Forget the Canadiens beating the Capitals and the Penguins, the story of the Boston Bruins ruinous collapse will be the story of this year’s NHL playoffs. The pain Bruins fans are feeling today, after their team gave up a three-goal lead and then the game as Simon Gagne potted the game-winner late in the third period, will be with them for a very, very long time. Oh, and remember the name Simon Gagne. You’re going to see it again.
But the amazing three-goal choke wasn’t the worst part of the series for the Bruins, nor was it the defining moment. That happenes two games earlier, in Game Five. First, a little introduction.
Boston went up early on the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers, running out to a three games to none series lead. They were scoring goals by the truckload and the Flyers didn’t have much of an answer for anything they did. They dropped Game 4, in overtime, but that wasn’t such a big deal. Overtime losses don’t impart a ton of momentum, especially given that Boston seemed to have found a scoring touch they didn’t have during the regular season. Sure, the guy who scored the winning goal in that game, Simon Gagne (remember him?), wasn’t even supposed to be playing after taking a slap shot off his ankle. What are the chances he’d come up big on a gimpy ankle again (dun dun DUNNNN!)?
Then came Game Five, the night the Bruins lost it all.
The Flyers were already playing their backup goalie, Brian Boucher, who took over for the starter Ray Emery after he went out for the rest of the year with an abdominal injury. Boucher then lost the job to his journeyman backup, Michael Leighton, later in the year then got it back when Leighton sprained his ankle back in March. We’re not talking top-flight netminders here, folks. So, down 3 games to 1, with a backup goalie, against a team that was scoring goals like their were Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers, things were looking pretty bleak for the Fly Guys.
Then the injury happened.
Boucher made a dazzling save, his ninth of the night, but got crushed by his own defenseman who then fell on him. His leg was painfully twisted and pinned under his body and that was it for Boucher. Enter Leighton, who hadn’t played since his injury and who had never played in a playoff game.
I did say bleak, right?
Well, Leighton made 14 saves, preserved the shutout, and sent his team into Game Seven. That was your series, right there. The Flyers then became the Team That Wouldn’t Die and now they’re in the Conference Finals.