Bruins

Bruins Playoff Rewind: One brief moment of sunshine vs. Oilers

Bruins Playoff Rewind: One brief moment of sunshine vs. Oilers

Although it was a competitive series early on with the Bruins playing well in the first few games, this week marks the one and only victory the B’s recorded during the 1990 Stanley Cup Final against the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers.

In fact, it was the only win that the Black and Gold managed in facing the dynastic Oilers in two out of three seasons from 1988-90 when the B’s had Ray Bourque and Cam Neely in the very prime of their respective Hall of Fame careers.

The B's went into that Stanley Cup Final having won nine of their last 10 games while riding a ton of momentum, but they were then going up against a Wayne Gretzky-less Oilers crew that still counted Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Craig Simpson and Esa Tikkanen among their ranks on their roster. The Bruins had infamously lost Game 1 in triple overtime on Petr Klima’s stunning goal in the longest game ever played in Stanley Cup Final history, but they trailed 2-1 in the best-of-seven series after Andy Moog made 28 saves in a 2-1 win in Game 3 in Edmonton at the Northlands Coliseum on May 20, 1990.

The game was notable in that it was role players and goaltending/defense that guided them to victory rather than anything else.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

A 22-year-old John Byce (who scored two goals during that 1990 postseason run and two other goals in his entire 21-game NHL career) scored 10 seconds into the game to give the Bruins an immediate lead after they had dropped each of the first two games on the Boston Garden ice. Then Greg Johnston added to that lead with another first period score to give the B’s a 2-0 road lead over the stunned Oilers group.

The scoreboard remained 2-0 for nearly the entire duration of the contest as Moog stood on his head in Game 3 stopping 28-of-29 shots, but the Oilers did halve the lead in the third period when Tikkanen scored his 12th goal of the playoffs on the power play. That was it for the Oiler crew, however, as the Bruins clawed back into the series and gave B’s fans hope that they might be able to rebound from the early 2-0 deficit.

As it turned out, that was the last, best gasp from the Bruins before they collapsed in the series. They were held to one goal in each of the last two games in the five-game Cup Final and were outscored 9-2 as Simpson, Kurri and Glenn Anderson did most of the offensively heavy lifting while Messier was held without a goal in the series.

On the other side, the Bruins defense was touched up in a big way by the explosive Oilers attack with Greg Hawgood, Don Sweeney and Gary Galley combining for a rough minus-15.

Boston’s best chance to dictate the series would have been to find a way to capture Game 1 at the Garden while riding their momentum from the previous three rounds of the playoffs. But a 21-year-old Glen Wesley famously missed an open net in Game 1 and it came down to the little-used Klima drawing the dagger goal in triple-OT.

Credit where it’s due, the Oilers effectively held everybody down on the B’s offensively aside from captain Ray Bourque, who led the B’s with three goals and five points along with 27 shots on net in the five games. Cam Neely was the only other Bruins player with even more than 12 shots on net (he had 24) in the five-game series as the B’s supporting cast was effectively shut down by the Oilers aside from Game 3.

There were not a lot of good moments for the Boston Bruins during the late May dates in Stanley Cup playoff history, but at least this was one was the fleeting feeling of victory 30 years ago amidst a lot of losing against the Oilers.

Stanley Cup odds 2020: Bruins are co-betting favorites after schedule reveal

Stanley Cup odds 2020: Bruins are co-betting favorites after schedule reveal

The Boston Bruins' quest for redemption is back on.

The NHL and NHL Players Association officially ratified a Return to Play plan for the 2019-20 season Friday and unveiled a full schedule for the league's round robin and qualifying series, which will lead into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Boston was the top team in the NHL with 100 points when the league paused in March and will play a round-robin tournament with the other top three teams in the Eastern Conference: the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

So, where do the Bruins stand among the NHL's top contenders for the Cup? According to DraftKings Sportsbook, right at the top -- along with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Here are 12 teams with better than +3000 odds to win the 2020 Stanley Cup at DraftKings Sportsbook following Friday's schedule release:

Boston Bruins: +650
Tampa Bay Lightning: +650
Colorado Avalanche: +800
Vegas Golden Knights: +800
Washington Capitals: +900
Philadelphia Flyers: +1000
St. Louis Blues: +1100
Dallas Stars: +1500
Pittsburgh Penguins: +1600
Edmonton Oilers: +2300
Toronto Maple Leafs: +2900

The Bruins have their work cut out for them in the round robin format, which they'll begin Aug. 2 against the Flyers. Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia all are among the top six championship contenders, with the Lightning neck-and-neck with the Bruins at +650.

The B's are deep, talented and experienced: They boasted the NHL's best goal differential (plus-53) when the league shut down and are led by a core group of veterans -- Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask -- who know Stanley Cup success and failure.

They also have the NHL's goals leader in David Pastrnak and plenty of motivation after losing Game 7 of last year's Stanley Cup Final on home ice to the St. Louis Blues.

If Boston can avenge that loss, it will be the first team since the 2008-09 Penguins win a Cup after losing in the Cup Final the previous season. It appears the oddsmakers like their chances.

Why the Bruins are the team to beat for this unprecedented Stanley Cup

Why the Bruins are the team to beat for this unprecedented Stanley Cup

There’s nothing theoretical about it now. 

The NHL is coming back. That means the Boston Bruins, along with 23 other teams, will play meaningful hockey games less than a month from now. Credit the NHL and the NHLPA for using their vast experience, collaborative efforts and a sense of urgency to get the season back on track, as the NHL now has the best chance of any of the pro sports leagues of actually navigating and surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It’s a set of circumstances that could financially crush any pro sports league that didn’t properly prepare and the pandemic is already uncovering cracks in the foundation for sports like Major League Baseball and the NFL as they struggle to execute their plans.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

The natural question when it comes to the Bruins is exactly how they are going to fare against the competition. Many view them as a favorite after winning the President’s Trophy during the regular season and standing as the only club with 100 points when the regular season paused back in mid-March. The Black and Gold had the No. 1 seed already wrapped up for the entirety of the postseason and they ranked in the top-5 in every discernible category across the board, showing their all-around skill, their worthiness and the sheer motivation to right last season’s wrong against the Blues in the Stanley Cup Final. 

Some believe the Bruins might be at a disadvantage because they are the fourth-oldest team (average roster age: 28.5 years old) in the league with key players like Zdeno Chara (43 years old), Patrice Bergeron (34 years old), David Krejci (34 years old), Brad Marchand (32 years old) and Tuukka Rask (33 years old) all on the wrong side of 30. Clearly it’s going to take a bit to get the engine going for the Bruins and now they have two weeks of camp, one exhibition game and three round-robin games against the other top East seeds to ready themselves for the gauntlet run. 

By comparison, teams like the Avalanche, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, the Rangers and Maple Leafs are all at least two years younger on average with young legs that will bounce back more quickly.  

It’s an assumption around the hockey world that it’s going to take older legs longer to get churning at full speed after a four month layoff from skating and playing, and that led Marchand to deduce a few months ago that “older teams are going to struggle” in the return to play format. 

The B’s will have their challenges in these playoffs, but the biggest ones would probably be head-to-head playoff series against teams like Tampa and Washington that pose challenges whenever they play them. It could very well play out that one of those teams simply proves to be better than the B’s over a seven-game series. That would shock nobody when it comes to a Capitals group that has had Boston’s number for almost 10 years.  

If anything, though, the experience, the leadership and the sheer mental toughness that a grizzled team like the Bruins bring into the tournament is going to be a large advantage over the younger player groups. Just think about the scenarios we’ll see in August and September: Empty arenas, living in total isolation for the first five weeks’ worth of games before players can meet up with their families in the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final and pushing on through while players might suddenly drop out of lineups due to positive COVID-19 test results.

It’s going to be a minefield of challenges and adversity where hockey players are going to be tested like never before.  

“I think the message for us hasn’t changed in terms of what our ultimate goal is,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said during a Zoom call with reporters in late June. “Our unfinished business is to be Stanley Cup champions. But inside that message will be a lot of the unknown and how we have to be prepared to deal with that as it comes at us. 

“That’s going to be the message. I think the mental toughness part is going to determine who ends up raising that trophy at the end of the day, and that’s where I like our chances.”

It’s going to be a wildly unpredictable and unprecedented set of challenges that these 24 teams are going to have to deal with headed into the tournament. Meanwhile, the Bruins have a long-established leadership group in Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron that’s seen and played on through pretty much everything in their almost 40 years of playing experience. 

“I’m hoping that leadership plays a big role. Once everybody is together and knowing Bergeron, Chara, Tuukka, Torey (Krug) and Brad, those guys are going to get the others [going],” Bruins President Cam Neely said during a Zoom call with Bruins reporters back in May. “The others know what to expect from that leadership group, they know what to expect from themselves and they know what to expect from the coaching staff. My hope is that they will recognize that we are going from a training camp, in essence, right to the playoffs.

“That’s unusual as we all know, and I’m hoping that the experience of having it ramp up that quickly that the guys can lean on the older players for a little bit of comfort. They don’t necessarily have the experience [of this exact situation], but more being able to get yourselves ready to go in a short period of time.”

There have been unparalleled highs for this B’s core group like winning three Game 7s on the way to hoisting the Cup in Vancouver in 2011. 

And there have been painful lows like losing last year’s Game 7 to the Blues on home ice or imploding in Game 6 against the Blackhawks in 2013 after giving up two goals in 17 seconds in the third period. Or Bergeron sitting out nearly the entire 2007-08 regular season after suffering a nasty concussion at the hands of Flyers defenseman Randy Jones.

Or these Bruins players blowing a 3-0 lead in a seven game series against the Flyers back in the second round of the 2010 playoffs.  

The Bruins know about soul-searching adversity, they run a compassionate and tight NHL dressing room. This current core group also understands that their window to compete for Stanley Cups is no longer infinite.  

In a climate where there is so much unknown to an almost intimidating degree and where some teams might simply submit to the pressure surrounding them while playing amidst a global pandemic, here’s a simple hockey truth: The Bruins might have the exact right kind of collective mental toughness and experience level to compartmentalize things unlike any other team in the entire league. There is no substitute for real-life experience during a time of crisis, and the Bruins have that over every team in the NHL at this point. 

With an expectation that this might be the most challenging Stanley Cup of all-time to win in early October, the Bruins should be the favorites based on the experience, the mental toughness, the leadership and -- oh yeah, being a pretty darn good hockey team on top of it all.