day-to-day for the rest of his career and an early retirement. He should have been a long-tenured NHL defenseman, but it didn’t happen for him, and unfortunately, he’s more of a footnote in Bruins lore, which is unfortunate.

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Bergeron scores 300th goal, Flashback to 2nd Olympic gold

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Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

After missing the last 16 games to injury, Patrice Bergeron showed zero signs of rust, promptly scoring the first 2 goals of his team’s Saturday matinee against the struggling Nashville Predators, and adding an assist (here’s hoping the NHL properly credits him with a 2nd helper on David Pastrnak’s 2-on-1 dagger goal to make it 4-2) to lead his team to another key win, as the Boston Bruins roster is slowly getting healthy again.

The second tally, which put his team up 2-1 briefly early in the third period, was the 300th career NHL for the 45th overall draft pick in the storied 2003 NHL Draft. He’s still looking for his 1,000th career game in the Black & Gold- a quest derailed by 1.5 lockouts, nearly an entire season lost in 2007-08 on a Randy Jones hit from behind and numerous other setbacks that have taken a physical toll on Boston’s Mr. Everything.

300 goals in a Bruins uniform.

As the esteemed Kevin Paul Dupont pointed out, he’s only the sixth player in team history to accomplish that feat. B’s 300 club members (by order of goal totals): Johnny Bucyk, Phil Esposito, Rick MiddletonRaymond Bourque and Cam Neely. If you know anything about Bruins team history, then you know that’s quite an esteemed group to be a part of…Boston hockey’s very own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And just think how much sooner Bergeron would have hit the scoring milestone had he not missed so many games over the years.

Don’t tell him he’s 33, either- he shows no sign of slowing down. Even if he loses a step in his skating, which was never elite to begin with, he’s such an intelligent player with a sublime set of mitts, that it’s hard to envision his game going off a cliff all at once.

Enjoy his excellence while you can- he’s one of the greatest players in franchise history, and nothing lasts forever.

Here’s a trip down memory lane going back to the 2014 Winter Olympics when Bergeron was still on the right side of 30 and had just helped Team Canada to a second consecutive gold medal.

You can’t say it enough- when he walks away from NHL ice for the last time as a player, he’ll have built one hell of a legacy. It’s pretty damn fine today at the end of 2018…what more is in store for us?

Enjoy the ride!

Here’s a re-posting of an article I wrote in New England Hockey Journal in February, 2014- K.L.

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Man with the Golden Gun: Patrice ‘Mr. Everything’ Bergeron nearing Perfection

Perfection is not a word taken lightly.

Using it to describe any athlete or performance, no matter how sublime, threatens to cheapen its meaning. When using it to describe one Patrice Bergeron-Cleary, there aren’t many other roads you can travel that won’t lead you back to perfection in its purest form.

“Whatever it takes, right?” Bergeron said to NBC’s Pierre McGuire after a two-assist performance over Norway to kick off the schedule. “I’m just happy to be here, trying to chip in any way I can. Whether it’s the right side, the left side, it doesn’t matter to me.”

That’s as close to perfect an answer you will get from the veteran Boston Bruins heart and soul center, who also just captured his second Olympic gold medal at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. If they didn’t know it already, proud Canadians and hockey fans around the globe are certainly coming to grips with the importance of the man teammates and coaches call “Mr. Everything”.

With Canada’s third Olympic triumph in four iterations going back to 2002, it seems to strain the bounds of credulity to realize that Bergeron has been such an integral part of multiple championships beyond Olympic competition.

“(Bergeron) deserves very much to be honored correctly,” B’s teammate Torey Krug said via email after Canada captured gold to close out the winter games. “He is the most honest guy I have ever met and that’s what makes him special. When he comes to the rink, he’s honest with himself in terms of effort and his mentality. He never takes a day off.”

In many ways, Bergeron’s hockey stardom defies logic. Nearly eleven years ago, he was completely passed up in the first round of the NHL draft in Nashville because scouts felt he wasn’t big enough or fast enough. A few months later, he broke camp with the Bruins a little over 60 days after he turned 18 precisely because he proved he was.

Back then, Bergeron was a shy teenager who spoke fluent if heavily accented English, but he sure could speak the language of an impact player from the get go. Some things may have evolved over the decade-plus he’s skated for the Black and Gold, but what absolutely has not changed is his disciplined approach and sheer presence as part of any winning formula.

“I think that a lot of what I do is natural,” a 17-year-old Bergeron said in the very first sit down interview he did with New England Hockey Journal at the 2003 NHL draft. “But I always work and prove my place. I think that (vision/hockey sense) is natural, but the other parts of the game have to come when you work hard. It’s like when you learn on the job and as you work more, you get more confident and better at your job. With me, it’s the same thing.”

He came into the NHL a virtual unknown as the league’s youngest player in the 2003-04 campaign, but was a world champion before he turned 19. Team Canada saw enough to add him to the 2004 World Championship roster after the NHL rookie’s B’s were unceremoniously dumped by the hated Montreal Canadiens (and his current bench boss, Claude Julien if that doesn’t beat all) in the first round.

A little more than six months later, the 2004-05 NHL lockout meant that Bergeron was adding a World Jr. Championship title (and tournament MVP honors) to his resume, the first player ever to win a hockey senior world championship before doing the under-20 thing that so many of the elite NHL players go through before they become pros.

He stands for so much more than the on-ice success he’s enjoyed since first stepping foot in the TD Garden dressing room. If not for Zdeno Chara, Bergeron would be unequivocally wearing the captain’s ‘C’ in Boston, but his humility, inner fire and unimpeachable credentials make him the ideal alternate, and heir apparent to the B’s captaincy when that day eventually comes.

“If he’s feeling down he doesn’t get too down,” Krug said. “If he’s confident and on a roll he doesn’t get too high. He pushes himself and it forces other guys to do the same if they want to stay and compete at the level he is at.”

When Bergeron became the youngest player in team history to hit the 30-goal mark at 20, he appeared poised to become one of the club’s top snipers. A crushing hit from behind by Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones a little over a year later nearly ended Bergeron’s career, but when he returned during the 2008-09 season, he reinvented himself as one of the NHL’s purest defensive centers.

Since then, all Bergeron has done is won an Olympic gold medal on home soil in Vancouver despite a nagging groin injury that left him a shell of himself. Oh, and then there’s that encore he had in the same town in the spring of 2011, when he hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head along with the rest of his Bruins mates, bringing hockey championship mana to Boston for the first time in 39 years.

For good measure, Bergeron added a Spengler Cup to his trophy case during last season’s lockout when he was playing in Switzerland alongside former B’s teammate Tyler Seguin. Hosted by Swiss team HC Davos just after Christmas each year and considered the world’s oldest invitational hockey tournament, Bergeron’s made the most of his presence on Team Canada, thanks to another round of NHL labor strife.

Whether you need the ultimate team award like Lord Stanley’s chalice or a pair of Olympic gold medals, or an individual accolade like the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which Bergeron won in 2012 for being the NHL’s top defensive forward, the 28-year-old has already delivered one hundredfold that other players have spent many more years trying in vain to achieve. Multiple championships are the closest thing to perfection we have in the world of team sports, and Bergeron is among the best.

If there’s been a recent blemish on Bergeron’s fantastical hockey resume, one could point to last spring’s defeat by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, a true black-and-blue series that saw the Boston alternate captain exceed any sane threshold for pain to compete.

Broken rib… check. Separated shoulder…check. Collapsed lung…check. Yet, instead of checking into the ICU, he very nearly willed his team to victory with one of the grittiest, most productive finals performances in team history.

So, even when the a-ha! Sherlock Holmes moment comes when you might say that Patrice Bergeron is indeed imperfect, he still did everything humanly possible to debunk that notion. As fine a player Bergeron is, in hockey, you can’t go it alone.

“He brings the same thing to the table every game, whether were playing last place team or playing in the finals,” said Krug. “His honesty has influenced everyone in the locker room. He could be a top scorer in the NHL but he chooses to be a bigger part of the puzzle on one of the most consistent teams in the league.”

Nearly 11 years after the B’s used the 45th overall compensation pick they took from the NHL to allow Bill Guerin to walk away to Big D and collect a $9 million payday on Bergeron, Boston’s payoff has been astounding.

The team not only has reaped the rewards of his presence and individual play as Bergeron continues his climb within the top-20 of the team’s all-time leading scorers, but he helped lead them to a Stanley Cup championship, a two-goal Game 7 showing in 2011 a fitting coda to how important he is. It’s why they refused to even let him reach free agency, locking him up for another seven years last summer when he had a full year remaining on his existing deal signed back before that magical return to glory three years ago.

Mr. Everything? To some B’s fans, he just might be the only thing that prevented USA’s big flameout in Sochi from being any more disappointing.

But even with another gold medal to go with the others and a Stanley Cup ring, Bergeron knows how agonizing it was to get so close to winning a second ring only to come up short.

And if Mr. Everything has his way, the only fitting follow up to an Olympic triumph would be raising another Stanley Cup banner in Boston next October.

That would be perfect.

Sunday Flashback: 2013 B’s-Pens playoff column “Sweep dreams will end the Steel City nightmare”

An old friend recently reminded me of a column I wrote in 2013, after the Boston Bruins had taken a 3-0 series lead over Sidney Crosby and the vaunted Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final (you remember- the guys who were anointed Stanley Cup champs when they scooped Boston on Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline?) Alas, the B’s were unable to close the deal against the Chicago Blackhawks, who earned their second of three rings between 2010-15 against the Black & Gold, but he asked me to dig the piece up and so here it is- in its raw and unedited glory prior to being posted on HockeyJournal.com.

All of my old work at NE Hockey Journal that was not in the printed issues is gone forever from the Internet, as no archive exists given the different format changes the website went through over the years since I started covering the Bruins there in the summer of 2000. All I have left are the files on my computer and so, on occasion, I’ll bring out the dead and we can take some trips in the Wayback Machine to save you any time otherwise wasted with a Google search- the old stuff no longer exists online.

Enjoy the column…in the 5 years hence, the Penguins have fared certainly better than the Bruins, with a pair of championships in 2016-17, but I have to admit- this one was a ton of fun to write. -KL

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Sweep dreams will end the Steel City nightmare (June 7, 2013- HockeyJournal.com)

For some reason, one particular ‘s’ word has somehow evolved to be on par with the one goalies don’t want you using before the shutout is actually in the books.

But say the word ‘sweep’ when your team is up 3 games to none, and everyone starts to get that queasy feeling in the pit of their stomach. In Boston, it’s understandable, given that we are just three years removed from a historic collapse against another team from the Keystone State after building a commanding series lead.

This column is not for the superstitious (another s-word since we’re on the subject), so if you’re one of those types, then you probably should stop reading now. However, if you’ve got an iron constitution and will in line with Gregory Campbell, or don’t take yourself (or sports) too seriously, then forge ahead.

On Friday, the Boston Bruins will sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins to take their place in the Stanley Cup final series for the second time in three years.

There it is. Carve it in stone or put it up in lights…it’s happening, folks.

Just as the B’s exorcised the demons of their agonizing 2010 seven-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in style with a sweep of their own just one year later, Boston can revisit history on Friday at the TD Garden. That was important, because it put an exclamation point on the Olde Towne’s first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years. That 2011 Cup victory was a euphoric rush for the Bruins and their fans, but does anyone deny that crushing the Flyers on the way to the summit of hockey supremacy made it all the sweeter?

Two years later, the Bruins have stunned the mighty (and heavily favored) Pittsburgh Penguins in capturing the first three games of the Eastern Conference Final series. This opportunistic, lunchpail group of Black and Gold-diggers have laughed in the face of the vaunted Steel City juggernaut thanks in large part to goaltender Tuukka Rask’s otherworldly performance in net and gritty production from stars like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton.

In short, the B’s have taken everything the Penguins have thrown at them and then counterpunched to the tune of an 11-2 drubbing on the scoreboard. In those three games (and almost two extra periods), the front line skaters like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla, and Kris Letang have combined for a grand total of no points between them.

It’s as if Dean Vernon “Zero Point Zero” Wormer were staring down Bluto Blutarsky as we speak.

The Bruins will sweep because even if they decisively won the first two games on the road in Pittsburgh by a combined 9-1 score, the Penguins showed some remarkable pluck by battling back in Game 3 to give the B’s all they could handle.

Aside from a Krejci puck off Matt Niskanen’s skate that got behind Tomas Vokoun at the 1:42 mark, the Penguins netminder was near flawless. Until Bergeron took a Marchand feed (thanks to a play along the boards by veteran Bruins forward Jaromir Jagr that would have made Peter Pan’s pirate nemesis proud) and put a dagger in the hearts of the Pittsburgh hopeful just after midnight in Boston.

By all rights, the Penguins should have won. But the hockey gods…ye gods…frowned on Crosby and Co., allowing the Bruins to hand flightless fowl a soul-crushing loss.

And so- the B’s are in position to not only sweep the Penguins, but to put the screws to one team that has been every bit the villain of any in the Boston franchise’s history.

Back in 1991, it wasn’t Crosby, but Mario Lemieux who led his Penguins back from a 0-2 deficit in the Wales Conference championship series. That club, complete with a 19-year-old rookie wunderkind in Jagr, smacked the B’s down in six games en route to easily handling the Minnesota North Stars for the first of two consecutive Stanley Cups. It was Ulf Samuelsson, however, who’s dirty hit on Boston legend Cam Neely hastened the end of No. 8’s Hall of Fame career.

A year later, the Bruins got a rematch in the Wales final, but without Neely (still suffering the after effects of the Samuelsson low blow), the high-flying Penguins blew Boston out of the water in a sweep. The series was punctuated by a highlight reel goal of Lemieux turning Ray Bourque inside-out, outside-in on the way to a back-breaking goal.

It has been 21 long years since the two teams met in the playoffs, but for many Boston fans, the Pens are still a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Matt Cooke’s blindside hit on Marc Savard in 2010 is only the tip of the iceberg, but the incident served as a flashpoint to escalate the rivalry between the teams.

Many cannot ignore the fact Pittsburgh not only landed a franchise player in Malkin in 2004, but also struck gold with the top lottery pick in the cancelled season a year later, essentially handed another hockey king in Crosby. Some won’t forget that when Ray Shero was on the verge of becoming the GM of the Boston Bruins in 2006, he opted for a more promising situation in Pittsburgh at the last minute.

If hell hath no fury like a Bruins fan scorned, then Iginla is the newest Boston target. In a much-publicized aborted trade fiasco, Iginla, the Calgary Flames and Penguins humiliated Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins. In what everyone but Iginla thought was a done deal, the Calgary captain instead elected to lift his no-trade for the Steel City only, leaving the Bruins holding the bag.

If you know the ever-simmering cauldron of intensity that is one Cameron Michael Neely, then you know that the way Pittsburgh embarrassed Boston by scooping Iginla and seeing the B’s snubbed so publicly must have re-ignited his burning desire to pay them back one hundredfold. So far, his team is doing just that.

Even if Iginla is proving that the best trades are sometimes the ones you don’t make, the smugness with which the Penguins and their fans swooped in to exult in the bitterness of Boston’s disappointment cemented that team’s status as Public Enemy No. 1.

If having a villain to focus your angst and anger is a cathartic, then consider the Penguins the therapist you have on speed dial.

The Bruins are in position to sweep away the nightmares of two crushing playoff defeats more than two decades ago. They’re poised to erase the visceral disgust of having lost so many prime years of Neely’s playing career to one of the dirtiest and unaccountable players in history.  They’re on the verge of gaining the ultimate revenge against all of the real and perceived slights that have accompanied one of the most heralded teams on paper in quite a few years.

They say revenge is sweet.

Or is it sweep?

It’s not over yet, but the best thing the Bruins can do is close the deal in Game 4 and put the bitterness behind them once and for all.

(As a bonus- Here’s the brilliant HNIC opening for Game 3 after the B’s won both games in Pittsburgh to Radiohead’s classic “Karma Police” with some amazing juxtaposition of imagery & lyrics)

 

On Rick Middleton’s No. 16 going to the rafters

81-82 Rick Middleton Home Sandow Mesh 004

The Boston Bruins announced Tuesday that Richard D. Middleton aka Rick Middleton aka ‘Nifty’ the right wing who starred for the team from 1976-88, will have his number 16 retired in a game later this November (29th- vs the NY Islanders). The longtime New Hampshire resident and Bruins Alumni fixture is deeply touched by the gesture, which comes three decades after he skated off into the sunset (more on that later).

The former Oshawa Generals star broke into the NHL with the NY Rangers, who selected him in the 1st round, 14th overall, in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft. Middleton was also picked by the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the rival WHA that same year, going in the second round, 21st overall.

The trade is right up there with Cam Neely as one of former Bruins GM Harry Sinden’s best heists, sending the over-the-hill Ken Hodge to Broadway for the 22-year-old, who put up 90 points in two seasons with the Rangers. The catalyst for the deal was believed to be Phil Esposito, who was dealt to the Rangers the season before in a blockbuster, which sent Brad Park and Jean Ratelle to the B’s. Espo wanted his old (no pun intended) reliable right wing back, and Middleton was rumored to be a bit of a wild card off the ice…his -38 in 1975-76 certainly didn’t help.

So, Middleton headed off the Boston and after a couple of solid, if unspectacular years (by the standards of the 1970’s), he took off, posting 38, 40, 44, and 51-goal seasons from 1978-82. He peaked in 1984 with a 47-goal, 105-point year (finishing second to Barry Pederson’s 116 points) but the Boston offensive juggernaut was silenced in the opening round of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens and Steve Penney, who sent them out with a whimper in 3 games (no points for Nifty). The year before, Middleton had posted a playoff season for the ages (33 points in 17 games), leading the Bruins past two rounds of the playoffs including the memorable 7-game affair against Buffalo where he registered a team-record (for one series) 19 points. Unfortunately, the B’s ran into the NY Islanders dynasty in the spring of 1983. Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith & Company dispatched them from the Wales Conference final in a series that never seemed that close, en route to a fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, leaving so many B’s fans to wonder…what if?

Middleton’s production steadily declined after that career 105-point campaign, due in part to age and injury, but he did preside over the historic defeat of the Montreal Canadiens in 1988, a first for any Bruins team since 1943. Middleton’s breakaway game-winner in Game 3 (2-0), to put the B’s up 2-1 in the series after splitting the games in Montreal was a fitting coda for a man who had been a part of so many heart-breaking losses to the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge during his entire Bruins tenure. He split the captaincy with Ray Bourque that year, wearing the ‘C’ for home games, until his retirement after the B’s were swept by Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers (their 4th NHL title since 1984) giving way to Bourque’s sole leadership from 1988 until his trade to Colorado in the spring of 2000.

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, Nifty was an ubiquitous presence in my budding love of hockey and the Bruins. Although not a pure burner, his golden locks (later shiny pate as his hair thinned and ultimately gave way to a Jofa helmet late in his career) looked like they were on fire as he would bob and weave through the neutral and offensive zones, often putting on a display of stickhandling prowess at impossible angles and contortions, ending with pucks in the back of the net or sublime back-door feeds for gift-wrapped tap-ins for his lucky linemates. The Mike Krushelnyski-Pederson-Middleton line racked up 111 goals in 1983-84…a number that seems awe-inspiring some 35 years later.

Although Middleton’s scoring numbers paled in comparison to Gretzky’s (The Great One scored 100 more points than Middleton’s 105 in 83-84 just for perspective), or Mario Lemieux or Bossy to name a few, he was a veritable King Midas for the B’s, creating magic from the mundane and turning pucks into goals. But don’t take my word for it- Channel 38 once paid tribute to him with a highlight reel video now on YouTube to America’s “You Can Do Magic” and I had it recorded on VHS and must’ve watched it 1000 times…

Ignored by the Hockey Hall of Fame, 30 years after he retired, taking his number out of circulation is a welcome move for those who watched him (and maybe a good percentage of fans who didn’t, but who appreciate history). Sure- there are some who may be opposed to the honor (it is the 11th so number retired by the B’s) but that’s just a curmudgeonly nature of New Englanders at work- deep down, even the grumblers get it. After all- we’ve seen Peter Douris, Jozef Stumpel, Randy Robitaille, Ken Belanger, Marco Sturm and most recently, Kaspars Daugavins (in 2012-13), wear the digits in the intervening years. None hold the distinction and cachet Middleton did, and in the end- it’s just a number. It’s time to admit that he wore it well…better than anyone in the Black and Gold. As his 402 goals as a Bruin can attest, he could finish plays off just as easily as he set the table, and was the heir to Espo as the next pure scoring forward to put on the spoked B.

If the Bruins can take the time to honor for a player who grew up and matured in Boston as a model of consistency and was the face of the franchise at least up front for the better part of a decade, then why not?

It’s about time.