A substantial bump was hit as recently as a year ago, the collapse in seven games against the Flyers in the conference semifinals. Had a 3--0 lead in games. Lost it. Had a 3--0 lead in the seventh game. Lost it. Lost the series. Two years ago, another bump, semifinals, seventh game, overtime, Scott Walker goal with 1:14 left. Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2. Three years ago ... first round, seventh game. Canadiens 5, Bruins 0. Four years ago, five.... Arrrgh.
Coaches came and went, one after another, gruff coaches, happy coaches, all styles of coaches, walking the plank to unemployment. Players shuffled through the roster. Dark moments abounded.
"In 1996, I made my debut as a color commentator doing the games on radio with WBZ," Andy Brickley, former Bruins forward, now the color man on television, said. "They had the worst record in the league. That was tough. The worst record in the league. It was awful. It was embarrassing. You had to learn to be creative in a hurry."
Would the Bruins ever be the Bruins again?
A standard of success had been laid out by the Orr teams in 1970 and '72. Their unmatched, giddy romp to those two Cups captivated the region. The picture of the flying Orr, tripped after he scored the winning goal against the Blues in 1970 by defenseman Noel Picard, became a staple of New England barrooms and kitchens, hung next to portraits of John F. Kennedy, the Pope and maybe Carl Yastrzemski. The game, hockey, sank its roots deeper and flourished.
The Bruins were kings. Hockey was king.
"I was eight years old, 10 years old, when they won those two Cups," Brickley, who grew up in suburban Melrose, said. "Everyone played hockey. Everyone wanted to be Sanderson, Orr, Johnny Bucyk, Kenny Hodge. If you couldn't skate, that was O.K., because you could play street hockey. I grew up in a family with seven kids, five of them boys. There was a park across the street. Someone started a rumor that my older brother maybe went into the park and cut down the tennis net so we could have room to play street hockey. Maybe he took that net and made goalie nets out of them. Maybe that happened."
The excitement generated by the Bruins was irresistible. Of course kids fell in love. Bob Wilson boomed out baritone descriptions on the radio. Channel 38 brought the games into the living room. The Boston Garden, the old Garden, the home of those teams, was cramped and loud. The patrons hung over the ice from the third deck, the Gallery Gods, the cheap seats. The comments were constant.
"The people who followed us were working guys," Sanderson, a center, said. "They liked us because we were working guys. Policemen and firemen always liked us. Hockey isn't like, say, baseball. Baseball is a game of stats. If Kevin Youkilis goes 4 for 5, makes a couple of plays in the field, he can have a good day and it doesn't matter if the Red Sox win or lose. He still had a good day. Hockey isn't like that. Hockey is a game of character. In hockey everybody has to have a good day at the same time. If one guy isn't doing what he is supposed to do, the whole thing falls apart.
"Boston fans knew this. They'd give you about eight to 11 minutes to get going in the first period. If they sensed no effort, no bounce, you'd start to hear the comments, 'You wanna wake up, you clowns? You want to wake up?' That would get you going. It better get you going."