Anyone else think they've been here before? The city of Boston and the New England region as a whole, are going through another run of sporting failures and disappointments, and they only seem to be getting worse.
On Feb. 3, 2008, the New England Patriots were 18-0, leading the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, and five minutes away from the first-ever perfect NFL season.
At the time, the Celtics were on their way to their first title in over 20 years, and the Red Sox were World Series champions. Then Giants receiver David Tyree made that catch, and Boston sports went into a tailspin.
The Super Bowl XLII upset happened, the Red Sox lost in Game Seven of the 2008 ALCS, Tom Brady injured his knee, the Pats finished third in the AFC East, Kevin Garnett injured his knee, the Bruins collapsed against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Sox were swept by the Los Angeles Angels, Wes Welker injured his knee, and the Baltimore Ravens annihilated the Patriots.
With the exception of the 2007-08 Celtics' NBA Championship, Boston sports have suffered more heartbreak in the last two years than any other city in America. Other than Seattle, perhaps, who managed to actually lose a team .
Meanwhile, the Giants have won a Super Bowl, the New York Jets have become the scariest team in the AFC East, the Los Angeles Lakers have won an NBA crown, the New York Yankees won their 27th World Series, and the Montreal Canadiens are in the Eastern Conference Finals.
All this, however, was nothing compared to the heartbreak the Bruins inflicted upon the city and surrounding region on Friday night.
Let’s put this in perspective. In the history of the NHL, there have been 159 instances where a team has led a series 3-0.
When you add in the NBA and MLB, there have been 278 series where one team led 3-0. In addition, to the ’42 Leafs and the ’75 Islanders, only the 2004 Boston Red Sox (against the Yankees) have overcome the deficit to win the series, 4-3.
After being criticized all season for being ‘soft,’ and offensively challenged, the B’s were a different team in the postseason.
In the first four games against the Philadelphia Flyers, they scored 16 goals and played harder than they had all season, driving Philly players into the boards at every opportunity.
They outplayed their opponents, won the first three games, and lost a close Game Four in overtime.
They had been the better team, and their 3-1 series lead attested to that. Then, in Game Five at the TD Garden, they regressed to their regular season form.
The fore-checking, which had helped win the first three games disappeared, was replaced with lacklustre, weak, and sloppy play, and the Flyers rightly mauled the B’s, 4-0.
Their Game Six performance was better, and even though Philly won, 2-1, the scoreline was kind to the Bruins, who never looked settled; the complacency of Game Five replaced with a growing nervousness.
Having blown a 3-0 series lead, no one would have been surprised to see the Flyers ease to a Game Seven win. However, the Bruins were not to be that easy.
As soon as the puck dropped on Friday night, the physical play returned for the Bruins, and just 5:27 in, took the lead on Michael Ryder's power play goal.
Soon after, on another power play caused by a second high-sticking call, Dennis Wideman found Milan Lucic, who made it 2-0.
At the 14-minute mark, Lucic took the puck from the Bruins’ zone to the right faceoff circle, and fired a wrist shot past the floundering Michael Leighton in net.
Many have blamed Wideman for his performance this season. Most of it has been unfounded, and he has simply been made the scapegoat for the team’s struggles, but at the end of the first period, he found himself woefully out of position, was knocked over by Mike Richards, and allowed James van Riemsdyk to score, and make it 3-1 at the first intermission.
In the second period, the fire was gone from the B’s and it was never to return. It took merely eight minutes for the Flyers to level the game at three apiece, and while it remained that way until the third, the home team were always on the back foot and barely threatened Leighton.
Twelve minutes into the third period, the Bruins made the mistake that cost them the game. A miscommunication on a line change led to a too-many-men penalty, the Flyers scored on the ensuing power play and Boston never recovered.
Boston was tripped up as much by the NHL as by themselves. So far in this year’s playoffs, there have been 33 penalties for having too many men on the ice. In the entire 2009 postseason, it was only called 17 times.
The NHL wanted the infringement to be called more often in 2010, and the referees obliged. When Marc Savard and Vladimir Sobotka stepped onto the ice at the same time, it was called again.
"I was coming back and then no one jumped so I stayed on," Savard said in his post-game press conference. "I'm not sure what happened after that. I went back to get on the puck and then, I don't know."
Bruins coach Claude Julien knew what happened, and although he never mentioned any names, he made sure everyone knew who was to blame.
"We had a player come to the bench and had his stick up like he wanted to change, and he changes his mind and we had the next center man jumping on," he said.
"So they made that call. He made kind of a loop and came right back to the bench. The puck was in the corner, but they call those. They're calling them through the whole playoffs, so we'll leave it at that."
Bruins right wing Mark Recchi didn’t like it.
“I think that it’s a terrible call,” said Recchi, who had three goals and an assist in the series.
“It’s a 3-3 series, Game Seven, you don’t make that call. The ref didn't call it; the linesman called it. It was not a very good call. Not at this point of the game. Not when it happens all night.”
Technically, it was Simon Gagne’s goal with 7:08 left that sank Boston. But while Game Seven was in part decided by a—questionably harsh—call, we must remember that it was the Bruins who let the series reach that stage.
They led the series 3-0, and let that lead slip away. Then they led Game Seven, 3-0 and let that lead also slip away. If that happens, you lose any right to blame your collapse on officiating or injuries.
The fans will never forget.
And now the players and coaches have a place in the history books to make sure they never do, either.