On The Wrong Side Of A Historic Comeback

By Dave Bronstetter, Featured Writer at The3Righties.com

Many years ago, when I was young and foolish, I was a big Boston Bruins fan. It all came crashing down on me during the playoffs of 1971. The Bruins were playing the HATED Montréal Canadiens; hated by me at any rate. The Canadiens had won too often. I had conveniently forgotten that they’d missed the playoffs the previous season, but that was something unheard of in the NHL of that era. Can you imagine complaining about the Habs because they won too much? It was time for someone else to win the Cup and for me it was the ascendant Boston Bruins.

They had it all: Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the funniest fans in hockey. They also had a certain arrogant swagger that impressed a callow young fan. One of the ugliest disasters of that Habs-Bruins series -and today one of my most cherished memories- took place April 8, 1971. The Bruins had a 1-0 lead in the series and looked as if they were going to run away with game 2. Boston had built up a 5-1 lead less than halfway through the 2nd period. Then it began; a breakaway, unassisted goal by the game’s great bantamweight Henri Richard made it 5-2. Richard was the epitome of the never-say-die athlete; the very definition of a competitor. Still, after 2 periods the Bruins had a commanding lead. NOBODY: not the fans at the Garden, not the millions watching on TV, not this teenager who LOVED the Bruins, not even die-hard Canadiens fans could predict, hope what would happen next. It was historic.

Ken Dryden, the McGill law student, stoned the Boston Bruins; stoned the most formidable offense in the league. Among the many enduring images I have of that game is of an exasperated, dazed Phil Esposito standing in front of the Canadiens net shaking his head after yet another gangly incredible save by Dryden. Esposito, never at a loss for words, was speechless but had written all over his face, “What have we got to do to beat this guy?!!!!!!?” 

The Canadiens would score 5 goals in one of the most incredible comebacks in sporting history. Jean Beliveau scored twice. The press at the time said Beliveau carried the team on his back. Beliveau would become my great hero when I grew up and regained my sanity. But that night of horror became one of humiliation. When the Habs tied it at 5, I started getting phone calls from friends just itching to needle this thin-skinned prodigal. After the Canadiens made it 6-5, more calls. Then after the comeback was complete- Canadiens 7 – Bruins 5- a flood of phone calls, including one from a girl who I was crazy about but couldn’t quite convince to return the favour.

The fans at the Garden were stunned. The Bruins were stunned, so were the Canadiens. I was stunned and shaken. Montréal would go on to win the series 4-3 and win the Stanley Cup, beating another offensive powerhouse, the Chicago Blackhawks, in 7 games. I came to realize over the years that I had witnessed hockey -sport- at it’s unpredictable best. And I saw the light, the Montréal Canadiens, like the New York Yankees, like Manchester United, are teams people recall when they talk about the best in sport; love‘em or hate‘em. I grew to love the Canadiens again and the love affair continues to this day.

This older and wiser hockey fan will not be cheering for the Bruins in the 2019 Stanley Cup final for many reasons. Most of them involve Brad Marchand. He’s the personification of what I despise about professional sports. 

I know despise is a strong word, but I use it nonetheless. Besides, so many intense hockey games between Boston and Montréal have happened since ’71, that I just can’t bring myself to wave a Bruins banner. I’d be letting the Habs down. Hell, I’d be letting the Bruins down. There are always two sides to every love-hate relationship.

Maybe if the Bruins were playing the Leafs.....Nah! I tried that out earlier in the playoffs and just ended up ignoring the series altogether.

If there’s nothing to admire about the bad old Bruins, there’s one thing I’ve come to envy them in the past several years. They’ve got Patrice Bergeron. He’s one of the best two-way players in the game. Any guy who’s won the Selke Trophy as many times as Bob Gainey, has my undying admiration; and he acquits himself like a true professional. I’d love to see him wearing la Sainte Flannel. I can always dream.

So, I’ll cheer for St. Louis in the final. The Blues are a wonderful story this year. It’s the first time they’ve been in the final since 1970 when Scotty Bowman was behind the bench and the Bruins used the Blues for fodder. This edition of the final should be a much more even matchup. I think it’ll go 7.

But you know what I really want: A 25th Stanley Cup Championship for the Canadiens, and a big parade downtown. In the soon to be 32 team NHL of the 21st century, however, that’s a very long shot. I can always dream. Where have I heard that before?