Bruins

Bruins

It still remains the lowest that this humble hockey writer has ever seen the Bruins dressing room descend to after a loss.

That includes dropping Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in 17 seconds to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and coming up woefully short in last June’s Game 7 Stanley Cup Final showdown on home ice with the St. Louis Blues.

There were bigger stakes in those games, of course, but both had been well-played, fairly even series between good teams where different factors ended up forcing the Bruins into the role of Stanley Cup runner-up.

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The stunning, choking Game 7 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs was a different thing altogether. It was an absolute low point for a core Bruins group that went on to become champions the very next season and for Hall of Fame-level players like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron now viewed as big-time winners.

It was also the driving force behind that Stanley Cup run in 2011 as the embarrassment, shame and utter failure of becoming historic chokers by blowing a 3-0 series lead — and a 3-0 lead in that Game 7 on the TD Garden ice — turned into monster fuel that fired them up for an ensuing season of massive victories.

But as good as things ended up being for the Black and Gold, they were awful this week in May while collapsing against the Flyers.

"The bottom line is we had a 3-0 lead in the series, we had a 3-0 lead tonight, and we blew them both," said then-Bruins head coach Claude Julien in the moments after the stupefying defeat. "We have to take the responsibility that goes with it. Everyone."

 

The circumstances of the series told a lot of the story of what happened and how it unfolded for the Black and Gold.

Tim Thomas had a balky hip all season, so it was 23-year-old Tuukka Rask playing in his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that spring. David Krejci had been knocked out of the series in what was a turning point when Mike Richards crushed him with an open-ice hit in Game 4 that dislocated his wrist in the process.

Around the same time, an injured Simon Gagne returned to the Flyers lineup and scored four goals in the final four games of the playoff series — all Flyers victories. And it was the last meaningful games that Marc Savard played in a Bruins uniform after returning for Game 1 and scoring the overtime game-winner before post-concussion symptoms started creeping in after playing 24 minutes in the heartbreaking Game 4 loss in Philly. The exertion seemed to sap him of his effectiveness for the rest of the series, and Savard was a shadow of himself as a player when he briefly tried to return for the one and only time the following season.  

By the end of the series, Trent Whitfield had been pushed into Boston's lineup and a very young Brad Marchand was one of the Black Aces who never got a chance to play with other forwards like Steve Begin, Vladimir Sobotka and Whitfield in the B’s lineup.  

The infamous Game 7 defeat ended on a self-inflicted error as a miscommunication between Savard and Sobotka in the third period ended up pinning a too many men on the ice penalty on the Bruins. That’s when Gagne scored his fourth goal of the series and put the dagger in the Black and Gold after they had every possible chance to win the series over the course of the previous four games.

Afterward, it was an emotionally stunned dressing room full of mostly young players who had never known that kind of heartache before. Key young players like Milan Lucic, Bergeron, Blake Wheeler, Johnny Boychuk and Rask were mostly in shock.

The defeat set things in motion for Dennis Wideman to be moved to Florida that summer for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell, and the true B’s championship chemistry to be formed that following year.

The one searing image in my brain was that of then 39-year-old Mark Recchi with a towel draped over his bowed head in the Bruins dressing room during the postgame availability. The future Hall of Famer spoke to reporters briefly as one would expect from a true pro who had seen it all, but Recchi spent nearly the entire time unmoved and fighting through the utter agony of a bitter defeat.

To see somebody who had won Stanley Cups and experienced everything from A-Z in pro hockey going through that kind of soul-searching spoke to just how much the Bruins had felt the rug pulled out from under them by the Flyers over the course of two weeks.

 

"It's up there,” said Recchi, at the time discussing the loss. "I've had a couple of Game 7s, losing in the semifinals, but this one hurts a lot. You don't get too many chances to get to the third round and have an opportunity to go to the Stanley Cup, and to be able to take that step would have been huge. It's what we play for.

Our killer instinct was missing. What are you going to do? It's over now, and we'll have a long summer to think about it. It's disappointing. You just don't want this to happen again if you're a player. It's not a very enjoyable feeling.

The Bruins showed they had learned their lessons for the following season when they became the first team in Stanley Cup playoff history to win three different Game 7s while capturing the Cup in Vancouver. The pain and heartache of being labeled losers and chokers following 2010 was exactly the fuel they needed to become a winning race car the following postseason.

But that’s a different story for a different day in Boston Bruins playoff history which we’ll be tackling next month for sure.