July 18, 2011

From NEHJ: The Bruins road to the Stanley Cup

By Jesse Connolly

OCTOBER (6-2-0) 

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas shakes hands with Habs d-man P.K. Subban after Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals. (Getty)

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas shakes hands with Habs d-man P.K. Subban after Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals. (Getty)

After dropping their season opener in Prague, the Bruins won six of their next seven games in the remainder of the first month of the season, propelled by out-of-this-world goaltending from Tim Thomas. Thomas went a perfect 6-0-0 in October, a run that included back-to-back victories over Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. At month’s end, the veteran goaltender allowed just three goals, had three shutouts and was named the NHL’s second star of the month.

Highlight game: In the Bruins’ 2-0 victory over the Maple Leafs on Oct. 28, Tyler Seguin tallied against the team from which Boston acquired his draft rights. After his goal, Phil Kessel — sent to Toronto for the pick used on Seguin — was resoundingly jeered with a “Thank you, Kessel!” chant from the Garden faithful.

NOVEMBER (6-6-2)

The Bruins had an up-and-down month in November, perpetuated by struggles in their own building as they went just 2-3-2 on home ice, a funk that included a lackluster 3-0 loss in the team’s annual post-Thanksgiving matinee to the Hurricanes. The month also saw Boston lose center David Krejci for seven games due to a concussion, the trading of defenseman Matt Hunwick to the Avalanche and a hat trick by Milan Lucic against the Panthers.

Highlight game: Trailing 4-2 in Pittsburgh after two periods on Nov. 10, the Bruins busted out in the third with five goals — including the game-winner by Shawn Thornton — as they came roaring back for a thrilling 7-4 win.

DECEMBER (8-3-2)

The Bruins racked up 18 points in the final calendar month of 2010, a stretch that included five games that ended in either overtime or the shootout. Marc Savard returned to action Dec. 2 in an 8-1 win over the Lightning at the Garden, as he appeared in his first game since suffering from a recurrence of post-concussion syndrome. On Dec. 14, longtime Bruin Marco Sturm was traded to the Kings for future considerations.

Highlight game: After a disheartening 3-0 loss to the Ducks, the Bruins made sure they went into the Christmas break on a high note with an emotional 4-1 win over the Thrashers on Dec. 23. A full-fledged brawl broke out in the third, as the two teams combined for 120 penalty minutes in what proved a real bonding experience for the Black and Gold.

JANUARY (8-4-2)

Boston scored six or more goals on five occasions in January, a month that featured the first hat tricks of both Zdeno Chara’s and Patrice Bergeron’s NHL careers. Bergeron was later named First Star of the Month by the NHL. All that joy, however, was offset by the loss of Marc Savard, who suffered another concussion Jan. 22 in Colorado and was eventually ruled out for the remainder of the season.

Highlight game: The Flyers and Bruins produced a thrilling back-and-forth affair Jan. 13 at the Garden in a game that featured a combined seven goals in the final period. Steve Kampfer buried the winning goal with just 1:14 left in regulation as the Bruins prevailed, 7-5.

FEBRUARY (8-4-0)

The Bruins began February by bouncing from one end of the spectrum to the other, following up every emotional win with a flat-out dud. GM Peter Chiarelli finally shook things up and acquired the pieces to a championship puzzle he had long desired. Blake Wheeler, Mark Stuart, prospect Joe Colborne and multiple draft picks were shipped out as the Bruins reeled in Chris Kelly from Ottawa, Rich Peverley from Atlanta and Tomas Kaberle from Toronto.

Highlight game: In what will go down as one of the most riveting regular-season games in team history, the Bruins and Canadiens combined for 14 goals and 182 penalty minutes in a bloodbath Feb. 9, one that featured a bevy of brawls including a fight between goalies Tim Thomas and Carey Price. The Bruins won, 8-6.

MARCH (7-4-4)

After finishing up a 6-0-0 road trip, the Bruins embarked on a skid that saw them lose six of the next seven games. Luckily David Krejci got hot down the stretch and Nathan Horton rediscovered his scoring touch, as the two forwards combined for 25 points in the month to help keep the Bruins afloat atop the Northeast Division. The biggest story in the month was Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty at the Bell Centre, a crushing check into a stanchion that forced the Canadiens winger to miss the rest of the season.

Highlight game: Heading into their March 24 clash with the Canadiens, the Bruins needed a win for a major confidence boost in the event the two historic rivals met up in the first round of the playoffs. The Bruins annihilated the Canadiens, 7-0, chasing Carey Price in the third period as the first line combined for eight points in the victory.

APRIL (3-2-0)

With a 3-2 win over old friends Blake Wheeler, Mark Stuart and the Thrashers on April 2, the Bruins officially clinched the Northeast Division. Coach Claude Julien wasn’t overly thrilled by his team’s lack of effort over the final week of the season, but he made sure to get some of his key cogs rest before the grueling grind of the playoffs got under way. Prior to their win over Atlanta, Brad Marchand was named winner of the 7th Player Award.

Highlight game: While the Bruins spot in the top three in Eastern Conference already was secure, their 3-1 win over the Senators in the last home game of the season April 9 was mighty meaningful. With 29 stops on 30 shots, Tim Thomas’ performance in his final start of the campaign guaranteed he’d finish with the best save percentage (.938) in a single season in NHL history, besting his idol Dominik Hasek’s previous record of .937.


Series: Bruins defeated Canadiens, 4 games to 3

As if dropping the first two games of the series wasn’t bad enough, the Bruins had to head to Montreal — a place they’ve struggled for nearly a century — in an 0-2 hole. The Bruins managed to steal both games at the Bell Centre to tie the series. After winning Game 5 back home, only to miss a chance to clinch back in Montreal in Game 6, the longtime rivals went to overtime in Game 7. Nathan Horton beat Carey Price with a shot from the top of the circle at the 5:43 mark of the extra session, pushing the Bruins into the second round.

Highlight game: Although Game 7 decided the series, the Bruins’ 2-1 win in Game 5 at the Garden featured many magical moments. Habs captain Brian Gionta thought he had the game-winner on his stick on a 2-on-1 in double overtime, only for Tim Thomas to spring from right to left, flash his pad and make a jaw-dropping stop. Just a few minutes later, Horton collected a rebound in front and buried it to give the Bruins a 3-2 series lead.


Series: Bruins swept Flyers, 4-0

With all the talk heading into the series revolving around their historic collapse against Philadelphia last spring, the Bruins seemed to be up against it both mentally and physically, as the Flyers possessed a tough, talented squad. So much for that. After two wins on the road, including a 7-3 victory in the opener, the Bruins routed Philly, 5-1, in each of the two games at the Garden to earn the sweep and avenge last year’s meltdown.

Highlight game: Were it not for the heroics of Tim Thomas in Game 2, the complexion of this series may have been vastly different. The Bruins had no business taking a 2-0 lead as the Flyers controlled the second game in Philadelphia. Unfortunately for Philly, Thomas stood on his head and made a season-high 52 saves, keeping the game tied before David Krejci tallied in overtime to give the Bruins a 3-2 win.


Series: Bruins defeated Lightning, 4-3

After dropping Game 1, the Bruins looked to be in trouble without Patrice Bergeron, who was felled by a concussion late in Game 4 of the Philly series. Bergeron’s replacement in the lineup, Tyler Seguin, made a huge impact in his absence. The rookie’s four-point period in Game 2 helped the Bruins tie the series. The B’s won two of the next three games to jump ahead, 3-2, only to miss out on yet another chance to clinch in a Game 6 on the road. But the Bruins took care of business at home again in Game 7, as Nathan Horton scored the only goal of the game in the third to send the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1990.

Highlight game: The Bruins’ 1-0 victory in Game 7 may have been the most perfect game they played all postseason, and it sure was a tightly contested one. Tampa’s star forwards were held in check, as the Bruins stingy defense allowed just 24 shots. Dwayne Roloson was undoubtedly the tough-luck loser for Tampa with 37 saves, but the Bruins diligently created traffic, were highly physical and simply earned their big break when Horton tipped in a pass from David Krejci for what proved to be the series-clinching tally.


Series: Bruins defeated Canucks, 4-3

After two winnable games went by the wayside, the Bruins returned home from Vancouver down two games to none against the Canucks, forced to win four of the next five games in order to complete their quest for the Cup. That suddenly went from doubtful to probable, as the Bruins bowled over Vancouver, 12-1 combined in Games 3 and 4. But, in their return trip to Rogers Arena, the Bruins lost by one goal for the third time in the series. The Bruins staved off elimination with another lopsided victory, this time 5-2, setting up a decisive seventh game. Tim Thomas closed out his spectacular playoff run with a shutout as the Bruins scored four goals to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972.

Highlight game: Going into Game 7, home teams held a perfect 6-0 record in the series. The Bruins managed to change that in convincing fashion and finally figured out how to get to Roberto Luongo on the road. An all-out effort was given by every player in Black and Gold from start to finish, as they completed a 107-game journey to become the last team standing for the first time in 39 years.

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.