By JIMMY GOLEN. AP Sports Writer
BOSTON (AP) _ This was the year the Stanley Cup finally got a rolling rally of its own.
After being left out of what was arguably the most successful decade in the history of Boston sports, the Bruins joined the party in 2011 by winning the NHL championship– their first since 1972. Just like the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics did before them, the Bruins rolled through Boston on Duck Boats to show off their new trophy.
“This is the day you really look forward to,” said goaltender Tim Thomas, who won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP.
The Bruins began the season trying to erase the memories of their unprecedented collapse in the 2010 postseason, and there would be no repeat. They won three Game 7s this year, including a 4-0 victory over the Canucks in Vancouver to clinch their sixth NHL championship.
That set off a hockey party the town hadn’t seen since the days of Bobby Orr.
“It’s great for us to fit in with the other teams in the city,” coach Claude Julien said as the team prepared to defend its NHL title. “When you drive around town, you see stickers on bumpers saying `Stanley Cup Champions.’ There’s a lot of people that root for you.”
Except for the Bruins, it was an off-year for the region’s professional teams.
The Boston Celtics lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Miami Heat, then spent a long off-season waiting for the NBA lockout to end. The Christmas Day opener of a 66-game season gives Boston a chance to sprint for another title before age catches up with the Big 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
The New England Patriots lost in the first round of the playoffs at home for the second consecutive year. This time it was the rival New York Jets knocking them out of the postseason, 28-21. At least the NFL lockout wasn’t as disruptive:
The teams opened camps late –reaching an agreement five days after the death on July 20 of Myra Kraft, wife of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was widely credited with facilitating the deal. But the regular season survived, and the Patriots clinched their ninth AFC East title in 11 years.
Even the New England Revolution struggled, missing the playoffs for the second straight year and firing coach Steve Nicol.
And then there were the Red Sox.
After taking a nine-game lead in the AL wild-card race into early September, the Red Sox went 7-20 in the month and lost on the last night– moments before Tampa Bay won its finale– to finish one game behind the Rays.
Terry Francona, the most successful manager in franchise history, walked away from the team, then fended off reports that he had been distracted by his marital problems or the medication he took to manage the pain in his knees. A wrapup in The Boston Globe also described a dysfunctional team in which starting pitchers, led by Josh Beckett, would sit in the clubhouse eating fried chicken and drinking beer during games instead of cheering on their teammates from the bench.
General manager Theo Epstein also left after the season, for the Chicago Cubs to see if he can revive another long-suffering franchise. The Red Sox made the safe move by promoting Ben Cherington, Epstein’s top assistant, to replace him.
But at manager they rejected more conservative choices and brought in Bobby Valentine, the former New York Mets and Texas Rangers skipper who had his biggest success in Japan.
Now the team will wait to see if Valentine’s powerful personality will help him control the clubhouse or just add another ego to be wrangled.
There were some highlights off the ice, though.
- Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai won the Boston Marathon in 2 hours, 3 minutes, 2 seconds in April _ the fastest anyone has ever run the distance. Second-place finisher Moses Mosop also beat Haile Gebreselassie’s world record of 2:03:59, and American Ryan Hall was fourth in 2:04:58 _ the fastest time ever for a U.S. runner _ but the course is ineligible for records because it finishes downhill from the start.
- Allen broke Reggie Miller’s NBA record for 3-pointers, finishing the season with 2,612 in his career.
- Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury finished second in the AL MVP voting one year after playing in just 18 games because of injuries. Ellsbury batted .321 with 32 homers and 105 RBIs _ all career highs _ along with 39 stolen bases.
- Harvard won a share of its first-ever Ivy League basketball championship, tying Princeton for the title but losing to the Tigers in a one-game tiebreaker for the right to the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
Still, 2011 was the year of the Bruins.
The hockey team spent the summer celebrating its title and started the season slowly, sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference in October. Then the Bruins went on a run of 10 straight wins– losing just once in the whole month of November –and a streak of 19 wins in 22 games heading into the holidays.
“You want to kind of keep the party going. But there is a time that you need to come back and start focusing on next season,” forward Milan Lucic said before the opener. “Obviously, that point is now.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)