Seems like a mismatch, right?
Not so fast.
The New England Whalers WHA franchise was founded in Boston in 1972, playing their home games at the Boston Arena and Boston Garden. However, scheduling games at the home of the NHL’s Boston Bruins proved too difficult and the Whalers were relocated to Hartford, CT, for the 1974-1975 season.
One of the more stable WHA franchises, the New England Whalers joined the NHL in 1979, but only with a stipulation lobbied by, who else, the Boston Bruins requiring the Whalers to drop the “New England” from their name to join the league. The team obliged and, in 1979, the Hartford Whalers were born.
Since their inception, the Whalers seemed to play second fiddle to the Boston Bruins. However, during the 1990 Adams Division Semi-finals, the Whale had the Bruins on the ropes. The question was could they deliver the knockout punch to their regional rival?
Hartford stole the series opener in Boston, 4-3, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and staving off a Bruins comeback.
Game 2 was dominated by Boston, who peppered Whalers goalkeeper Peter Sidorkiewicz with 35 shots, scoring three times. Andy Moog replaced Reggie Lemelin between the pipes and only yielded one goal in a 3-1 victory to even the series.
The series shifted to “The Mall,” aka the Hartford Civic Center, the home of the Whalers. The hometown team did not disappoint their frenzied crowd of over 15,000 rabid Whalers fans. The Bruins and Whalers were tied at two after two periods before Hartford exploded for three goals in the final period to put away a 5-3 victory.
The Whalers were now up 2-1 in the series with Game 4 approaching and Hartford knew a victory would put them in the driver’s seat in the series.
Bruins head coach Mike Milbury went back to veteran Reggie Lemelin in goal. However, Lemelin was not at his best. The Whalers peppered the Boston netminder with 22 shots over the first two periods, finding the back of the twine five times. The Bruins were on life support heading into the final frame; if Boston lost this game, they would be in a 3-1 series hole going back to the Garden.
Milbury replaced Lemelin with Moog for the last period in an attempt to rally his team. The move paid off and the Bruins came out of the intermission on fire.
Just 1:28 into the period, Boston’s Dave Poulin (acquired by the Bruins for Ken Linseman back in January) beat Peter Sidorkiewicz to cut the lead to 5-3 and less than six minutes later, defenseman Bob Beers converted his opportunity.
The Whalers were now on their heels.
The Bruins could smell blood and the scoring frenzy continued. Just one minute and ten seconds after Beers’ tally, former “Miracle On Ice” Olympian Dave Christian found the back at the net to tie the game at five.
The Whalers were in full survival mode. the Civic Center was stunned and the team’s fight song, the “Brass Bonanza,” was silenced.
Hartford was in trouble.
The Whalers were trying to stave off the Black and Gold onslaught. However, they could only muster seven shots on Moog and Whalers’ goalie Peter Sidorkiewicz began to resemble a sieve, his confidence and will appearing to crack.
The game was winding down and the Whalers were trying to get to overtime, where anything could happen, but Dave Poulin and the rest of the Bruins wanted nothing to do with the extra session. They wanted to drive the harpoon right into the Whale.
After a mad scramble in front of the Hartford goal mouth, Dave Poulin pushed the game-winner past Sidorkiewicz with 1:44 remaining. The comeback was complete. The Bruins evened the series and the psyche of Whalers was bruised.
Boston would win Game 5 before Hartford rallied for an overtime victory at home, pushing the series to the limit.
Game 7 at the Boston Garden? It was pretty much a foregone conclusion. An opposing team has little chance of beating the Bruins in the friendly confines on Causeway Street.
The Bruins opened a 3-0 lead and held on to win Game 7, 3-1. The Bruins would go on to beat the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals before succumbing to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Game 4 between Boston and Hartford was a pivotal moment for the regional rivalry. With a Hartford victory, the Whalers would have slain their Black and Gold Goliath and would have gained the confidence to beat their hated foe to the north. Unfortunately, the Whalers would never beat the Bruins in the playoffs, losing to Boston the following year 4-2, marking the last time they would meet in the playoffs.
In 1997, the Whalers left Hartford for Carolina and became the Hurricanes. The regional rivalry was dead, but the memories will last forever.