Reporting David Elfin
If not quite as much a victory for the aged by the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, the Boston Bruins’ upset of the Vancouver Canucks to win the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night was still another testament to veteran leadership and resilience that can offer the Washington Capitals some confidence in staying the course despite four years of playoff flops.
A year after they became just the third team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 lead and lose a playoff series, the Bruins became the first team to win three Game 7’s en route to capturing Lord Stanley’s silver chalice. And they did so with the same coach and 14 of the players who had collapsed so completely against Philadelphia the previous spring.
Boston goalie Tim Thomas, who won the Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP after allowing just six goals in the seven-game finals that ended with Wednesday’s 4-0 road triumph, is 37. Right wing Mark Recchi, who scored three goals and seven points in the finals, retired after the game which came four months after he turned 43. Captain Zdeno Chara is 34. Five of the other 17 Bruins to skate in the finals have also celebrated 30th birthdays.
Then there’s coach Claude Julien, who was fired by Montreal and New Jersey in consecutive seasons despite posting winning records but who wasn’t axed by owner Jeremy Jacobs and general manager Peter Chiarelli after the el foldo against the Flyers that followed a second-round defeat against heavy underdog Carolina complete with a Game 7 loss on home ice in 2009, Julien’s first season in Boston.
Sound familiar, Caps fans? With his bald head and less than sculpted physique, Julien even looks more than a little like Washington coach Bruce Boudreau.
Six Caps who skated in last month’s embarrassing second-round sweep by Tampa Bay are in their 30s, but Jason Arnott, Scott Hannan and Marco Sturm all arrived during the season and aren’t truly part of Washington’s core unlike Thomas, Chara, Recchi, Andrew Ference and Michael Ryder.
So while the Caps could certainly use some of the intimidation that Chara and Ference provide on the blue line as well as Thomas’ cool under fire in the net, maybe owner Ted Leonsis, general manager George McPhee and Boudreau would be smart not to tinker too much this summer.
Trade mercurial left wing Alexander Semin and/or defenseman Mike Green, a Boudreau favorite but another chronic postseason underachiever, for someone with that Chara/Ference-like presence and retain Arnott and Hannan for their wisdom and leadership, but give superstar Alex Ovechkin, sidekick Nicklas Backstrom, gritty Brooks Laich the rising defensive tandem of Karl Alzner and John Carlson and goalie Michael Neuvirth – all of whom are 27 or under – another chance next year to finally come through when it counts.
That kind of steady as she goes mentality just paid off in Boston’s first Cup in 39 years.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.