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Undoubtedly the most dominant city in professional sports over the past decade, the streets of Boston have hosted parades celebrating three Super Bowls, two World Series’, and an NBA championship since 2001.
But when Boston Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara hoisted the Stanley Cup this past June, Beantown erupted like never before. An estimated 1.7 million fans took to the streets for a celebration that rocked the city-center until the wee morning hours. The celebration was not only larger than any Super Bowl parade, it also dwarfed the 2004 Red Sox World Series parade, making it literally the largest celebration in the history of America’s most historic city. Not bad for a "fourth sport".
With the dust barely settled on the franchise’s first championship in nearly forty years, we look back upon the greatest players to don the black and gold:
LW, Johnny Bucyk-
(1957-78) The most prolific goal-scorer in Bruins history, Bucyk finished his career having bulged the twine a whopping 545 times in a Boston uniform. Despite his dominating stature on the left wing and penchant for delivering bone-crushing hip-checks, Bucyk was twice awarded the Lady Bying Trophy for sportsmanship. He was a 20 goal scorer on sixteen occasions and twice hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup. The epitome of loyalty and leadership, Bucyk remains an integral part of the Bruins managerial staff, marking fifty consecutive years as a Boston Bruin in 2008.
C, Phil Esposito-
(1967-75) If Bucyk was the Bruins’ most prolific scorer, Esposito was clearly the most dominant. Averaging an unprecedented 1.63 points per game during his time with the B’s, Esposito was the first player to ever reach 100 points in a single season, shattering the mark with 126 in 1969. In 1971, he rewrote the history books once again, scoring 76 goals and obliterating Bobby Hull’s record of 58. In a town heavily influenced by Catholic tradition, bumper stickers reading "Jesus saves...Espo scores on the rebound!" quickly gained in popularity. Master of the "garbage goal" and never a gifted skater, Esposito simply relied on his drive and willingness to go the extra mile to make him undeniably one of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of hockey skates.
RW, Cam Neely-
(1986-96) Simply put, the world was robbed of Cam Neely’s talent. He hit like a MAC truck, fought (and beat) some of the best scrappers to ever appear in the NHL, and was arguably one of the most gifted goal scorers to ever play the game. After suffering a knee injury during the 1991 Prince of Wales Conference Finals, Neely would never again play more than 49 games in a single season. In the 1993-94 season however, "Bam-Bam-Cam" lit the lamp an incredible 50 times, despite appearing in only 44 games. Only Wayne Gretzky has ever reached 50 faster. Bruins fans can at least take solace in the fact that Cam’s name will finally appear on the Stanley Cup this summer, as he helped guide the Bruins to the promised land in his current role as team president, a position he has held since 2010.
D, Bobby Orr-
(1966-76) In the debate over the greatest hockey player to ever live, there is Wayne Gretzky and there is Bobby Orr. He took the league by storm in 1966-67, capturing the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and shattering the rookie scoring record as an unproven 19 year-old. In ten seasons with the Bruins, Orr won eight Norris Trophies as the league’s top defenseman, three consecutive Hart trophies as league MVP, two Stanley Cups, and two Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP. Perhaps his most impressive achievement, however, is the fact that he was the first and only defenseman to ever lead the league in scoring, which he did twice during his six consecutive 100+ point seasons between 1969 and 1975. In 1979, at the age of 31, Orr became the youngest player ever inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame. At the risk of crossing into hyperbole, it is literally impossible to overstate Bobby Orr’s dominance during his illustrious NHL career.
D, Ray Bourque-
(1979-00) Frankly, Boston has one too many great defensemen to compile an all-time roster. There is no doubt Eddie Shore belongs on this list, but it is simply impossible to leave the highest scoring defenseman of all-time unrecognized. For 21 seasons, Bourque patrolled the Boston blue line with skill, grace, and dignity. To this day, Bourque holds the record for career goals, assists, and points by an NHL defenseman. Bourque had a longer tenure as team captain than any NHL player who came before him, a record surpassed by only Steve Yzerman following Bourque’s departure from Boston in 2000. Despite numerous opportunities to become the highest-paid blue-liner in history, Bourque famously shunned contract negotiations and quietly agreed to several low-ball offers so that he could remain a Bruin. This controversial stance may have earned him the respect and adulation of fans, but also enraged NHL Players Association officials. When Bourque finally raised the Stanley Cup as a member of the Colorado Avalanche in his final NHL game in June of 2001, celebrations on the streets of Boston were estimated to be at least double the size of those in Denver.
G, Tim Thomas-
(2005-Present) The most difficult choice thus far in the Original Six Roster Series, it simply came down to dominance. Gerry Cheevers is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and all-time fan favorite. His charisma and knack for big game heroics were unparalleled...until now. Coming into 2010/11, Tim Thomas was already a Vezina winner with an inspiring back story, having toiled away in the minors well into his thirties before becoming a bonafide NHL goaltender. But by the time the dust had settled on the 2011 post-season, Thomas had redefined goaltending success.
He broke Dominik Hasek’s record for highest save percentage in a season, literally turning away shots at a better rate than anyone in history. He finished atop the league in goals against average, and was awarded the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. In the post-season, Thomas continued his dominance, stopping more pucks than any goaltender in playoff history en route to winning the Conn Smythe as the post-season’s most valuable player. In the finals, he allowed the fewest goals ever in a seven game series, posting two shut-outs, including a stunning Game 7 victory en route to capture hockey’s ultimate prize. To put it bluntly, no goaltender has ever been better than Tim Thomas was in 2011, which is why he stands alone as the Bruins’ all-time greatest netminder.
Coach, Art Ross-
As a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1945, Art Ross left his stamp on the game with numerous contributions which still resonate to this day. He helped develop the modern hockey puck, as well as the modern net. He twice won the Stanley Cup as a player and was the first coach in Bruins history, winning a total of 368 games, including a Stanley Cup in 1939. He went on to become the architect of two more championship teams in his role as general manager, executing some of the most significant signings in Bruins history (Eddie Shore, Tiny Thompson, Cooney Weiland, etc...) following the collapse of the Western Hockey League. Today, the Art Ross Trophy is presented annually to the NHL’s leading scorer.
Honorable Mention- Eddie Shore, Gerry Cheevers, Aubrey Clapper, Milt Schmidt, Zdeno Chara, Wayne Cashman, Andy Moog, Coach Don Cherry