Anderson: Opening night immediately shows what Bruins are up against in battle to stay relevant

Ty Anderson
October 05, 2017 - 2:34 pm

Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

The Bruins will finally open their season in Boston on Thursday night, and will do it against P.K. Subban and the defending West-winning Predators, too. But barring a 10-goal outburst from a rookie or a 50-save shutout from Tuukka Rask, the B’s will find themselves buried in Boston on Friday morning, and through no real fault of their own.

On Thursday alone, the Bruins will find themselves going against Game 1 of the ALDS series between the Red Sox and Astros, with a 4:05 p.m. first pitch, and then the Patriots and their Thursday Night Football head-to-head with the Buccaneers, which is scheduled for 8 p.m. The Red Sox are allegedly unlikable and this Patriots defense would probably give up 40 to the 2003 Buccaneers if they played them today, sure, but these teams will always move the needle more than a regular season NHL game.

“Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy smiled, knowing today’s slate of games. “We gotta do our part. That’s the way I look at it. I’m just focused on us.”

All smiles aside, this is really just the start of what will be a year-long battle for the Bruins to remain relevant in the great macrocosm of Boston sports. And in a battle that’ll only get more difficult to keep pace with once the reloaded Celtics begin their season.

The Bruins seem well aware of this, too.

For the first time in what’s felt like actual years, the decrease in sports show roundtables and highlight reels featuring hockey has been met with an increase in television and subway advertisements for tickets being sold from the team’s box office. Two years ago you were essentially relegated to StubHub and Ace Ticket gougery, as the Bruins boasted a legitimately sold out building (at least from their box office) every night. They’re even bringing back the Student Night ticket deals they ran back almost a decade ago.

It was around around that time that Boston morphed from a sports town to a winning town. A sudden overflow of success from the Red Sox and Patriots pushed Boston from a city of lovable losers hoping for just one championship in their lifetime -- my great-grandfather, the biggest Sox fan I’ve ever known, lived his entire life never having seen his team win a World Series -- to a town of frontrunning, obnoxious blowhards that found ways to legitimately bitch if the football team finished 12-4 instead of 14-2. Not only did first place become expected across the board, but a failure to meet every single point and check every box of a downright spoiled fan’s interest would be enough to essentially put you in last place when it came to their interest or support. The 2017 Red Sox can speak to this as they try to figure out why half of their own city continues to actively root against them, even after capturing back-to-back division titles for the first time in team history.

The Bruins lived this firsthand, too, as some lean and downright dreadful years from 2005 to 2007 turned every below-face-value TD Garden balcony seat into an extra legroom seat or when the loudest cheers in a game would come when they showed Sox highlights on the jumbotron, and they’re apparently living it now as the fourth-most popular team in town.

But the Bruins are not too far off from where they were that decade ago. For all the right reasons, too. 

Much to the chagrin of many, the Bruins remained committed to a ‘slow build’ process. It’s finally beginning to pay off for them, with two first-year pros expected to skate in their top-six this season in Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk, and with the youthful energy and electrifying scoring talent of David Pastrnak signed to a long-term deal and most importantly not traded at the end of his entry-level contract like so many young stars that came before him. The young excitement doesn’t end there, either, with the 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy and second-year pro Brandon Carlo making up the right side of the team’s top-four defense corps, and already showing signs that they can significant parts of the bridge from Zdeno Chara to the future. This has proven to certainly beat the alternative of getting waxed as the East's worst playoff team in both 2015 and 2016, and alleviates some of the sting that should come when revisiting last year's first-round playoff exit to the Senators. 

“Communication has always been there, and that’s key,” Bruins team president Cam Neely said. “Everybody understanding what the process may be and what you have to go through to get to where you want to be. We talk a lot about everybody pulling on the same rope. It’s really, I think it’s been as strong as it’s been in a long time. I think everybody, especially up here, understands what we are looking to do, what we are trying to accomplish, and how we need to do that to get to where we want to be.”

Crediting the B’s staff for properly developing their younger talents throughout that process, Neely wouldn’t deny the possibility of this team making a jump similar to one that the team made from 2007-08 to 2008-09, when the playoff experience from the season before and newfound energy helped catapult a wave of new B’s stars from potentially promising up-and-comers to legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

“I think we can really build off what we did last year,” Neely admitted. “I saw a little different style of play, and the league has gotten faster. Our coaching staff has helped us become faster with the way we practice and how [Bruce Cassidy] wants us to play.”

With an established core now colliding with a new youthful core, the Bruins have confirmed that they’ve spent this time working on far more than a shiny new practice facility.

Now comes working on getting your attention, and with only one known way to do that in Boston -- by winning.

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