It’s rare when you get to do a piece like this. It’s never happened in the NBA. It’s happened once in Major League Baseball and before tonight it’s only happened twice in the NHL. Tonight, however, the Boston Bruins did what only the 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 1942 Detroit Red Wings did before them: Lose a seven-game series that they at one time led three games to none.
For the Bruins, the questions will linger about what they could’ve changed, who is at fault, what needs to change to fix things for the future. After all, the Bruins lost in a soul-crippling playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes last year. Coming back from that season with a historical failure like this after fighting so many issues with the team during the season (eg: scoring goals consistently) you have to wonder if general manager Peter Chiarelli will look to make some bench adjustments as well as ones in the locker room.
The problems this year for the Bruins come playoff time are pretty easy to pick out. Killer instinct managed to completely disappear. After winning in overtime in such a stifling and impressive way in Game 1, the same could not be said for Game 4’s overtime period. One would think that with the opposing team on the ropes in a game where they could be eliminated you’d want to put things away. Instead, Mike Richards scored and gave the Flyers some life. The Bruins would return home for Game 5 and see the Flyers come out and shut them down for their best game of the playoffs and then hear their home fans in Boston turn on the team. Not exactly inspiring stuff. The rest, as they will now say, is history and history was summed up almost perfectly within the confines of Game 7 by itself.
Often forgotten in all this is the loss of David Krejci to the Bruins lineup while the Flyers re-gained Simon Gagne to theirs. While the sample size is small, the Bruins didn’t win a game in the playoffs without Krejci and the Flyers offense was certainly better and a lot deeper with Gagne in the lineup. But why was Game 7 just a microcosm of the series? Take a look after the jump for that and more about the historical significance of what went down in Game 7.
The Bruins’ game plan in Game 7 was to come out fast, get their crowd involved, and try to put the Flyers away early and roll from there. They sort of did that, jumping out to a 3-0 lead not even 15 minutes into the first period. The crowd was going bonkers, the Bruins were rolling and the game plan was working perfectly. But just like the Flyers did in the series, all it takes is one, and James Van Riemsdyk’s goal, a horrid squeaker past Tuukka Rask, was the one that jump-started the Flyers and began the demise of the Bruins.
Van Riemsdyk’s goal took the crowd out of the game and gave the Flyers the momentum lift they needed as they turned the pressure up in the final minutes of the first period, a momentum shift that would take over the rest of the game. After the Bruins outshot the Flyers 14-8 in the first period, the Flyers would turn the tables and outshoot and outwork the Bruins the rest of the way to a tune of 19-11.
To wrap your head around the historical significance of this, it didn’t just end with collapsing in a series they lead 3-0, it also made itself apparent in the way the game ended up being decided. At 11:10 of the third, the Bruins picked up a penalty for too many men on the ice. While that penalty has been a news story throughout and the Bruins were certainly guilty of the enfraction, its ties to the fate of the 1979 Bruins run deep. In Game 7 of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinals, the Bruins lead the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in the third period before picking up a too many men penalty. Guy LeFleur would score with the man advantage and force the game to overtime where the Canadiens would knock off the Bruins.
Playing the role of Guy LeFleur this time was Simon Gagne, scoring the eventual power play game winner, firing it past Tuukka Rask. The Flyers would then lock it down defensively and go to great efforts to kill time. Michael Leighton made it all stand up stopping 22 shots and completing the biggest comeback the NHL has seen in 35 years.
As far as trying to compare this to their work during the regular season, the Bruins twice had losing streaks of four or more games. In December they had a stretch of four games, and through January and February they had a run of 10 straight losses. If you’re thinking they were “due” for a run of bad play, well, maybe you’re backed up by those numbers. For the Bruins, history and discussions of truly epic failures will now follow them as long as teams get down 3-0 in a series. For a season that ended on a high note in making the playoffs and looking strong against the Sabres to have it end in such a gut-punching way is one that true Bruins fans would like to forget.