- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Now that the New England Patriots' season is over, it's time to focus your attention on the Boston Bruins.
That's because what the Patriots failed to do this season, the Bruins have a realistic chance to accomplish -- win a championship. The Bruins could indeed bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston for the first time since 1972. (Ray Bourque bringing it here as a member of the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 doesn't count.)
Even before the Patriots won three Super Bowl titles, this town was always a hockey hotbed. It never went completely dormant, and if the Bruins were able to win a Stanley Cup, the celebration would rival that of the Patriots.
After Monday's 7-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden, the Bruins are atop the Northeast Division and are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins did have trouble in the first half of the season with inconsistent play, but they have turned it around of late.
The way the Bruins are playing now is the way they played two seasons ago when they finished as the top team in the conference with 116 points.
This Bruins team has the right chemistry. It has strong goaltending from Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. Offensively, Boston has the firepower. Defensively, the Bruins are solid. Recently, captain Zdeno Chara was asked whether the team needed to do anything prior to the NHL trade deadline Feb. 28, and he said he didn't believe so.
It's a safe bet, however, that general manager Peter Chiarelli is trying to figure out ways to improve the team for a run at the Cup.
Even though there are 37 regular-season games remaining, the Bruins are starting to see some positive signs that could translate to the postseason.
"I see confidence growing and momentum carrying over," Thomas said. "It's snowballing in a good direction, and that's a good thing."
"It's early and it's a tough game," Thomas added. "You've got to keep doing the things that gave you success. The way we've played over the past couple of weeks is the style we want to play with."
That style consists of playing very good defense and explosive offense at the same time. Earlier this season, the Bruins needed to sacrifice one aspect of their game to get the most out of the other. That's not the case now, and that consistency is the key to the team's success for the rest of the season.
"That's something we've talked about for a long time, and we're starting to see it," Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron said. "We want to stay consistent and we want to keep going. We can't stop and we have to play it a game at a time. Our intensity, and the way we play for 60 minutes, has been good."
Bill Belichick, Terry Francona and Doc Rivers have led their respective teams to a championship in Boston. Bruins coach Claude Julien would like to join that group.
"Those guys are champions, and somehow you want to get into that group and be a part of it," Julien said at the start of this season. "The only way we can do that is by winning a Stanley Cup."
The Bruins haven't won a Cup since 1972. They've been to the finals twice (1988 and 1990) and lost both times to the Edmonton Oilers. Last season ended in horrific fashion after the Bruins surrendered a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals and ultimately lost to the Philadelphia Flyers.
It certainly can't compare to the 86-year drought Red Sox fans agonized through, but 37 years is long enough for the Black and Gold. A Stanley Cup victory would return the Bruins to prominence.
"It would mean a lot," Julien said earlier this season. "The city has been dying to see the Bruins win a Stanley Cup again. It's been a long time, so it would be nice to be able to be the group to do it, especially when you look at the other [professional teams in Boston]."
Still, the Bruins' players are taking the "one game at a time" approach and don't want to look too far ahead.
"It doesn't really matter who we are playing," Shawn Thornton said. "We're more focused on this dressing room and getting things done in here, and nine of 10 times that translates to better results on the ice."
Football season is over in New England. It might be tough for fans to accept that, but there's no better way to drown your sorrows than to focus on the Bruins. It's time to put away your No. 12 jersey and start sporting a No. 30 sweater because the Bruins have a shot at doing something the Patriots couldn't.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
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