During the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, the upstart U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team stunned the vaunted Russian team in the classic “Miracle on Ice” contest, 4-3, to advance to the gold-medal game against Finland.
Despite an Olympic championship on the line, the Americans suffered a not-unexpected letdown against the Finns two days later, and actually trailed, 2-1, after two periods.
In the dressing room during intermission, U.S. head coach Herb Brooks kept his remarks to the team short and concise (and typically profane).
“If you lose this game,” he promised, “you will take it with you to your (expletive) graves.”
As Brooks started to leave the locker room, he stopped and turned around.
“Your (expletive) graves,” he emphasized.
The U.S. scored three third-period goals and clinched gold for the underdog American team with a 4-2 victory, completing U.S. hockey’s greatest story nearly four decades ago.
After the Bruins suffered a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the consensus underdog Blues in Game 7 at TD Garden Wednesday night, I just wonder if B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy uttered a similar Brooks-ian line prior to the Black and Gold taking the ice that night.
Because like the American collegians playing on home ice 39 years ago, fate had dealt the Bruins an unexpected prize. Not only did Boston avoid the top-seeded Lightning in the NHL playoffs, but the B’s did not even have to face the defending Cup champion Capitals, nor the two-time champion Penguins (2016, 2017).
Instead, after fending off the Maple Leafs in the opening round, the Bruins found themselves taking on, in the subsequent rounds, the two wild-card winners (i.e., the fourth- and fifth-place finishers in the East’s weaker Metropolitan division). Amazingly, for the first time ever, all three division winners were dispatched in the very first round, and the Presidents’ Trophy winner was swept in the opening round by a wild-card team.
If that wasn’t enough of a golden ticket to the Cup Final, what transpired over in the West was also served up on a silver platter.
The No. 1 seed in the West, Calgary, was buried in five games by an Avalanche team that was easily the lowest-seeded team in the entire field of 16.
The other division champ, the Nashville Predators — Stanley Cup finalists just two seasons ago — blew a 3-1 series lead to the other wild-card team, the Stars, and fell in six. Then the third-highest seed in the West, the Jets, lost three out of their four home games and were ousted in six games by the surprising Blues, who boasted just the fifth-best record in the West.
The Blues survived a seven-game playoff series with the Stars, then disposed of the Sharks in six to advance to their first Cup Final since 1970.
The Blues were no fluke, however. On Jan. 8 they were 17-20-4 and sat dead last in the conference. They had already fired their head coach less than a month into the season after a 7-9-3 start, so another playoff-less season seemed likely. But the Blues somehow flipped the switch and went 28-8-5 after Jan. 8.
Still, the Bruins emerged from a conference dominated by the Lightning (121 points), Bruins (107), Capitals (104), Islanders (103), Penguins (100), and Leafs (100); the Blues were the West representative with 99 points.
That Boston did not record its 13th pro sports championship of the century was certainly disappointing to the ridiculously spoiled New England sports fan, but also to yours truly, who boldly predicted nearly three months ago, “The Bruins . . . are legit. And that’s why I’m stating, here on March 23, that the Black and Gold have a darned good chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in June.”
I also somewhat correctly stated back then, “Now, I’m not blind to the fact that Tampa Bay is really, really good, and has actually improved since the Bolts took out the Bruins in five games in last year’s playoffs. But Tampa Bay is so far ahead in the standings, it would be wise to rest players down the stretch and concentrate on winning its first Cup since 2004 . . . and coasting in the season’s final weeks is probably not the best prescription for the intense stage that is the Stanley Cup playoffs. And by no means does winning the Presidents’ Trophy guarantee that the team will eventually win a championship. Since 2002, only two teams have taken home the Cup after earning the Presidents’ Trophy (’08 Red Wings and ’13 Blackhawks), while 12 of the 13 others didn’t even make it to the Cup Finals the year they captured the trophy. So the Lightning could suffer that same fate.”
So there were the Bruins, a powerhouse all season but unlucky enough to be slotted in the same division as two of the best teams in the entire East, suddenly in the Cup Final for the third time this decade, meeting a Blues team with no championship history, a rookie goaltender, home-ice disadvantage, and a roster that had just one player, David Perron, with any experience in the Cup Final.
The Bruins were widely viewed as the favorite because they had more skilled players and more speed, along with the experience of five players who had played in two Cup Finals, and having already won one, in 2011.
Two days after the Blues left Boston with the Cup, local fans are still trying to make sense of what happened in that back-and-forth seven-game series, but one thing is abundantly obvious: the Bruins lost three out of their four home games to the Blues, and while Boston was dominant in two of the three played in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, it didn’t get the high-caliber performances that should have been expected out of its best players.
Patrice Bergeron, later admitting he was fighting through a groin injury, had a goal and two assists in the Bruins’ 7-2 win in Game 3, an assist in a 4-2 loss in Game 4, but five games with a 0-0-0 line.
Brad Marchand, playing with a bad hand that was aggravated in the controversial scrimmage in between series along with groin problems, had a power-play goal and an empty-netter, otherwise he had just three assists in seven games.
Fellow linemate David Pastrnak, who reportedly aggravated his surgically-repaired wrist against Columbus, had two goals and two assists, but more was expected of him.
And finally, David Krejci had but two assists in the entire Cup Final. Overall, the top line combined for just a pair of even-strength goals on hockey’s greatest stage.
That just wasn’t good enough.
Did the Bruins choke? No, I didn’t think that they did overall — certainly not beleaguered goaltender Tuukka Rask nor captain Zdeno Chara, he of the broken jaw — but I’m going to throw this out there again.
The Bruins franchise, after winning the 1972 Stanley Cup, has proceeded to fall in the Cup Final seven out of the eight times it managed to reach it in the past 46 seasons. The B’s own just six Cups in their 95-year history, and excluding 2011, Boston has lost seven-game series in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2014, while only winning two (both against the Leafs).
But this year’s disappointment is gonna leave a mark. The 2019 Stanley Cup was right there for the taking, and the Bruins let it slip away.
And it would be no surprise if they did end up taking it to their (expletive) graves.