Bruins try to avoid ‘Curse of the Stanley Cup loser’

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

History does not favour the 2013 Stanley Cup finalist Boston Bruins this season. Never mind that the Cup winner typically fails to repeat as champion the following season, for the team that loses in the Finals, the year after tends to be disappointing and forgettable.

Over the last thirty years, only two NHL franchises have returned for a second straight finale after losing in the final hour of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The teams – the 1984 Edmonton Oilers and 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins. They had Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby, though. They also had Mark Messier and Evgeni Malkin. The Bruins, they have the tacked on mileage of two gruelling Cup runs in three seasons.

The exceptions: 83/84 Edmonton Oilers and 08/09 Pittsburgh Penguins win championship after losing in the Stanley Cup finals one year prior.

No current NHL team compares to the animal that was the 80’s Edmonton Oilers

The 1984 Edmonton Oilers won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup one year after gracing the history books as victim to a 4th straight championship title by the New York Islanders.

In fairness to the rest of the hockey world, the 80’s Oilers were a unique breed of team that will live in infamy as arguably the best collection of hockey players to ever lace up for one franchise at one time. They were so good, they basically yawned their way to the 83′ Final, losing one single game throughout the first three rounds of the tournament.

There is an incredible quote from Wayne Gretzky’s autobiography entitled “Gretzky: An Autobiography” by Rick Reilly. The quote contains insight into how good the Oilers were, and how they hadn’t even tapped into their full potential when they lost to the Isles in 1983.

Gretzky’s famous quote about walking passed the New York Islanders dressing room after losing the 1983 Stanley Cup finals:

“We both knew we were going to have to walk by the Islanders locker room, and we were dreading it: having to see all the happy faces, the champagne shampoos, the girlfriends’ kisses, the whole scene we wanted so much. But as we walked by, we didn’t see any of that. The girlfriends and the coaches and the staff people were living it up, but the players weren’t. Trottier was icing what looked like a painful knee. Potvin was getting stuff rubbed on his shoulder. Guys were limping around with black eyes and bloody mouths. It looked more like a morgue than a champion’s locker room. And here we were perfectly fine and healthy. That’s why they won and we lost. They took more punishment than we did. They dove into more boards, stuck their faces in front of more pucks, threw their bodies into more pileups. They sacrificed everything they had. And that’s when Kevin said something I’ll never forget. He said, ‘that’s how you win championships.'” – Wayne Gretzky, from Rick Reilly’s book, Gretzky: An Autobiography.

The Oilers had more to give when they lost in 83′, so says Gretz. Not sure you can say the same about this season’s version of the Boston Bruins. Upon losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Final, Bruins’ assistant captain Patrice Bergeron spent portions of the summer in hospital with torn rib cartilage, a broken rib, separated right shoulder, and a punctured left lung that ultimately collapsed. Read more about Bergeron’s injuries in this ESPN article by Joe McDonald.

Firing the coach worked for the 2009 returning Cup finalist Pittsburgh Penguins

2009 Conn Smythe winner, Evgeni Malkin. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

2009 Conn Smythe winner, Evgeni Malkin. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The 09′ Penguins returned to the Cup finals after falling short a year prior to the Detroit Red Wings. The Penguins losing run of 2008 was similar to the failed early attempt of the 83′ Oilers. In 08′ the Pens destroyed everything in their path through the first three rounds, reaching the Finals with a 12-2 record. But the Red Wings they faced when they got there were the closest thing to this generation’s version of the early 80’s Isles. The Wings had been there before – they knew what it took to win – they understood that skill and talent alone was not enough.

Here is how the Penguins differ from the 84′ Oilers. The Pens’ endured controversy the year after their loss to the Wings, whereas, the young Oilers only lost 18 of a possible 80 decisions back in 1984. By mid winter of the 2008-09 season, the defending Eastern Conference champs were not a playoff team in the standings. On February 18, 2009, head coach Michel Therrien was relieved of his duties and replaced by current coach Dan Bylsma. The move saved their season. The rest of the way the Pens stomped the opposition, finishing the campaign with a 23-3-3 record. They entered the 2009 Stanley Cup tournament the hottest team in hockey.

The 09′ Pens were a team of extremes. Don’t expect a similar disastrous first half by the 2013-14 Bruins – they’re too good – too tested and proven – too strong at every position.

The Stanley Cup losers who kept on losing.

Henrik Sedin accepts 2011 Campbell Bowl. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Henrik Sedin accepts 2011 Campbell Bowl. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Since 2006 when the rules drastically changed, eight teams have lost in the Stanley Cup finals. Of those eight, two missed the playoffs the following season. Seven of eight losing finalists failed to advance past the 2nd round one year after losing, the exception being the above mentioned Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Edmonton Oilers have not qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs once since their epic run in 06.’

The losing Sens of 2007 were swept in the 1st round one year later by the Pittsburgh Penguins. By 2009-10 the Sens 07′ core was no longer even good enough to make the post season. They were forced to rebuild and have been lucky enough to do it quickly. They appear to be clawing their way back toward contender status, although, with an entirely different cast than the crew they made the Finals with. Only Chris Philips remains from the 2007 Sens team.

The Penguins lost in 08.’

The 09′ losing Red Wings did as good as any other Cup losing club since 2006. They reached the 2nd round one year later, losing to the San Jose Sharks. The Detroit Red Wings have made the Western Conference semi finals three times since 09,’ however, they’ve failed to advance beyond that point.

The 11′ Flyers were 2nd round bailouts upon losing in the Finals one year prior, in 2010. Their loss, a decisive sweeping at the hands of the Bruins.

The 2012 Canucks had a great season the year after some crazies almost burned down Vancouver in wake of losing to the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Cup finals. In 2011-12 the Vancouver Canucks earned 51 wins, placed 1st in the Western Conference standings, and even won the Presidents trophy. They looked like they might avoid the hangover incurred by so many losing Cup finalists before them. In the end, their great season was for not – they lost in the 1st round against the eventual Cup winning Los Angeles Kings.

The Kings beat the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Stanley Cup finals. The Devils went on to miss the playoffs last season, which was not helped by the departure of Zach Parise, and lengthy injuries suffered to goaltender Martin Brodeur, and LW Ilya Kovalchuk.

What does all this mean for the 2013-14 Boston Bruins?

Zdeno Chara and Sidney Crosby shake hands after 2013 Eastern Conference Final. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Zdeno Chara and Sidney Crosby shake hands after 2013 Eastern Conference Final. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Because no two teams are alike, all these year-after disappointments could be nothing more than coincidence. I mean, one significant element separating the Bruins from the 12′ Devils, 11′ Canucks, etc, is that they are only two years removed from being on the winning side of a Stanley Cup final. In other words, the Boston Bruins are not your typical Cinderella story. Nor, could you say the Bruins suffer from close-but-no-cigar syndrome like the Vancouver Canucks. However, like the Red Wings before them, the Bruins may experience a more subtle decline moving forward if the wear and tear of several Cup runs takes it toll.

Of course, anything can happen, and one possibility sees the Bruins accomplish what was done by the 1984 Edmonton Oilers, and again by the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins. Maybe they return to the Finals and win the Stanley Cup this time around, making it their second title in four years – third final in four tries. If they do, it will be an extraordinary achievement.

One thing the Bruins have going for them, besides the fact they’re a great hockey club, is the addition of “that guy,” Jarome Iginla. Iggy is that guy who has done everything in his illustrious NHL career except win the Stanley Cup. All they need do is make the playoffs this season, then the “win it for Iggy” drive can begin. It’s extra motivation and it has worked before.

NHL legends Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk (both former Bruins) found themselves in a similar situation back in 2001 and 2004, respectively. Their teams won, finally allowing the two stars to raise hockey’s most famous champagne sipper over their heads in celebration.

Here is the thing – Once an NHL team loses in the Stanley Cup finals, the following season is a journey to return, this time winning it all. The pressure is on, big time. Attention to the ‘here and now’ is a little more difficult under those circumstances. Merely making the playoffs or winning the division loses importance when a run to the Finals is fresh in the collective memory of a failed team. Maybe that factors in. Perhaps, that is why most Cup losing teams struggle to make a return trip to The Ship. Or maybe it’s just too rigorous a grind, enduring an extra two months of hockey two years in a row. Because let’s face it, even the Cup winner typically doesn’t return to the Stanley Cup finals the following season.