In the 2007-08 season, the Bruins returned to the playoffs and after erasing a 3-1 series lead for the Montreal Canadiens before losing in Game 7 of the opening round, General Manager Peter Chiarelli felt confident enough to go out and add key pieces. With an improved team on paper, the Bruins took another leap forward and became an elite contender.
In the summer of 2008, Chiarelli added Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler to the forward group. In addition, he made a depth free agent signing, adding veteran Stephane Yelle from Calgary. Although it seemed like nothing at the time, Chiarelli also made an AHL deal that landed defenseman Johnny Boychuk.
The end result? A return to the elite level of the NHL for the Bruins in 2008-09.
Regular Season Dominance
The Bruins opened the season with a 5-4 victory in Denver over the Colorado Avalanche on October 9th, 2008. Overall, however, the month of October was rather disappointing for the Bruins. They finished the month 5-3-3, but couldn’t find their stride. They closed the month with a 3-2 loss in Calgary against the Flames.
What happened in November and December, however, set the Bruins apart. Collectively, the Bruins would post a 23-2-1 record in those two months. They shot to the top of the Northeast Division and never looked back. Among those victories was a key battle against the Detroit Red Wings on November 29th at TD Garden.
Still an elite team, and defending Stanley Cup Champions at the time, the Red Wings were seen as a measuring stick for the Bruins. Wheeler scored 12:00 into the hockey game and the Bruins never looked back. They won the game 4-1 and passed the test with flying colors.
The Bruins finished the season 53-19-10, good for 116 points and a Northeast Division crown. They also finished as the top seed in the Eastern Conference, eight points ahead of the Washington Capitals and ten points up on the New Jersey Devils.
The Bruins would hold home ice in a playoff series for the first time since 2004 when they battled the Montreal Canadiens as the second seed out east. Their opponent in the spring of 2009? Those same Canadiens. One year aft losing in Game 7 to their rival, the Bruins were given the chance to exact revenge.
The Bruins made a pair of moves at the 2009 NHL trade deadline that were aimed at adding playoff experience, leadership and toughness. First, the Bruins sent Petteri Nokelainen to the Anaheim Ducks for veteran defenseman Steve Montador. A pure rental, Montador added grit to the Bruins defensive group that was preparing for a lengthy playoff run.
In addition, Montador had been to the Stanley Cup Final. He played for the Calgary Flames in 2004, when they advanced to play the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Speaking of the Lightning, that’s who the Bruins hooked up with for their other trade at the deadline. In this deal, the Bruins shipped out defenseman Matt Lashoff and prospect Martins Karsums. In return, the club acquired veteran Mark Recchi.
One of the top power-forwards of his era, Recchi added secondary scoring to a Bruins team in need of one more piece. He also brought rings to the room. Recchi won the Stanley Cup in 1991 (Penguins) and 2006 (Hurricanes). He was the kind of veteran that could come in and show the young Bruins what it takes to win a Stanley Cup.
Although those lessons didn’t pay off in the spring of 2009, they would in 2011. Recchi hung around, too. He returned for the 2009-10 season, then finished his career with a ring in 2011. In all, Recchi played parts of three seasons with the Bruins.
Not bad for a rental.
The spring of 2009 could not have started off better for the Bruins. Not only did they get revenge on the Canadiens, they embarrassed them. The Bruins dominated the series, sweeping the Canadiens in four straight. The Bruins were on a tear, and were heavy favorites for the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes were sixth seed. They reached the second round with an upset victory in Game 7 over the New Jersey Devils in Newark. With two goals in the final two minutes to tie it and win it, the Hurricanes appeared to have some magic going for them. Magic can go a long way in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Bruins stormed out to a 1-0 series lead via a 4-1 victory in Game 1. It looked like the Bruins were going to roll yet again, but the Hurricanes fought back and took Games 2, 3 and 4. Down 3-1 in the series, the Bruins were facing true adversity for the first time all season.
Their answer? Two straight victories to keep the dream alive. The Bruins returned home for Game 5 and dominated. The Hurricanes were never in the game, indicated by the 4-0 final. Game 6 was a little closer, but the Bruins prevailed with their first road victory of the series, 4-2.
Game 7 was back and forth. The Bruins trailed 2-1 after two, but Milan Lucic forced overtime with his tally at 6:19 of the final period. That’s when Scott Walker stabbed the dagger even deeper after knocking out Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward in Game 5. Walker scored 18:46 into overtime to propel Carolina into the Conference Final, and end the Bruins’ season.
The playoff heartbreak was just the beginning though for the Bruins and their fans. That second round was nothing compared to what would happen one year later. In between that? The Bruins would see their roster complexion change in a big way.