That was the last time the Bruins had any sort of taste of the conference finals. Nineteen years of “almost” or “not quite” and a quick goal from Johnny Boychuck to put the Bruins up 2-1 in the third period and ultimately a 5-1 win and a sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Boston fans have known heartbreak — just last year they experienced the ultimate letdown against the Flyers, and were determined to not only seek retribution, but also lay claim to a couple more weeks in May and dedicate them to hockey. Bruins head coach Claude Julien mentioned that in a city that has been able to see success from its three other sports teams in the last few years, he wants to be able to offer fans some reward.
“One thing that our team understands here is that there are some huge fans in Boston,” Julien said. “And as I’ve said before, they have been punished enough. We’ve had some tough years, and yes our building is full now and the fans are into it and for us its rewarding to give those fans what they have been waiting for for a long time.”
But it didn’t come without a fight.
After two periods of play, the Flyers held onto a 1-1 tie, after a turnover in the neutral zone by Brad Marchand gave Kris Versteeg the opportunity to net the goal past Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas. Early in the third period, less than two minutes in, Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron left the game after taking a hit from Flyers forward Claude Giroux. Bergeron left the ice on his own, but immediately vacated the bench and continued through the tunnel.
Boychuck’s blast from the blueline seemed to provide a wake up call to the team just seconds after Bergeron’s injury, and teammate Milan Lucic tallied the follow up goal for some insurance 13 minutes later. Brad Marchand and Daniel Paille added two more empty net goals for good measure, solidifying the win and the sweep over Philadelphia.
“I was very happy and especially happy that Johnny Boychuk scored,” Thomas said. “He has been great for me all year, I love playing with him. And at the time I was just trying to get refocused because I knew there was a lot of hockey left. Now when Looch [Milan Lucic] scored the goal with five minutes left I let myself just a little bit start to, not celebrate, but start to think ‘hey this could be it, we could win this game.”
Lucic netted two goals in Friday night’s game after not scoring once in his twenty previous matches. While linemates David Krejci and Nathan Horton have become heroes for Boston throughout these playoffs, Lucic was often lost in the action, but not with his teammates.
“[Krejci and Horton] always have my back, and even for them, times were tough this year,” Lucic said. “I had to lift them up, and just tell them to relax, and that was the same sort of thing. They had my back, and they just told me, ‘It’s gonna come. Just keep sticking with it.” And I tried my hardest not to get frustrated. There was a time there when I was really frustrated, but right now, obviously it feels good to step up and help the team win a big game. And moving forward, you want to keep pushing for more.”
Lucic’s scoring couldn’t have come at a better time. With the series over, and at least some time to rest up, his confidence can blend with the rest of the team heading into what promises to be a tough series with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
While Thomas mentioned he is going to take until 1 a.m. to relish in this victory before focusing on Tampa Bay, it’s a victory that won’t soon be forgotten. Redemption aside, 19 years aside, hockey has found it’s way back into Beantown again.
“We know that baseball, football and obviously basketball has done very well lately,” Julien said. “And now it is time for hockey to step up and do the same thing.”
Video of Lucic, Julien, Mark Recchi and Zdeno Chara courtesy of Tim Rosenthal