The Boston Bruins are about to begin the most anticipated Stanley Cup Playoff run in franchise history.
This isn't just another postseason journey. The Stanley Cup isn't the only thing at stake for this team.
What started as a possible "Last Dance" season has turned into much, much more than that.
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It's an opportunity to step into the pantheon of greatness and become one of the best teams not only in the history of professional hockey or Boston history, but in the history of North American team sports.
The 2022-23 regular season was one of the ages in Boston. The Bruins finished 65-12-5, setting the NHL records for the most points and the most wins in a single season. They did it in the salary cap era with 32 teams in the league.
"It’s something we’re proud of," Bruins forward Brad Marchand told reporters when asked about setting the points record with a win over the Capitals on April 11. "We did set our sights on it the last little while where we kinda locked up first and we needed something to play for the remainder of the regular season. It’s a goal we wanted to accomplish.
"It’s not our be-all or end-all. It’s an incredible accomplishment. We're very proud of this group and what we've been able to accomplish with the top points and most wins ever. It's an incredible accomplishment with the history of this league and how many good teams there have been. It's special, and it's something down the road we'll be more proud of.
"We’re happy about it right now, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a regular-season record. Playoffs start and everything starts all over again. There’s going to be 16 teams that have the same goal in mind. What we’ve accomplished so far has no bearing on that."
This roster is one of the most impressive in recent memory. It includes a 61-goal scorer, five players with 20-plus goals scored, two defensemen who tallied 50-plus points, the best goalie tandem in the league, the likely Selke Trophy winner, the likely Vezina Trophy winner, the likely Jack Adams Award winner as head coach. The Bruins also ranked No. 2 in goals scored, No. 1 (by far) in goals allowed, No. 12 on the power play and No. 1 on the penalty kill. Boston's staggering plus-127 goal differential is 20 goals better than the next-best team this century.
This squad is so deep that former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall and former 30-goal scorer Tyler Bertuzzi are on the third line.
The debate over the best team in NHL history includes several familiar names. The 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens, who held the points record for a season before the Bruins broke it last week, are often regarded as the greatest team ever. The 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers, the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings are other popular submissions in this conversation.
The Bruins would join this group with a Stanley Cup title this season.
Make no mistake: The pressure facing the Bruins over the next few weeks and months will be immense. It's the kind of pressure that can negatively impact even the best teams and some of the greatest players ever.
Look at the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors. Led by league MVP Stephen Curry, they set the NBA record with 73 regular season wins and took a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals before losing in Game 7 to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 2007 New England Patriots, led by league MVP Tom Brady, put together the only 16-0 regular season in pro football history and were one defensive stop from being the undisputed best NFL team ever, but they couldn't get it done late in Super Bowl XLII and lost to the New York Giants.
No one has forgotten about those Warriors and Patriots teams, but their inability to close out historic regular seasons with a championship changes how we view them. They are a tier below the teams that actually finished the job.
The Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy in sports to win. Players must battle through four grueling rounds that leave them physically and mentally exhausted come June. Injuries are often a factor, and luck also plays a huge part. The best team doesn't always win -- just look at the last eight Presidents' Trophy winners.
Success is far from guaranteed for the Bruins.
But if they do hoist the Stanley Cup in a few months, this Bruins squad will have a very special place in the history of sports and this city. Hockey immortality is on the line, and it'll be a lot of fun watching the Bruins chase it.