August 2, 2013

Original Six: Bruins' top playoff heartbreakers

By Ty Anderson

Perhaps no team in the National Hockey League rips its fans’ hearts out with unforgettably gut-wrenching postseason exits as frequently as the Boston Bruins. Year after year, the Black and Gold seem to find new ways to crush the souls of their loyal supporters, with 2011 being the lone exception in the past 40 years. Here are the six most devastating defeats:

6. 1971: Game 2 vs. Montreal Canadiens

On the heels of their 1970 Cup victory, the Bruins were looking like a budding dynasty, recording a league-best 121 points throughout the regular season and putting themselves in the driver’s seat of what would surely be another deep playoff run. Scoring 399 goals and possessing a plus-192 goal differential during the season, Boston an easy pick to toss Ken Dryden and the Habs aside like they were nothing.

But what instead happened would go down in Montreal hockey lore as the greatest comeback and perhaps greatest series of the Habs’ dynasty. As Boston blew a 5-1 lead in Game 2, B’s draft pick Dryden proved to be among the league’s budding best, sending the Bruins packing in what would prevent the club’s ability to win three straight Cups.

5. 1990: Game 1 vs. Edmonton Oilers

The Boston Bruins were (once again) going up against an undeniable hockey giant in their Stanley Cup meeting with the Edmonton Oilers in 1990. But as David took on Goliath, the Black and Gold showed the ability to keep up with the Oilers’ high-flying attack in Game 1 in what would end as the longest game in Stanley Cup Final history, lasting nearly four overtimes.

But it would be the Bruins’ inability to bury their chances against Edmonton’s Bill Ranford — namely defenseman Glen Wesley’s complete whiff on an open net — that paved the way for heartbreak as Petr Klima struck in the third overtime, setting the tone in what would be a five-game series win for Edmonton’s fifth Cup, and second over Boston.

4. 2010: Game 7 vs. Philadelphia Flyers

It’s never a good thing where your forward core is a mix of fringe NHLers and aging vets, but that’s where the B’s were by the end of their second-round series with the Philadelphia Flyers. Trying to survive a 3-0 series edge that became 3-3 with Game 7 in Boston, a quick three goals against the Flyers’ Michael Leighton had B’s fans seeing a conference final against Montreal from their seats.

But little by little, the Flyers clawed their way back into things. And then, with one swift boom, Simon Gagne beat Tuukka Rask for the Flyers’ fourth goal of the night, and fourth win of the series. It’s still the reason for 30 percent of all PTSD cases among Bruins fans, and why you run the risk of being punched in the head if you ever declare a game or series over.

3. 2009: Game 7 vs. Carolina Hurricanes

The best team in the East throughout the regular season — and outscoring the
Carolina Hurricanes 18 to 6 — the Bruins’ second-round matchup with the Canes should not have been as close as it was. In a Game 7 at the Garden, things seemed to be returning to the norm when folk-hero Byron Bitz scored the first goal of the night seven minutes in.

Carolina would respond with two straight goals, and while the B’s forced overtime behind a late goal from Lucic, Scott Walker, who suckerpunched Aaron Ward two games prior, played the role of villain once more as he scored off a rebound with the B’s just 1:14 away from forcing a second overtime. “He should’ve been suspended!” everyone screamed, then cried.

2. 1979: Game 7 vs. Montreal Canadiens

Victimized by the Montreal Canadiens dynasty of the 1970s, the Boston Bruins were finally set to complete the upset in a home-favored semifinals series against the hated Habs. In a series where the home teams dominated the first six games, Don Cherry’s Boston squad came to Montreal for a must-win Game 7 and against the odds, looked to be on the cusp of ousting the team that ousted them for the Stanley Cup the previous two years.

Taking a lead behind a Rick Middleton goal with mere minutes to go, the Bruins were punished by the Habs’ power play following a fabled too-many-men penalty, and were eliminated with one Yvon Lambert overtime marker. It was a loss that put an end to the “Lunch Pail” era of Don Cherry and B’s hockey.

1. 2013: Game 6 vs. Chicago Blackhawks

It was do-or-die for the Stanley Cup on Boston ice, a situation the Bruins were familiar with just two years prior, when they chased Roberto “Easy Save” Luongo in the first period en route to a 5-2 win. Entering play with a 4-0 record in must-win Game 6’s under Claude Julien, the odds were in the Bruins’ favor. Kicking the night off with a goal from Chris Kelly, a brain cramp from the B’s in the second period put Jonathan Toews and the Hawks on the board, but a third-period goal from Milan Lucic looked to give Boston enough to send this one back to Chicago.

But in a span of 17 seconds with under a minute and a half to go, Chicago struck with goals from Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland, and the Blackhawks lifted the Cup on Boston ice after a 3-2 win.

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @_TyAnderson