The Big 50: Boston Bruins – The Men and Moments That Made the Boston Bruins
By: Fluto Shinzawa
Triumph Books, 2016
Chapter 5 – Back to the Top
For a day, during one of the most heated playoff series most of them had ever seen, the Bruins played the part of tourists instead of hockey players. They strolled up and down Main Street next to Mirror Lake in civilian clothes, not the suits they were always required to wear. They had earned a day off.
The Bruins were in Lake Placid, New York, the home of miracles.
They had pulled off one of their own the night before: entering Montreal’s Bell Centre, the most hostile rink in the league, to grab a 4–2 win in the opening round of the 2011 playoffs. The down-and out Bruins, losers of the first two games at home, were back in the fight. But with two idle days before Game 4 in Montreal, the Bruins decided to decamp in the village made iconic by a group of fellow scrappers 31 years earlier.
That the Bruins’ march to the Stanley Cup included a pit stop in Lake Placid was the stuff of movies.
The Bruins were backstopped by Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas, the American everyman whose primary goal in becoming a hockey player was to appear in the Olympics. The Bruins had their doubters after Zdeno Chara missed Game 2 of the opening round because of an illness, Patrice Bergeron was unavailable for the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final because of a concussion, and Aaron Rome knocked out Nathan Horton in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins had to overcome 0–2 series deficits against Montreal and Vancouver.
But like the 1980 Americans, the Bruins believed in the unbelievable. Regardless of the roadblocks set in their way, the Bruins barreled through them with confidence and attitude. Consider the Game 4 come-from-behind 5–4 overtime win against the Canadiens. The Bruins, down 3–1 in the second period, launched their rally when Andrew Ference fired a puck past Carey Price, then flipped off the Montreal crowd. Ference’s gesture captured the spirit of the 2010–11 Bruins: feisty, aggressive, and never out of it.
Ference was an important player. He was physical, gritty, and reliable. When Dennis Seidenberg moved up to Chara’s right side for Game 3 against the Canadiens, Ference skated on the No. 2 pairing alongside Johnny Boychuk.
But Ference’s value was important off the ice, too. Sometime during the stretch run of the regular season, Ference acquired an old Bruins Starter jacket on eBay. He bought it as a gag. But it became a critical symbol for the team during their championship run.
After each win, the jacket would go to the player who had contributed most to the victory. And not necessarily with an important goal or save. The Bruins believed that little things were important to team success: checks, blocked shots, and backchecks. The players chased the jacket each game because of what it represented. It brought the team closer.
So it was especially haunting for the Bruins after their 8–1 pounding of the Canucks in Game 3. It would have been Horton’s responsibility to hand off the jacket to his most deserving teammate. Horton was the jacket’s steward following his winning goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay. Horton scored the lone goal of the penalty-free game to launch the Bruins into the final.
Horton, the first-year Bruin, had never been to the playoffs before 2011. The right wing, the third overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, had played in 422 games for the Panthers. All of them were in the regular season. Horton was tired of losing. So at the end of 2009–10, Horton requested a trade. Florida GM Dale Tallon granted Horton his wish.
Horton settled well into life as a Bruin. He and fellow widebody Milan Lucic became the thunderous bookends on David Krejci’s flanks. Despite his lack of a playoff pedigree, Horton elevated his performance in the tightest of games. In Game 5 against Montreal, Horton scored the winner in double overtime. Two games later, also in overtime, Horton’s snapper beat Price to vault the Bruins into the second round against Philadelphia.
But nothing about Horton’s future was certain after Rome closed on the right wing and delivered a shot to his head at 5:07 of the first period. Horton left on a stretcher and was taken to nearby Massachusetts General Hospital. He had suffered a concussion. He would not play again in the series.
Horton felt good enough, however, to make an unexpected visit to the dressing room after the Bruins’ 4–0 Game 4 win and hand over the jacket to Rich Peverley, who scored two goals. Horton was also well enough to travel to Vancouver for Game 7 and pour some melted TD Garden ice onto the Rogers Arena surface before the puck dropped.
Symbolism worked well for the Bruins. But so did good, hardnosed, thorough play. Part of the reason they dispatched the Flyers, their nemesis from the previous season, in four straight games in the second round was their in-your-face approach. They played physical, structured, and disciplined hockey in Game 7 against the Lightning. And when everything was on the line in Game 7 against the Canucks, their toughest players accepted the challenge.
For most of the first period, the Bruins’ skilled players weren’t having much luck. Lucic, Krejci, and Peverley were chasing the puck. So were Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Mark Recchi. The third line of Michael Ryder, Chris Kelly, and Tyler Seguin couldn’t get any traction. Amid the Canucks’ surge, the Bruins’ fourth line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, and Shawn Thornton punched back.
The threesome, known as the Merlot Line because of the color of their practice jerseys, was a fourth line in name alone. Thornton, the rough-and-tumble right wing, repeatedly classified the speedy Paille and the cerebral Campbell as forwards who could be thirdliners on other teams. The Bruins’ depth dictated otherwise. The would-be third-liners regularly took advantage of their matchups. They blended speed, physicality, and smarts to strip opponents of pucks and create zone time and scoring chances at the other end.
The fourth line did just that against the roaring Canucks. By the time the fourth-liners’ teammates found their rhythm, the Canucks had faded off their initial push. Marchand, who started the season on the fourth line, scored twice. So did Bergeron, his linemate.
Shortly after the Cup-clinching win, Chara approached commissioner Gary Bettman to claim his prize. The biggest and strongest player in the league almost fell backward when he lifted the Cup over his head. The attrition of the season had nearly worn Chara out. But he had enough gas left to skate around the Rogers Arena ice with the Cup and celebrate in the dressing room with his teammates, family members, and friends.
One last time, the Bruins presented their cherished jacket to the player who deserved it the most. There was no question of who the recipient would be. Recchi, the future Hall of Fame Player, was calling it quits. Recchi left the game on top with a Cup and the jacket. The two most powerful symbols of the season had come together under a deserving steward.
This excerpt from The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Boston Bruins is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/Big50Bruins.