Ranking the Top 10 worst playoff heartbreaks in Bruins history
The Bruins have enjoyed some high points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, of course. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Bobby Orr Stanley Cup team in 1970 when he went flying through the air to immortality. That’s a cherished memory. And the Bruins Cup team from 2011 is approaching a 10-year anniversary next season after giving everybody something to talk about when they got together for a team-wide video stream watching a replay of Game 7 against Vancouver a couple of weeks ago.
But there have been more heartbreaks and disappointments when it comes to the Bruins and playoff history. And most of them have come at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s, 1980s and even within the last 10 years. There is also, of course, the new heartbreak that tops the list after the Bruins couldn’t close the deal on home ice in Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues with everything on the line.
Here are the Top 10 heartbreaking moments from Bruins playoff history with way, way, way too many of them coming against the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
Bruins All-Time Top 10: Left Wings | Centers | Right Wings | Defensemen | Goalies | Tough Guys | Playoff Comebacks
10. 2009 vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Eastern Conference Semifinals
It was a hard-fought series by a young Bruins core group just coming into their own against a Carolina Hurricanes group that took them to seven games. Unfortunately, it was also a series played more than a week after the Bruins had swept the Montreal Canadiens in four games, so the young B’s were a bit rusty going into that playoff series.
Late in Game 5, Scott Walker punched Aaron Ward in a play that somehow wasn’t deemed worthy of a suspension, and it came down to a Game 7 at TD Garden. The Bruins were coming off a 116-point season where youngsters like David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler were just coming into their own and veterans like Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas were playing a prominent role. They weren’t yet built for postseason success yet, however, and they lost an overtime game when series villain Walker came back to break Boston’s hearts with the overtime winner for Canes.
9. 2002 vs. Montreal Canadiens
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
The Bruins had a strong group again in 2002 with Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov coming of age, and Byron Dafoe enjoying his best season in a brief run between the pipes for the Black and Gold. Bill Guerin added some additional scoring to that group and the Bruins finished first in the Northeast Division with 101 points. The Bruins appeared to take control in a first-round series when they tied things up at 2 with a 5-2 win at the Bell Centre which featured Kyle McLaren delivering a devastating hit to Richard Zednik in Game 4.
Instead, McLaren was suspended for the rest of the series for the clothesline hit and the Habs won the final two games vs. Boston in a pair of 2-1 wins with Jose Theodore once again standing on his head for Montreal. The sheer amount of first-round playoff losses for the Bruins against the Canadiens on this list is actually pretty staggering.
8. 2004 vs. Montreal Canadiens
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
The Bruins built a great team during the 2003-04 NHL season. They finished first in the Northeast Division with 104 points, they added Sergei Gonchar and Michael Nylander at the trade deadline to an already strong core group and had promising rookies Andrew Raycroft and Patrice Bergeron added to a mix that already included Joe Thornton, Glen Murray, Hal Gill, Nick Boynton, Brian Rolston and Mike Knuble among others.
It actually looked like the Bruins were going to be headed on a long playoff run after taking a commanding lead in their first-round series vs. Montreal after an Alex Kovalev turnover in double-overtime of Game 4 led to Boston taking a 3-1 series lead. Instead, the Habs reeled off three straight wins, Jumbo Joe was a non-factor while battling a rib injury throughout the series and Jose Theodore made 32 saves in Game 7, shutting out the Bruins in Montreal. The Bruins loaded up their roster that season knowing that the season-long lockout was coming with a salary cap, but it still didn’t help them vs. the Canadiens.
7. 2014 vs. Montreal Canadiens
Eastern Conference Semifinals
The Bruins racked up 117 points and won the Presidents' Trophy a year after losing to the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, and it looked like they were primed for a long run in the postseason. Instead, the B's were outplayed by their old nemesis from Montreal in a seven-game series where Carey Price outplayed Tuukka Rask while Brad Marchand and David Krejci were held without goals in the first two rounds of the postseason. Torey Krug led the Bruins in scoring that postseason while a number of big offensive guns fell short.
The B’s threw a dud on the ice in Game 7 at TD Garden against the Canadiens and that ushered in two straight seasons of missing the playoffs following that bitter disappointment. This was the crushing end for an extended B’s nucleus that had managed to push to Stanley Cup Final appearances in both 2011 and 2013.
6. 1987 vs. Montreal Canadiens
Adams Division Semifinals
Are you detecting a pattern here? A 21-year-old Cam Neely scored 36 goals and Ray Bourque finished as the team leader with 95 points during the regular season while the Bruins also had 30-goal scorers in Rick Middleton and Tom McCarthy as well. But the postseason was a different story where the Bruins were swept in four games in the first round by the Canadiens for the second straight season and had their fourth straight first-round exit from the postseason.
Neely was a beast with five goals in the four-game playoff series and Middleton showed up to play as well, but almost everybody else in a B’s uniform was held down while Doug Keans finished with a rough 5.55 goals allowed average for the series. When people think of the domination that Montreal held over the Bruins for an extended period of time, this series is the epitome of it and a real low point for this core group of B’s featuring a pair of Hall of Famers in Bourque and Neely.
5. 2013 vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Stanley Cup Final
There were a few key moments in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final between the Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks. The B’s had a massive missed opportunity when they couldn’t finish off an eventual triple-overtime loss in Game 1 in Chicago, and that was probably their best chance to beat a superior Blackhawks group that really got going halfway through the series. Once Joel Quenneville put Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together on the same line midway through the series it changed everything, but the stunning moment was the B’s blowing a third period lead in Game 6 at TD Garden.
They gave up two goals in a 16-second span in the third and never got their chance to push things to a Game 7. Given that the Bruins were going to be without Patrice Bergeron for a winner-take-all Game 7 after suffering a punctured lung in Game 6, it doesn’t feel like this series was ever going to be in the cards for the B’s against a loaded Blackhawks group even if they had pushed it back to Chicago.
4. 1971 vs. Montreal Canadiens
Stanley Cup Quarterfinals
The Bruins went 57-14-7 and finished with a whopping 121 points during the regular season, and they had the top two scoring forces in the NHL in Hall of Famers Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. But against Montreal, they ran into a then-little known goalie named Ken Dryden who confounded them at turns.
The Bruins blew a 5-1 lead in Game 2 and were blown out in an 8-3 game in Montreal for Game 6, but it was Dryden who stepped up and stoned the B’s as the Canadiens took a 4-2 win in the decisive Game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champs. It was the first of a long line in Boston disappointments in the playoffs against Montreal over the next 20 years, but it was shocking that a complete Black and Gold wagon was done that year after the first round of the playoffs.
3. 1979 vs. Montreal Canadiens
Stanley Cup Semifinals
The Bruins' playoff exit in 1979 featured the infamous too many men on the ice penalty, an incident that ended Don Cherry’s coaching career in Boston and kept the Black and Gold from collecting another Stanley Cup from their blue collar Lunchpail AC crew at the end of the 1970s. The Bruins had built up a 3-1 lead headed into Game 7 at the Montreal Forum, but the Habs responded in the third period with goals from Mark Napier and Guy Lapointe to tie up the game.
With under four minutes remaining, it looked like Rick Middleton had won the series with a goal past Ken Dryden, but with 2:34 left Cherry mistakenly sent Bruins players over the boards for a too many men on the ice penalty. Guy Lafleur scored the game-tying power play goal past Gilles Gilbert with almost a minute remaining in the game, and then Yvon Lambert scored the overtime game-winner. Less than a month later, Harry Sinden fired Grapes as the head coach and the Canadiens ghosts at the Forum continued to haunt the Black and Gold.
2. 2010 vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Eastern Conference Semifinals
It all started with the Bruins dropping Game 4 of the second-round series in a hotly contested elimination game that saw Mike Richards knock David Krejci out for the series with a massive hit that dislocated his wrist. Similarly, Simon Gagne returned to the series for the Flyers around the same time, and you could feel the momentum shift even though Boston had built up a 3-0 lead in the series.
It all came down to a Game 7 at TD Garden where the Bruins, in a twist of poetic tragedy, built up a 3-0 lead before watching it all eventually crumble away to the hard-charging Flyers. It was a bad change between Marc Savard and Vladimir Sobotka that led to the eventual game-winning goal for Philadelphia after Savard had battled back from the Matt Cooke-induced concussion to suit up for the series. After Savard was pushed into playing 20-plus minutes in Game 1 where he scored the overtime game-winner, he was never again the same player in his brief NHL career in Boston after that point. The sight of Mark Recchi unmoved with a towel over his head in the losing dressing room after Game 7 was one of painful defeat, but it all turned into motivation when the Bruins followed it up with a Stanley Cup win just a year later.
1. 2019 vs. St. Louis Blues
Stanley Cup Final
It’s one of the most recent losses so it’s definitely fresh in the memory. But there was also more on the line for last June’s winner-take-all loss to the Blues on the TD Garden ice that’s going to leave a mark as the most wasted opportunity in Bruins franchise history. That’s what also makes it so heartbreaking.
The top-seeded Lightning and Capitals had both dropped out in the first round of the playoffs, and the Bruins were able to clear a path through Toronto, Columbus and Carolina to get to the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins were the clear favorites against the blue collar, physical Blues, and they had the home-ice advantage as the top-seeded team in the playoffs from the second round on. But St. Louis wore down the Bruins over the course of a punishing seven-game series, and it led to Boston’s best players getting outplayed in Game 7.
Tuukka Rask wasn’t brilliant like he’d been for most of the playoffs, Brad Marchand made a bad mistake on a line change that led to a backbreaking Blues goal and none of Boston’s offensive stars were able to break through against Jordan Binnington. It all added up to a pretty lousy Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final and a massive dud for a Bruins core group that was a good 60 minutes away from a second Cup during their run.