New England ruled the first decade of the 21st century. Three Patriots Super Bowl championships, the Red Sox won two World Series titles and the Celtics won their 17th championship in 2008. With the exception of the Bruins’ 2011 run to the Stanley Cup, the final game or series since 2010 has been a source of disappointment for fans in New England and the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals is the latest addition.
It isn’t just that the Bruins fell, 3-2, in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s how they lost. Leading 2-1 for much of the latter half of the third period, all signs pointed towards a Game 7 in Chicago and another chapter to what had already been a phenomenal final series. But all of that came crashing down in just 17 seconds as Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland scored two goals to take a 3-2 lead with 58.3 seconds to play. The Blackhawks wanted to write their own ending and decided another chapter wasn’t necessary, leaving fans wanting more…again.
It all began with the 2010 NBA Finals, a rematch of the ’08 series that saw the Celtics and Lakers renew their rivalry and the Celtics return to the summit. 2009 had ended early thanks to a Kevin Garnett injury, but 2010 saw the Celtics’ Big Three get back to the Finals only to lose when a Kendrick Perkins injury in Game 6 opened the paint up and the Lakers overcame a late deficit to take the series. A dagger three-pointer by Ron Artest (now, Metta World Peace) sealed the fate of Boston fans and got the decade off to a bit of a rough start.
What made that loss such a stomach punch wasn’t that they lost — the Celtics and Lakers traded championships in the ’80s — it was that it felt like the end of the Big Three era as contenders. Garnett’s injuries lingered, Rajon Rondo pouted, and the Heat’s version of the Big Three became too much of an immovable force. They took the Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012, but the 2010 Finals was when everything began to end.
2011 offered respite in the form of the rebuilt Bruins run to the Stanley Cup. A likable group of guys led by a brick wall of a goalkeeper slugged their way to a championship with the city of Boston along for the ride. The Bruins took back the city for eight weeks and have been given new life in the years since. After the 2010 NBA Finals, Boston needed this win.
The 2011-12 sports calender was full of more disappointments, however. The New England Patriots returned the Super Bowl but were once again taken down by the more physical New York Giants. That game left many a Patriots fan paralyzed, unable to understand how their team had fallen — again –in the game they had been so perfect in just 11 years earlier.
It was beginning to feel as though things would never get back to where they were at their height in the mid-’00s. The Red Sox were spiraling out of control as a late collapse in the 2011 season cost two-time World Series winning manager Terry Francona his job. The Celtics were getting old. The Patriots were suddenly snake-bitten in the biggest game. It felt as though a year like 1986 — the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics all made their respective championships — was within reach, but with one Eli Manning throw, one bucket of fried chicken, and some ailing knees those thoughts went out the window.
Then came the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals.
To say the Bruins are the city’s most likable team is an understatement. After the Boston Marathon tragedy, the city latched onto the Bruins and produced one of the most chilling moments of my lifetime when fans belted out the national anthem. President Barack Obama pledged that the city would host another championship parade down that route on Boylston Street and the Bruins were less than 62 minutes away from making that a reality.
The first goal was a shock. The second goal was a gut punch. I sat, paralyzed, on my couch for 30 minutes trying to process what had happened in just 17 seconds. This wasn’t fair. We needed this. We deserved this.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to end.
As fans, we have been spoiled by success. We expect nothing less now because, well, we’ve already seen these teams prove they can do it. Getting to the finals isn’t enough. We’re no longer “just happy to be there.” We demand parades. We demand that our city streets be shut down. We demand targets on our back.
As fans we always used to say “wait till next year.” But now that we’ve been to the top of the mountain there is no more “next year.” For all four of the major sports franchises, next year has to this year…and next year.