For Neely, who took over as Bruins president four years ago, it is new to talk hockey this late into the summer.
“It’s unchartered territory for us, but we’re all obviously very excited,” Neely said.
As happy as the Bruins are to be taking on the Vancouver Canucks for a trophy (a big one, Mr. Jeremy Jacobs), they are far from content with just a finals appearance.
“I’d like to believe everybody feels we haven’t accomplished anything yet, even though it’s been a fantastic ride so far,” said Neely. “Ultimately you want to win the last game of the year and that’s our goal.”
“We’ve all have learned and grown from what’s happened in the past,” Neely said of the Bruins recent bumps in the road during the playoffs. “Myself, Peter (Chiarelli), Claude (Julien), the management group. I think we’ve all learned and grown after what’s happened the past four years.”
“History is great if you learn from it, and I think we’re learning from it,” he said. “It’s been great in that regards, but we know it’s four more games to try to get here.”
Although not bringing home a cup would be a disappointment to a team that has gone four decades without one, they have taken many steps in the right direction.
“Just seeing the guys mature over the course of the playoffs, it’s been great to see that,” said Neely. “Even going back to the first two games; losing to Montreal, coming back and ending up in a Game 7 in that series. I think you’ve watched the team mature over the course of the playoffs and I think a lot of it has to do, especially for most of the guys, it what’s happened in the playoffs previous years for us. It’s nice to see.”
Neely was also pleased with how Tim Thomas reacted after a comment he made in the Eastern Conference Finals was spun to sound like a Joe Namath-like guarantee. After the Bruins 5-3 loss in Game 4, the Bruins netminder was asked if he knew how the series would turn out. Thomas smiled and simply replied, “Yeah, we’re going to win.”
It was as if lightning had struck for the Tampa media, who spun the quote into as much bulletin board material as Mark Recchi playing doctor during the Montreal series.
“I do think it was blown out of proportion based on listening to the question and how it was answered,” said Neely. “I think once it became this bigger story, Tim looked at it like ‘OK, I’m going to back this up,’ and he did. We all know how competitive he is, and he’s shown it from the playoffs.”
“I just think he is so determined,” Neely said of the Vezina finalist. “He hasn’t been in the league a long time but he’s been around the league a long time. He’s 37 years old and I think a lot of our guys realize whether first or fifteenth year in the league, these opportunities don’t come around that often. You have to embrace it, you can’t just be happy to be in the finals. You have to embrace it and look at the opportunity to become a Stanley Cup champion.”
That opportunity begins Wednesday night.