By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON Its difficult to recall now on the eve of Bostons first Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 19 years, but the goals of many within the organization were crystal clear before the playoffs began.
The Bruins mantra was all about getting past the second round and delving deeper into the playoffs than the previous two seasons. With the playoff series victories came the ultimate eraser to wipe away the stain of last years collapse to the Flyers.
With two playoff round wins, there was also a tacit guarantee Claude Julien, Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the Bs organizational structure would remain stable and intact for the foreseeable future.
With all that ridingin triumphsover the Habs and Flyers, it was mission accomplished with emotion, precision and a business-like efficiency that hasnt always been there for the Black and Gold.
But there is also danger in broaching new, uncharted ground within the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Bruins.
Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene were brand new the last time Boston stood only four wins away from a legit shot at drinking deeply out of Stanleys Cup, and theres a lethalamount of comfort and security that can arrive with that kind of team achievement.
Certainly a rapidly growing Bruins fan base while always clamoring for bigger, better and badder would be satiated with a deep journey into the conference finals this season win, lose or draw. The promise of a young Bs nucleus ready to consistently compete in the East could certainly ease the pain of the masses if Bostonfalls short of the Stanley Cup Finals.
But greed is good when its come to the NHL playoffs, and the Bruins should be getting their Gordon Gecko on as one of the final four hockey clubs. Now is not the time for settling and counting past achievements.
Its important talented youngsters like 23-year-old Milan Lucic, 24-year-old David Krejci, 19-year-old Tyler Seguin, 23-year-old Brad Marchand and 25-year-old Patrice Bergeron listen to their older teammates that prowl aroundhungrily sniffingfor the Cup.
Mark Recchi and Shawn Thornton both know what it takes to be the last hockey team standing in the playoffs, but it goes beyond them.
Even more filled with that third round hunger is a guy like Andrew Ference. The 32-year-old defenseman has enjoyed a solid NHL career with notoriety both on and off the ice, but one of his most wince-inducinghockey memories iscoming up justshort ofwinning a Cup with the Calgary Flames in 2004.
Ference didnt give a flying crap what Bostons organizational goals were for this postseason. As far as Ference is concerned, he still has a date with the Cup thats been overdue since the very-same Lightning team took down his Flames seven years ago. The ache gnaws at him greatly, and he still regularly commiserates with his former Calgary teammates about what might have been against the Bolts.
Oh, its still raw, said Ference. A lot of us still see each other in the summer. Ive got guys from Calgary calling me up now saying take it to those guys, you know? You hate the people that beat you. I think there are only two guys that were on that team that beat us, but youre in that city. Youre in that same building.
Its not one of those things where you say oh well, we were close. The only way to erase any of that is to win the whole thing.
Ference says the Cup Finals loss is one of the first things that shoots into his brain whenever he spies the Lightning logo, and it will certainly be on his mind when he suits up against Tampa for Game One.
Getting past the second roundmight have been an organizational goal, but I know there are a lot of guys in this room myself included that have absolutely zero satisfaction unless we win the whole thing, said Ference. Ive been close before. Weve talked to guys over and over about that. Its the hardest thing in this game to get that close to the Cup and then to lose.
Theres only one group that gets to be truly happy, and thats the group that ends up winning. I can see satisfaction from the city or the organization that getting to the third round is a positive thing, but Ive been there. Raising a Western Conference championship banner in Calgary didnt give me any satisfaction. It doesnt feel good and I have no problem telling that to guys over and over. And I have done that.
Instead Ference and fellow aging core Bruins veterans like Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas have forged a group of players over the age of 30 that realize this spring might be their best, lastchance to taste hockey immortality.
Thomas went so far as to say he dreamt about winning the Cup before the season began, and Chara has been so laser focused that the complacency issue is something that hadnt even entered his mind before it was mentioned.
I havent felt that at all, said Chara. I never got that sense even after we won four straight against Philly that anybody was saying oh year, we are all set now. We were glad that we got past the second round, but we all had eyes on the third round and our next opponent.
We knew who we were facing. We approached it like we won a game. We all know that its a long road and its not just about the conference finals.
As Thomas is known for saying, the proof will be in the pudding as to whether the Bruins started feeling satisfied heading into the conference finals. But its hard to believe a 37-year-old Thomas and a 34-year-old Chara would ever let that happen to their best chance at Cup glory.