Laird: Don't look now but the Bruins are poised to take away the Patriots' crown

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By WEEI 93.7

Hello!?? Wake up, New England. 

Boston’s dominant sports team is ready for center stage.

No, I’m not talking about the Patriots, who had as many players opt out of the 2020 season on Tuesday (in about a three-hour span) as the team has Lombardi trophies.

Not talking about the Celtics, who will likely lose Gordon Hayward during the Eastern Conference playoffs when his wife gives birth and could lose Kemba Walker to an exploding knee at any moment.

Certainly not talking about the Red Sox, who have gone from a 2019 closer-by-committee experiment to a 2020 starter-by-committee embarrassment with their ‘TBA rotation’.

The Bruins are back, baby, and they deserve the region’s spotlight based on merit, David Pastrnak’s quarantine escapades aside. 

A 100-point Presidents’ Trophy season was rudely interrupted by the pandemic. The last time we saw the B’s on ice (March 10), Tuukka Rask shut out the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers for his 50th career blanking on his 33rd birthday. The division lead over rival Tampa Bay was eight points. Brad Marchand extended his point streak to 13 games, longest active in the league. Pastrnak was at 48 goals, enough for a share of the Rocket Richard trophy.

It’s a shame a 145-day layoff followed until their next meaningful action, coming up this Sunday in the NHL’s Toronto bubble.

Now, Rask declared to NBC Sports Network on Tuesday that the layoff has changed all pre-Covid expectations. “I’ve been changing diapers for the last four months and I haven’t played hockey at all,” Rask said. “So I don’t think you can consider us the No. 1 seed anymore.”

Perhaps that’s true, but make no mistake the window of opportunity is present for the Bruins to rip away the top billing on the Boston sports marquee from the Pats. The Sox attempted to do so this weekend and fell through said window to their death on the pavement below. 

The B’s already have the younger audience’s attention, anyway, compared to the baseball fan; and their ratings have consistently bettered the C’s, despite a false narrative that the NBA is more compelling to the region.

For reasons beyond understanding, Celtics GM Danny Ainge is consistently praised for little payoff; the Celtics have one title in his tenure that is now going on 17 seasons. And this year, ‘Trader Danny’ must have taken a cue from Belichick and spent the key acquisition period vacationing in Barbados rather than acquiring needed trade deadline depth.

Meanwhile, the B’s have made three trips to the Cup Final in a nine-year span, and Midas Sweeney’s trade moves last year turned to gold with Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle giving the team exactly what they needed for a title run.

Why doesn’t Sweeney get the appreciation he deserves for quickly retooling this franchise into a title contender post-Peter Chiarelli?

Sweeney is the best general manager in town, better even than the GOAT coach who moonlights as a grocery buyer.

Bill Belichick’s Cam Newton pickup was nice, but the rest of his fat and happy roster appears to be contemplating quitting. The news this week is so demoralizing, AFC East tomato cans have actual hopes of making division-winning chili.

It should be the opposite on the ice, where the Bruins had better be the most motivated team in sports to make amends for the biggest fail in franchise history: Game 7’s home loss to St. Louis on June 12, 2019. 

Watching Laila hoist the Cup was touching, but choking away a 2-1 series lead and a home shot at drinking Lord Stanley’s brandy was gut-wrenching.

That defeat is the fifth-worst loss in Boston Sports history for my outsider’s money, behind the low moments of the ‘86 and ‘03 Sox, the ‘07 Patriots (‘08 Super Bowl) and the ‘87 Celtics.

Now, it’s up to Sweeney and Cassidy to match Belichick’s most impressive career achievement: righting his most egregious mistake (benching Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles) by bouncing back to win the very next year.

It’s up to Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron to be the Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski we saw beating the Rams in SB 53, rising to the top when their team needed them the most. 

It’s up to Pastrnak to get his head out of his ass and play inspired hockey.

And it’s up to Marchand to make amends for the infamous Game 7 line change, which is a Buckner-esque blunder.

The Boston sports throne is empty as the puck drops this weekend, and the Bruins have every chance to wear the crown. If they fail in that regard, it appears the incumbent King will keep rule by virtue of canceling the election rather than winning the popular vote.