The first thought that flashed across my mind when I awoke early Tuesday morning was, “Man, I can’t believe the Bruins’ season is over!”
Before you rush to judgment, let me assure you that I didn’t turn off the television in disgust with 11 minutes remaining in Game 7 of their opening-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. I stuck it out, to what I thought would be the bitter end, and instead became one of the most astonishing, improbable comebacks I have ever witnessed. I guess my brain was temporarily telling me it hadn’t happened, that the Bruins had not erased a 4-1 deficit to win 5-4 in overtime. If we ever needed Jack Edwards to channel the late Jack Buck and shout “I can’t believe what I just saw!” Monday night was the time.
I’ve been fortunate to be present at a few remarkable turnarounds through the years. For instance, Red Sox-Angels, Game 5, 1986 ALCS, better known as the David Henderson game. And Red Sox-Mets, Game 6, 1986 World Series, which ended on, well, you know, an error by a guy named Buckner. The 1999 Ryder Cup Matches at The Country Club in Brookline. And assorted Celtics’ and Bruins’ comebacks from the brink of despair. And, of course, Red-Sox Yankees, 2004 ALCS, and all of that seemingly cosmic-inspired chaos that wiped out a 3-0 deficit in the series along with a curse you might have heard something about.
Does what happened on Monday night match up to any of that? For pure comebacks, I think it does. In terms of historical significance, not so much. This was, after all, only a first-round series, and if the Bruins fall flat on their faces against the New York Rangers, Monday night’s miracle will become something of a footnote. I mentioned Celtics’ comebacks in the previous paragraph. One of their greatest ever came in Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference finals against the New Jersey Nets when they rallied from 21 points down in the fourth quarter. It’s the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA history and nobody remembers it, including me, who was there, yet still had to look it up. That’s because the Celtics lost the next three games and the series.
Having said that, I know the folks in Toronto won’t soon forget. I felt sorry for all those suddenly silenced and somber diehards lined up shoulder to shoulder in the city square. One moment they were delirious with joy; the next they looked like they were standing in an unemployment line. I mean, c’mon, their beloved Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and hadn’t even made the playoffs in nearly a decade; to lose in such unimaginable fashion was beyond cruel. What did the sporting Gods think, this was Cleveland? I suppose as an encore to their torture they could have been forced to watch a double feature of Ishtar and Waterworld.
But I digress.
What do we now make of these Bruins? They were in danger of being ousted from the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year. If they lost, they would have blown series leads of 3-0 and 3-1 in the past four years, both times being eliminated on home ice. The honeymoon of their 2011 Stanley Cup would have been over, and so too might have been the black-and-gold careers of Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand or Tyler Seguin.
Suddenly, they are once again gallant warriors who refuse to quit, or at least they are characterized that way. And perhaps it’s true. Three goals in 11 minutes, including two with the goalie pulled, when you’ve only scored three goals in the previous 10 periods, is an indicator of something, whether it be heart, a Leafs’ fold, pure luck or a sense of desperation that strangely wasn’t there through the first 50 minutes of Game 7.
No doubt, Patrice Bergeron is the ultimate pro’s pro who contributes on a nightly basis in a variety of ways that often have nothing to do with scoring. That he tallied the tying and game-winning goals was poetic. Zdeno Chara has proven to be a worthy successor to the line of legendary Bruins defensemen that began with Eddie Shore and continued on to Bobby Orr, Brad Park and Ray Bourque. David Krejci and Lucic were both fabulous against the Leafs.
But they’ll need more, or something, or anything from Seguin and Marchand, in order to beat the Rangers. They’ll need the power play to produce. They’ll need offensive consistency. The Leafs were courageous, but in the end they were flawed, and not nearly as talented a team as the Bruins. The series never should have gone seven games, which should leave Bruins’ fans very, very worried about the Rangers.
Yes, their seven-game, powerless power play act was the successful formula for a Stanley Cup championship two years ago. Expecting it to happen again is a bit much. Like a golfer who knocks a shot from the woods to within birdie range and then must convert, the Bruins flipped disaster on its head and dodged elimination on Monday night. Now they must get down to business and make it count for something.
Rob Duca was a sports columnist for the Cape Cod Times for 25 years.