Historic comeback sends bruins in East Conference Final

The Boston Bruins have certainly had an interesting year. The perennial cup contenders were taken by surprise when All-Star goalie Tim Thomas announced during the offseason that he was ditching out on the final year of his contract to concentrate on “family, friends, and faith.” The outspoken and aging goaltender abandoned his team, leaving them with a five million dollar salary cap hit that eventually wound up getting him traded to the Islanders midway through the season.

Most NHL teams would have been devastated by the loss of a goaltender who was an All-Star, Vezina winner, and holder of the regular season save – percentage record, but the Bruins were lucky enough to have the young Finn, Tuukka Rask, waiting in the wings to take over the number one spot. Supported by one of the best defensive squads in the NHL, Rask proved beyond all doubt that he is a quality starting goaltender this season and that the Bruins can lean on for years to come.

The drama didn’t end there, however. Once the season (shortened by the lockout) began, the Bruins found themselves in a bitter three-way battle for the Northeast Division title. What was a lock for the Bruins last season suddenly became a struggle, as the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs competed with the Bruins for a top three seed and home ice advantage. The Canadiens had finished dead last in the entire Eastern Conference last season, and the Maple Leafs had not captured a playoff berth since 2004.

When the dust settled, the Bruins found themselves looking up at the Canadiens in the standings. The Habs had captured the Division title and the second seed, while the Bruins grabbed the four seed, and the Maple Leafs the fifth. This pitted the two division rivals against each other in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with the Bruins gaining home ice advantage.

Everything was going Boston’s way in the first round. They held a 3-1 series advantage heading home for game five. The young and inexperienced Maple Leafs surprised the hockey world by taking the next two games against the Bruins, forcing a game seven at TD Garden.

Photo by Flickr user Deb

Game seven was a tremendous and entertaining game of hockey in and of itself.  Toronto jumped out to a 4-1 lead, and it seemed as though they would be moving on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Bruins, however, had different plans. Still trailing 4-1 with just under 11 minutes left to play, they began a comeback the likes of which have never been seen in the NHL playoffs when Nathan Horton tallied to make it a 4-2 game. Most spectators didn’t think the goal made much of a difference, especially with time ticking down against the Bruins. With just a minute and a half left with a score of 4-2, the Maple Leafs were already looking towards round two of the playoffs.

The Bruins then pulled off a feat no NHL team has ever done. With just 1:22 remaining in the game and with Boston’s net empty, Milan Lucic scored to make it a one-goal game. Thirty seconds later, Patrice Bergeron scored to tie it. Game seven was going to overtime. It didn’t take long for the Bruins to seal theirs and Toronto’s fate, as Bergeron tallied again just over six minutes into the overtime period, sending Boston to round two in one of the greatest single-game comebacks in NHL playoff history.

The Bruins have not looked back since. In the second round, they demolished the New York Rangers in five games, and are now ready to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Penguins are the top seeded team in the East, and made easy work of their first two opponents in the playoffs. They will be no easy matchup for the Bruins, and the series will be a long one. However, the Bruins have faced much more diversity this year than the Penguins, and are a better-rounded team. The top-heavy penguins rely entirely on their top two lines to outscore their opponents, a strategy that got them a good playoff berth and past two relatively weak playoff teams in the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators. On top of their lopsided corps of forwards, the Penguins leave much to be desired in their defense and goaltending.

The Bruins, on the other hand, have four complete lines that can score, hit, and forecheck aggressively. When healthy, one can argue that they have the best defensive squad in the league, and a goaltender who is forging his name as a legitimate playoff goaltender capable of taking his team deep into the post season. While the scoring from big names like Crosby, Malkin, Iginla, and Letang, will be enough for the Penguins to make it an exciting and long series, in the end Boston’s depth and ability to defend as well as attack gives them the better chance at making it to the Stanley Cup Finals, and capturing one of the most prestigious prizes in sports.