Tomorrow, October 10th, 2013, marks the first visit of the Colorado Avalanche to the Garden since the same day in 2011 -- a game the Avs won by a score of 1-0. A lockout shortened season last year resulted in no cross-conference matchups, and so two full years have passed since Matty Duchene, Varlamov, and the rest came to the Hub to play a game of hockey puck, and I would hazard a guess that most us didn't really think twice about their absence from the Bruins experience in the interim.
Boston -- for reasons you all well know -- has a bit of an odd relationship with the Avs. It's nothing like the history the Bruins have with the Canadiens, or the Flyers, or even the Rangers. There are no 1930s brawls I can point out to you (obviously) and no evocative pictures of bleeding and bruised players shaking hands I can pin at the top of this post. The team (and heck, even the franchise -- ‘sup, Nordiques!) just hasn't been around long enough to have a playing history of the same tenor as those the Bs share with some other teams in the league..
In fact, the Bruins and Avs have played just 134 games in the course of their history: Boston holds an all-time record of 69-49-15-1 against our friends from Colorado, and has scored an average of 3.93 goals a game against them. They're in a team that, in recent years anyway, we've only see play the Black and Gold once or twice a year. Even in the deep recesses of the history between the two teams, stretching all the way back to 1995, the games were interesting or not, depending on the night, but taken together, fairly unremarkable.
The first game ever played between the Bruins and the newly relocated Colorado Avalanche, for example, was a low-key affair. 18 years ago, on almost this exact date (October 11), the Bruins visited the brand-new Avs at McNichols Arena. Despite efforts by old friends Cam Neely, Adam Oates, the Bs lost, 3-1, largely on the failure of both special teams to live up to expectation. The power play was terrible, and penalty kill not good enough, and overall, the Bruins' first loss that season smacked of dissatisfaction with the team itself, rather than any real feelings of competition or animosity towards the Avs:
"We're not getting the job done," said left wing Kevin Stevens, who has yet to score a goal. "We can't get the puck set up or anything."
And so it would go: the Bruins would lose, not terribly, not in any way that caused panic or overwrought dismay. The Bruins lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Stanley Cup finalist Florida Panthers; the Avalanche, in their first year, rode their successful first season all the way to the Stanley Cup.
While the Bruins didn't do much against the Avs that first year, the overall record stand in favor of the Black and Gold. But the record doesn't matter, that first game doesn't matter, really. There's only one thing that matters when it comes to the Bruins and the Avs, one thing that, despite a really meh overall history between the two teams, will forever connect the two teams, and the two fanbases.
I know I don't need to tell you. There's not a Bruins fan alive I need to tell. I'm going to anyway.
On June 9th, 2001, the Colorado Avalanche gave what the Bruins never could to one of the best soldiers Boston's ever had. After 22 years of being one of the best in the league at what he did, Raymond Jean Bourque raised the Stanley Cup.
No player had waited as long. The trade that sent Bourque to Colorado after 20 years in Boston was extraordinarily bittersweet: The Boston Globe wrote in the days following the trade: "So we join thousands of fans in wishing Ray Bourque well. He deserves better than this year's Bruins. So does Boston." Boston couldn't give Bourque the Cup, not that year, and there was no reason to believe the situation would change in the year after.
As Bob Ryan wrote the morning after the Avalanche defeated the New Jersey Devils for the Cup, "We have a new metaphor to stand for sports justice everywhere: Ray Bourque has now skated with the Stanley Cup held aloft before a full house of adoring fans." It was just, and it forever linked two teams who had very little else in the way of history tying them.
And so, tomorrow night, when the Avs and their collection of young talent - -including this year's number 1 overall draft pick, Nathan MacKinnon -- roll into the Garden, it'll mostly be just another Thursday night game. No heated emotions, particularly, no ancient feuds or playoff animosity carried over. Just one game, again one Western Conference team -- a team that, much like our own, hangs number 77 from the rafters.