By Sam Dykstra/DFP Staff
The 1942 Detroit Red Wings. The 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins. The 2004 New York Yankees. And now, the 2010 Boston Bruins.
The teams on that very short list are the only squads in North American major professional sports history to lose a seven-game series after winning the first three games.
But when the Bruins officially blew their 3-0 series lead Friday night in a 4-3 home loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 of the NHL Eastern Conference semifinals, perhaps the biggest story wasn’t just that they had done something few teams before them had. It was precisely how they finally blew that series lead in Game 7.
In what can only be described a microcosm of the series, Boston was able to jump out to a 3-0 lead—sound familiar?—on two goals by forward Milan Lucic and another by forward Michael Ryder in the game’s first 14 minutes.
A wrist shot by forward James van Riemsdyk that deflected awkwardly off Bruins forward Miroslav Satan and past goalie Tuukka Rask was the first chip away at the Boston lead with 2:48 left in the first. Second-period goals by forwards Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere completely wiped away said lead.
Finally, forward Simon Gagne, who entered the series in Game 4 after missing two weeks with a broken right toe, put home the eventual game-winner with just over seven minutes remaining in the game after the Bruins were whistled for a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty, a penalty that has plagued Boston all season, 1:42 earlier.
With that, the Bruins’ lead in the game, lead in the series and season collectively were over.
“It’s huge,” Rask said. “You’re up 3-0, and you let things slip. If hockey games would be decided by the first 10 minutes, we would have won today, but obviously they’re not. The whole season got together there in the third period when we got that too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty. It’s what our problem was the whole year, and they scored. It’s a huge disappointment.”
That penalty truly appeared to be the tipping point in the third period. Both squads had exchanged long possessions in each offensive zone, but neither was able to capitalize. Then, Boston center Vladimir Sobotka hit the ice while fellow center Marc Savard failed to come off to give the Bruins six skaters. The referees immediately blew the whistle, giving the Flyers the man-advantage that allowed Gagne to score the game-winner.
At least one Bruin didn’t agree with the decisive call.
“I think that’s a terrible call,” said Bruins forward Mark Recchi. “It’s a 3-3 series [in a] Game 7. You don’t make that call.”
Whether the call should have been made or not, the Boston penalty kill, which entered Game 7 as the best penalty-killing unit in the playoffs with an efficiency of 91.5%, failed to achieve its own goal in that final frame.
“You can’t blame the refs for that,” said Bruins center Patrice Bergeron. “You got to do the job on the penalty kill, and we didn’t do it.”
Although Richards’ power-play goal off that failed Bruins penalty kill was no doubt the game’s biggest goal, van Riemsdyk’s in the first was seemingly just as important.
With a 3-0 first-period lead, the Bruins seemed to be cruising along just fine. Any questions concerning a lack of offensive firepower or inability to hang with the confident Flyers were answered swiftly and seemingly completely.
Then, the rookie flung a wrist shot, almost as an afterthought, toward Rask with only minutes left in the first. It deflected off Satan’s stick, and when Rask finally relocated the puck, it was already behind him. The Bruins’ momentum had come to a screeching halt with just one flick of the wrist.
“We had lots of energy,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We got a 3-0 lead, and that’s something we wanted to do tonight—come out that way. Unfortunately, they scored that goal from a broken stick and through a couple of guys, it trickled in. That gave them some life. That was certainly something that would have been nice to come into the dressing room with a 3-0 lead instead of a 3-1.”
“We took it one goal at a time,” Richards said. “Like I said, [van Riemsdyk] had that goal for us and got us momentum at the end of the first. We then started relaxing and playing hockey and feeling more comfortable on the ice. We got a couple bounces, and they went in.”
It was those kinds of bounces that Philadelphia benefitted from all evening.
Hartnell’s goal came after a shot by Ville Leino ricocheted off Rask and right to Hartnell, who put a backhander past Rask from the right doorstep. Briere had to bank his wraparound off Rask’s leg. Even Gagne’s goal was the result of a collected deflection.
But what perhaps hurt the Bruins the most in both Game 7 and the series as a whole was the injury bug. Forwards Marco Sturm, the team’s leading goal-scorer in the regular season, and David Krejci, who tied for the team lead in points, both missed Games 4-7 with injuries.
Yet regardless of injuries, the 2009-10 Boston Bruins will forever be on the wrong side of history because they still had four opportunities to win a single game but came up short. For that, their coach says there is no excuse.
“I’m not going to stand here and find excuses,” Julien said. “The bottom line is we had a 3-0 lead in the series, we had a 3-0 lead tonight and we blew both. So there are no excuses. We have to take the responsibility that goes with it. Everyone.”
GAME NOTES: Coming into the game, the team that scored first in a Game 7 won 72% of the time. … Home teams were 80-52 in Game 7 coming in. However, with the Bruins’ loss, the home team is now 0-4 in Game 7 during this year’s playoffs. … Julien is now 1-3 in Game 7s with his only win coming against Boston in 2004 when he was coach of the Montreal Canadiens, the Flyers’ opponent in the upcoming Eastern Conference Finals.