Thousands of North Shore commuters pass by the statue every day. Bobby Orr captured forever in bronze, flying through the air, face suffused with joy after scoring the game-winning overtime goal against the St. Louis Blues in the 1970 Stanley Cup finals.
For the better part of a decade, the statue has stood in the shadow of TD Garden, itself built on the site of the fabled, ramshackle Boston Garden, still called simply “the Garden” by longtime fans. It’s a reminder of a time when Orr was idolized in a way David Ortiz and Tom Brady can only dream of and the Bruins were the team that reflected the region’s gritty, get-the-job-done self-image.
For recent generations raised on the Larry Bird era Celtics, the suddenly dynastic Red Sox and the ruthlessly efficient Patriots, the Bruins have remained a relative afterthought to those who are not diehard hockey fans. To be sure, there was the Stanley Cup win of 2011, but the team’s success has yet to grab hold of the hearts and minds of a region the way it did back in the days when Orr was surrounded by a cast of characters as charismatic as they were talented.
That could change in a few weeks. This year’s Bruins have churned their way through the NHL playoffs, getting stronger as they go. The team edged the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games, then fell behind two games to one to the Columbus Blue Jackets before going on a dominating streak, taking the next three games of that series before sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes in four games. The team hasn’t lost a game since April.
Next up, the Stanley Cup finals against the aforementioned Blues or the San Jose Sharks, with the first game set for Monday. The Bruins have home-ice advantage and a good shot at the Cup.
No one had such lofty expectations after the team was blown out, 7-0, by the Washington Capitals in the first game of the season, all the way back in early October (like most professional sports, hockey’s season has grown longer as money-making playoff rounds are added). The stinker of an opener, after an ignominious early playoff exit the season before, had many writing off the team and turning their attention to the Patriots, Celtics and Red Sox.
Under the steady hand of coach Bruce Cassidy, however, the Black and Gold steadily improved as the season progressed, earning a gritty reputation that should endear itself to all of New England. There are plenty of characters on this team that would have fit well in the Orr era.
There is, of course, no player like No. 4 on the current Bruins, if only because Orr was one of the best to play the game, with a style, power and skill that has never been replicated. But the 2019 team has big guns of its own, with emerging stars like right wing David Pastrnak and defenseman Charlie McAvoy, age 22 and 21, respectively. There are future Hall of Famers in towering defenseman and team captain Zdeno Chara and center Patrice Bergeron, who has quietly been one of the best athletes in Boston for the better part of a decade.
If you like your hockey old-style scrappy, there’s the pugnacious left wing Brad Marchand, who somehow managed to score 100 points this year while spending most of his time in his opponents’ heads. And if you enjoyed the heroics of World Series MVP Steven Pearce of the Red Sox, you’ll love his lunch-pail analogues on the Bruins, midseason acquisitions Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle. If local boys done good is your thing, there’s Coyle, of the East Weymouth Coyles; Chris Wagner of Wellesley; and Matt Grzelcyk of Charlestown. Grzelyck’s father is famously a member of the Garden “bull gang,” charged with turning the basketball arena into a hockey rink, often between games. McAvoy may have been born in New York, but he earned his hockey bonafides here at Boston University.
At the center of it all in these playoffs has been goalie Tuukka Rask. The seemingly unflappable Finn, with whom Bruins fans have a slightly unhinged love-hate relationship, has been spectacular for the past two months, calmly turning back just about every shot sent his way.
There’s plenty of room on the bandwagon for casual fans. And the ride leaves Monday.