In 2018, the Boston Bruins had a 3-1 series lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then they lost Game 5. Then Game 6.
A then-first-year NHLer, Jake DeBrusk, put on one of his most clutch performances of his young career as the Bruins went on to win Game 7 on home ice, 7-4.
In 2023, Boston had a 3-1 series lead over the Florida Panthers. Then they lost Game 5. Then Game 6.
But this year it feels different. This year everything is on the line. This is the last dance.
Whether Patrice Bergeron and/or David Krejčí waltz into the sunset in the offseason or not— there’s too many expiring contracts and not enough salary cap space to retain the services of every single player that contributed to an NHL record-setting regular season in wins (65) and points (135).
The 2023-24 Boston Bruins won’t be engaging in a full-on rebuild, but they sure as hell won’t be anything near as dominant as they were this year.
David Pastrňák, Charlie McAvoy, Pavel Zacha, DeBrusk, Hampus Lindholm, Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman would be your new core moving forward for the time being (with respect to Brad Marchand as the bridge from the old core Bergeron and Krejčí Era to the post-Bergeron and Krejčí Era B’s and, no, there’s no goaltending controversy as long as Swayman is a restricted free agent that’s destined to take over the full-time starting role in the near future).
They could still amass good numbers as individuals next season and roll on as a team in a more competitive Atlantic Division than ever before as the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators are on the rise as designed by nature of league parity, the draft and talent development.
They could falter a bit— or a lot— and miss the playoffs entirely, which would undoubtedly set an NHL record for “most points lost from one season to the next”.
This year, blowing a 3-1 series lead is worse than blowing the 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010.
The demons of 2010, were exorcized by the triumphs of 2011.
And, sure, technically you could say Boston blew a 3-1 series lead in 2010, too, if you want to argue the semantics of what, exactly, constitutes “blowing a 3-1 series lead” (does it matter if it was 3-0 before Game 4, asking for a friend).
In 2010, Boston had last won the Cup in 1972.
38 years of history separated the 2009-10 roster from legends named Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Gerry Cheevers and more.
After being bumped by the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games courtesy of a game-winning overtime goal by Scott Walker in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Bruins were looking to shed the notion that they weren’t serious Cup contenders.
Boston’s unexpected turnaround from missing the postseason in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons to making the playoffs for the first time since 2004, in the 2007-08 season— where they went on to take the Montréal Canadiens to seven games before losing, 5-0, at Bell Centre— culminated (up to that point in time before 2010-11) in a 116-point season in 2008-09— finishing first in the Eastern Conference, but one point shy of the 117-point Presidents’ Trophy-winning San Jose Sharks as the league’s best team overall heading into the playoffs.
The 2009-10 season featured Boston’s first glimpse of outdoor hockey and the magic atmosphere that Fenway Park brings for whatever game is held within its walls as the Bruins beat the Flyers, 2-1, in overtime thanks to Marco Sturm’s game-winning goal on a simple redirection of a shot pass from Bergeron.
If Game 6 against Montréal in 2008, resurrected Boston as a hockey town, the 2010 Winter Classic gave the creators behind Fever Pitch (2005) enough fodder for another romantic comedy centered on Boston sports lore.
January 1, 2010, was supposed to turnover a new leaf, but the month didn’t go the way the Bruins had hoped as they amassed a 3-9-2 record.
Then Boston began to surge on the coattails of a hot, young, goaltender in Tuukka Rask as the calendar flipped through February, March and the first couple of weeks of April before the playoffs start.
Bruins fans praised Šatan— that’s Miroslav Šatan, mind you— as his goal in double overtime in Game 4 capped off three-straight wins and gave Boston a 3-1 series lead over Buffalo before the B’s closed out the series on home ice in Game 6 with a, 4-3, win.
Marc Savard cemented his legacy in his return from a devastating concussion and scored the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 1 against Philadelphia to begin the next round.
Krejčí suffered a season-ending wrist injury in Game 3 and the rest is history.
The Bruins would seek to avenge their series loss by approaching the 2010-11 season with a scorched earth approach, though they would finish third in the Eastern Conference behind the Washington Capitals and, you guessed it, Philadelphia.
Tim Thomas put up his second Vezina Trophy-winning season, besting his 36-11-7 record in 54 games (54 starts) with a 2.10 goals-against average, a .933 save percentage and five shutouts in that span in 2008-09, with a 35-11-9 performance in 57 games (55 starts) to go with a 2.00 GAA, a .938 SV% and nine shutouts before the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs began.
The Bruins met their biggest rival in the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, whereby Nathan Horton scored the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 7 on home ice to topple the Canadiens and punch Boston’s ticket to a rematch with the Flyers in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
This time, the B’s made sure to finish the job and sweep Philadelphia despite the Flyers holding home ice advantage for the series.
Of course, Horton further cemented his legacy with the only goal in Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a penalty-free game of the century at TD Garden as both goaltenders, Thomas and Dwayne Roloson, put on a masterclass in the art of goaltending before the sellout crowd of 17,565 fans in attendance that night.
The Bruins fell behind 2-0 in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to the heavily favored Vancouver Canucks and returned to home ice for Game 3 on the 67th anniversary of D-Day.
Boston routed Vancouver, 8-1, for their first victory in the Final and made their home arena hell on Earth for Roberto Luongo (and Cory Schneider) as the B’s took Games 3, 4 and 6 by a combined score of, 17-3.
The Bruins won Game 7 at Rogers Arena, 4-0, and with that, Zdeno Chára, raised the Cup higher than it had ever been before due to his 6-foot-9 stature as the team’s captain knocked his own “2011 Stanley Cup champions” official hat off his head with the 35-pound rose bowl— cementing his legacy in pictures that would be plastered all over newspapers across New England the next morning.
The Capitals bounced Boston out in seven games with a, 2-1, overtime defeat— this time at the hands of Joel Ward— in the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
In 2013, Boston experienced a miracle less than a month after the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Bergeron scored a pair of goals— tying Game 7 against Toronto in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and winning it, 5-4, in overtime on home ice as the Bruins capped a comeback after trailing, 4-1, with less than 11 minutes left in the third period.
As if winning one Stanley Cup wasn’t enough, Bergeron further cemented his legacy as one of the all-time Bruins greats in the process.
Boston rode the momentum of their historic victory over the Maple Leafs with a five-game series win against the New York Rangers in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and a four-game sweep against the heavily favored— and Jarome Iginla wielding— Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final.
Just as they had done in 2011, the series clinching game in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final required just one goal— this time by defender, Adam McQuaid, cementing No. 54’s legacy in the spoked-B.
Then Boston lost to Chicago in a grueling six-game series in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
The 2013-14 season brought the Bruins their second Presidents’ Trophy title since the award began in 1986, but Boston couldn’t beat Montréal in the 2014 Second Round— losing Game 7 on home ice and further signifying the end of one era of hockey and the start of another as the game shifted from that where the role of the enforcer played a significance on your fourth line to that of the contemporary “roll four lines of speed and skill” era of hockey.
The “Merlot Line” of Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille would be slowly broken up— first as Thornton left for the Panthers in the 2014 offseason before Campbell and Paille would leave via free agency as well in 2015, after Boston missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
In 2017, the Bruins returned to postseason form with a First Round series against the Ottawa Senators after barely beating Toronto for the third spot in the Atlantic Division with 95 points and three more regulation plus overtime wins (42) than the Maple Leafs (39).
Boston was ousted in six games on home ice as Pastrňák and McAvoy experienced their first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, in part, due to numerous injuries.
In 2018, the B’s beat the Leafs, but lost in the Second Round in five games on the road in Tampa.
An aging core of Chára, Bergeron, Krejčí and Rask were left to wonder if they’d ever truly see one more Stanley Cup Final appearance in a Bruins uniform.
Then the run in 2019, happened.
Boston beat Toronto again in seven games in the First Round after forcing a Game 7 having trailed in the series 3-2 entering Game 6.
They beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in six games in the Second Round and swept the Hurricanes in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final— clinching both series on the road— before hosting the St. Louis Blues— the team Orr scored against with his famous “flying goal” to win the Cup in 1970, that’s immortalized in bronze outside TD Garden.
A broken jaw wouldn’t stop Chára from playing in Game 5 on home ice before a standing ovation as the players were introduced for television. His legacy was only further cemented as a result.
Then Noel Acciari was tripped.
Then Boston won Game 6 in St. Louis and forced the first Game 7 on home ice in the Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. The Bruins lost, 4-1.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic cut the 2019-20 regular season short— handing the Bruins their third Presidents’ Trophy title in the process, but delivering a five-month waiting period before the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs would be held in Toronto and Edmonton as the world dealt with immense sickness and grief.
The B’s beat Carolina in five games, then lost to Tampa in five games in the 2020 Second Round— closing Chára’s chapter as captain as the defender left via free agency before the 2020-21 season.
After playing a 56-game regular season solely against temporarily realigned divisional opponents, Boston faced Washington in the 2021 First Round and beat the Capitals in five games with four-straight wins after losing Game 1, 3-2, in overtime on the road.
Then the Bruins couldn’t get past the New York Islanders in a six-game series loss in the 2021 Second Round as the net began to transition from Rask to Swayman and whoever would come next.
In 2022, Ullmark and Swayman backstopped Boston to the first wild card in the Eastern Conference while Rask made a brief appearance in January before retiring in February due to the limitations that injuries imposed on his body.
The Hurricanes got their revenge for 2019 and 2020, by virtue of a seven-game series victory at PNC Arena in the 2022 First Round.
19 years ago this month, Bergeron scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoffs goal in a, 2-1, overtime win against Montréal in Game 2 of their 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup as an 18-year-old first-year NHLer.
Krejčí was later drafted that summer.
The pinnacle of the Bergeron-Krejčí Era Bruins was not reached in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
The legacy that No. 37 and No. 46 will eventually leave behind was built over the 2,326 regular season games and more than 300 postseason appearances that they made and the accomplishments that they earned as a team.
Legendary Bruins like Eddie Shore, Milt Schmidt, Esposito, Bucyk and Orr won two Stanley Cup rings as players with Boston. Lionel Hitchman won one (his other was with the original Ottawa Senators in 1923). Dit Clapper won three.
Ray Bourque never won any— his ring came courtesy of the Colorado Avalanche in 2001.
Cam Neely, Rick Middleton, Willie O’Ree and Terry O’Reilly never won in their playing days in Boston either, but their jersey numbers still hang from the rafters.
Ullmark’s 2022-23 regular season was the kind of year not seen since the days of Thomas, but he did something Thomas didn’t do— nor any Bruins goaltender, for that matter— Ullmark scored a goal. The first goalie goal in franchise history. That’s etched in stone as he contributed 40 wins in the team’s 65-win season.
Swayman had 24 wins of his own and— combined with Ullmark— joined the likes of Reggie Lemelin, Andy Moog, Thomas, Manny Fernandez, Rask and Jaroslav Halák as the only Bruins goaltenders to win the William M. Jennings Trophy in club history before the centennial season begins next year.
Whether it’s Ullmark or Swayman in net for Game 7, this team will cement their legacy as one.
The views expressed above are not indicative of my employer(s). I’m simply just writing some hockey historian stuff these days.