Where do we put this one?
Where does the Bruins’ epic playoff fail rank in the pantheon of local pro sports disappointments?
It’s perhaps in contention for the bronze medal. But this is subjective stuff, and I’m happy to let you be the judge.
I think we can all agree that the old Red Sox forever will be the gold standard when it comes to flops that demoralize the entire region. In this spirit, the Red Sox’ 1986 World Series fold forever will be the capo di tutti capi of Boston sports collapses. After 68 years of near-misses (hello Bucky Dent and Denny Galehouse), the Sox were one strike away from winning the World Series at Shea Stadium, but they dissolved in a 10th inning that famously featured the Steamer’s wild pitch and Mookie Wilson’s Little League grounder between Billy Buck’s wickets.
In my world of woes, the silver medal for local sports sorrow is the Patriots loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII in February of 2008. That was the 18-0 team that couldn’t finish the job in Glendale, Ariz. We’ll never forget David Tyree’s Velcro-helmet catch and Mercury Morris and friends popping champagne in Miami as they remained the NFL’s only undefeated team. Preprinted copies of the Globe’s “Perfection” commemorative book were believed to be stored in closets at our old Morrissey Boulevard property.
Bruins-Panthers ‘23 is in contention for the bronze on my misery medal platform.
But that’s probably a reach. Sunday’s shocker likely won’t damage the loyal psyche the way the Red Sox collapse of 1978 crushed our souls. More recently, some of you may remember how Grady Little (the Jim Montgomery of two decades ago) and the Yankees cut out our hearts in October of 2003. It was the same with Bucky Bleepin’ Dent in ‘78. Those were certified New England nightmares.
Before we can elevate Bruins-Panthers to our medal platform, we’d have to establish that it’s the most revoltin’ Bruins development of all time. That’s a tough sell for those old enough to remember the Bobby Orr golden 1970s when we all watched Channel 38 and hummed along to “The Nutty.”
The Orr Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and ‘72, but the best team of that era was the ‘71 team that won more games, piled up more points, and scored more goals than the Cup winners. The ‘71 Bruins averaged 5.12 goals per game and had 10 players with 20 or more goals. Four Bruins had 100-point seasons, and four were All-NHL first-teamers.
Despite this, they were bounced in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens, who had Ken Dryden — an original Bruins draftee who had six games of NHL experience coming into the playoffs — in goal.
Later in that decade, the Bruins lost again to the Habs because of Too Many Men On The Ice. In 2010, the Bruins lost to the Flyers after taking a 3-0 series lead and leading, 3-0, in Game 7. In 2019, the Bruins came home for a Stanley Cup Game 7 against the Blues (after winning Game in St. Louis, 5-1) and fell flat, 4-1. That loss and Sunday’s calamity pretty much assures that the Bergeron/Krejci/Marchand core is going to win only one Cup despite three trips to the Finals, three Presidents’ Trophies, and the greatest regular-season team in NHL history.
“Stupefying,” said Montgomery.
With the best regular-season team of all time (are we going to hear Charlie Jacobs saying “more days in first place”?), these Bruins lost to the NHL’s 17th-best team. After only four “real” home defeats all season, they dropped three at home in the playoffs. After not having three “real” losses in a row during the regular season, they dropped the final three of the playoffs.
They lost Game 5 in overtime. They lost Game 6 despite leading in the third period. They lost Game 7 at home, even though they led by a goal with less than a minute to play.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the noble star center of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, last week delivered a tutorial in sports perspective when asked if his team’s season was a failure after the top-seeded Bucks were bounced from the NBA playoffs by the eighth-seeded Heat in the first round.
“Michael Jordan played 15 years, won six championships — [were] the other nine years a failure?” Giannis respectfully asked. “That’s what you’re telling me … Why do you ask me that question? … There’s no failure in sports.”
Tell that to the 17,850 “Zombieland” cast members who filed out of the Garden in stunned silence Sunday night. Tell that to a Bruins Nation that has invested emotional capital in the Hub’s hardscrabble hockey team for almost 100 years.
Everyone around here loves the Bruins. It’s what we do.
But this was abject failure. Maybe even worthy of a medal of misery.
Read more about the Bruins
- ‘It’s going to hurt for a long time’: Bruins, filled with promise, get knocked out in first round and wonder what might have been
- The Bruins enter an offseason of lament after this disquieting first-round collapse to the Panthers
- Was that Patrice Bergeron’s last game? If so, Game 7 is a heartbreaking loss in more ways than one.