If you tossed the clicker to the couch and quit on the Boston Bruins at second intermission of Tuesday night’s road game against the Carolina Hurricanes, then you missed what this hockey season has been all about, along with a déjà vu that must have made Cam Neely and Don Sweeney smile.
David Pastrnak (third-period hat trick) played the part of Dave Poulin, Matt Grzelcyk the part of Bob Beers and Patrice Bergeron the part of an injured Raymond Bourque, as the Bruins erased a three-goal, third-period deficit to win 6-4 and make the Whaler/Canes’ building sound like Boston’s.
Down 3-1 entering the third period with a power play that backfired into an all-she-wrote, short-handed goal to make it a 4-1 hole, the odds of a comeback grew even steeper moments later when Bruins captain Zdeno Chara went to the tunnel, following Jake DeBrusk and Torey Krug, who had already left the game with injuries.
The Triangle Region-based Bruins fans who had bought tickets only to sit despondently through one of the season’s rare stinkers were rewarded for sticking it out, as the Bruins came to life midway through the final period on goals by Grzelcyk, Pastrnak, Danton Heinen, Pastrnak and … Pastrnak.
Seemingly resigned to defeat, the Bruins suddenly went bonkers and so did they.
The ramifications cannot be compared, but the scene was like a trip down memory lane back to April 11, 1990, when the Bruins were without an injured Bourque, in a 2-1 series hole and trailing the Hartford Whalers, 5-2, in Game 4.
After the second period in the Civic Center concourse, Hartford fans talked about winning in five and who the Whalers would face next. After the third period, they were strangers in their own building amidst a crush of sweaty, delirious fanatics chanting, “HERE WE GO, BROOO-INZZ, HERE WE GO!”
Poulin scored at the beginning and end of the third period. Beers, then a rookie defenseman, jumped into the attack to score just like Grzelcyk did on Tuesday, and Dave Christian’s game-tying, one-timer sent the cheap seats into a frenzy. After Poulin’s second tally, time expired and the Bruins had won, 6-5, to tie a series they were in grave danger of losing. Boston would take it in seven.
The effects were devastating to the Whalers, who traded franchise legend Ron Francis before the next year’s playoffs. They never recovered, losing in the first round of the playoffs in 1991 and ’92 and failing to make the postseason for five years thereafter before Peter Karmanos took them out of Connecticut in 1997.
Relocated and rebranded as the Hurricanes, Karmanos’ team won the Stanley Cup under coach Peter Laviolette in 2006. But sustaining that success was difficult, and the Canes are locked in a perpetual rebuild like hockey’s answer to the Oakland Athletics. And maybe there were ramifications to Tuesday night’s turnaround, as Carolina was clinging to a last vestige of hope of making the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Will the Whalers/Canes will recover from this?
Veteran winger Justin Williams, a core member of the Hurricanes’ championship team who returned this season to finish his career in Raleigh, was despondent in a postgame interview.
“It’s beyond anger, to be honest,” he told a TV camera. “We’ve got thousands of Boston fans cheering for them when we’re at home. It’s a product of what’s happening. It’s beyond upsetting.”
Following a stand-pat trade deadline, new majority owner Tom Dundon re-assigned Francis from his job as GM. If that felt injurious, then losing to the Bruins like the Hurricanes did on Tuesday — like the Whalers, whom Francis captained, had on April 11, 1990 — was the insult.
Neely and Sweeney, who played for Boston in that fateful 1990 playoff game many years before becoming president and general manager, respectively, are ahead of schedule on the road back toward Cup contention. Their banged-up Bruins visit the Florida Panthers, another team desperately clinging to playoff hopes, on Thursday night in Sunrise, Fla. (7:30, NESN, 98.5).
News on the status of Chara, DeBrusk and Krug won’t be available until coach Bruce Cassidy meets the media around noontime, but whoever suits up for the Bruins these days seems to have a magic touch that makes anything seem possible, whether it happened during Neely’s and Sweeney’s playing days or not.
Mick Colageo covers hockey for The Standard-Times. Listen to Rink Rap the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and at OMNY.fm, read Rink Rap at blogs.southcoasttoday.com/bruins and follow on Twitter @MickColageo.