Memories Of Playoffs Past Haunt The Bruins

Published June 1, 2011

It was a long time ago, but it still resonates in my memory.

It was Mothers Day, 1970, and I had not watched any of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But for some reason, the TV was on Channel 4 in my house — yes it was the NBC affiliate back then — and the late, great Dan Kelly announced what’s still known as the “Greatest Goal.” One Robert Gordon Orr flew through the air as he scored 30 seconds into overtime to give the Boston Bruins their first Stanley Cup in 29 years.

Mesmerized by the celebration on TV, it was my introduction to the National Hockey League and the Boston Bruins. Two years later I would enjoy it a lot better as the Big, Bad Bruins waltzed through the playoffs and beat the New York Rangers in the finals at Madison Square Garden and once again, Boston had its City Hall celebration.

I thought it was the greatest thing ever. At that point, I was not a Celtics follower and they hadn’t won since 1969. As a kid, baseball was boring to me and the Patriots were, well, just awful. But here were these swashbuckling Bruins who scored at will, owned the city and captured everyone’s imagination. I was a neophyte, but I was hooked. The Bruins were my team.

Thus began the disappointments. It started in 1974 against the expansion Philadelphia Flyers. The Broad Street Bullies muscled their way to the finals and beat Boston in six games. I remember it was the first season my childhood idol, Gilles Gilbert, was in the Bruins’ goal and former Bruins goalie Bernie Parent won the Conn Smythe trohpy as MVP of the playoffs.

After two seasons of early eliminations, Boston went back to the finals in 1977 and ’78. Both times they faced their hated rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, whom they hadn’t beaten in any playoff year since 1945. That trend continued with a 4-0 sweep and a six-game loss, respectively.

Craig Muni, right, and the Edmonton Oilers beat the Bruins and  Cam Neely in the 1990 Stanley Cup Finals. (AP)

Craig Muni, right, and the Edmonton Oilers beat the Bruins and Cam Neely in the 1990 Stanley Cup Finals. (AP)

In 1979, the Bruins, coached by the legendary Don Cherry, again met the Canadiens. This time it was the semifinals, playing for a spot in the finals against the New York Rangers. It was a crusher for me. Less than three minutes left in Game 7 in the Montreal Forum, Boston with a 3-2 lead, and “too many men on the ice.” Guy Lafluer and Yvon Lambert later and the Bruins were in ruins, as was I.

The ’80s were not very good for Boston, as the team again met up with early round playoff dismissals until the ’87-88 season. That playoff run was magical. I was not only a fan, but also a media member and covered the team the entire year. I was there for the ride into the finals against Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. All hopes, though, were dashed rather quickly with an Oilers four game sweep.

If you know anything about hockey and you take a look back at the roster of the two teams, you would see that really, the Bruins had no business being on the same ice as the Oilers. No team was going to deny them the Stanley Cup. Ditto for the ’89-90 season.

The Bruins would not sniff the Eastern Conference championship for another 21 years, until Friday’s defeat of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Tonight begins another odyssey. We’ll see if 39 years was just the right number. I’ll be watching the game with my friend Todd, who is from Montreal, and of course, a Canadiens fan. He doesn’t have a big stake in this fire other than that he is Canadian and will probably root for his native land. I can handle that.

But it would be great for everyone in New England, even including embedded Canadiens fans, should the Bruins come out of this with the chalice and send this town to a place it hasn’t been since the likes of Esposito, Orr, Cheevers and Sanderson ruled the roost.

Go Bruins!