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Looking back: Bruins get bounced

12.28.09 at 8:29 am ET
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storm1(WEEI.com is counting down the “Top 10 Things We Couldn’t Shut Up About In 2009,” and No. 10 is the Bruins getting eliminated from the playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes. Here is a written, visual and audio look at the surprising end to the B’s season.)

Sometimes things come together and bring success in ways nobody could have imagined. The 2008-09 Bruins were an unlikely candidate for such an achievement. An aging goaltender, a front office that — like the one before —  was starting to look like it was getting taken advantage of, a 2006 free agent class that had yet to bring Eastern Conference dominance for the money invested, and an inability to beat the bad guys of Montreal were just some of the things that had the Hub down on hockey.

The infamous Joe Thornton trade having doomed the franchise, Harvard product Peter Chiarelli was named general manager in 2006 and, after spending the fifth overall selection on University of Minnesota winger Phil Kessel, signed top free agents Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. With Andrew Raycroft out of the picture, Tim Thomas assumed the job in net under a team to be coached by Dave Lewis. After finishing the 2006-07 season with just 76 points and finishing dead last in the Northeast Division, the B’s ushered Lewis out and brought in former Devils and Canadiens coach Claude Julien.

storm2The team made strides in the 2007-08 campaign but doubt still lingered on Causeway Street. Despite Dennis Wideman, who a year earlier had been acquired for Brad Boyes, finishing the season a plus-11, naysayers pointed to the lack of a 30-goal-scorer and to the fact that Boyes wound up with 42 goals. The Bruins finished the season with 94 and secured the final playoff spot in the East before being eliminated in seven games by the Canadiens, who had also beaten them seven of eight regular-season contests. It was after their comeback from 3-1 in the series fell short, however, that the tide turned.

With offseason additions that included Blake Wheeler and former Hab Michael Ryder, the 2007-08 Bruins represented a departure from the hockey that had been seen post-lockout in Boston. Kessel emerged as the 30-goal-scorer that Boston had been calling for, with 32 goals, and Ryder wasn’t far behind with 27. Savard was the team’s third 25-goal-scorer and led the team with 88 points as Boston finished the season first in the East with 116 points, just one behind the Sharks for the Presidents’ Trophy.

Thomas and Manny Fernandez established themselves as the league’s best goaltending tandem early on, as Thomas, who in April turned 35, posted a 2.10 goals-against average en route to winning his first Vezina Trophy. Fernandez had a 2.07 GAA in 19 games in the season’s first half, though he followed it up with a 3.65 mark in nine games following. Eventual Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara — who anchored the season’s only defense to allow less than 200 goals (196) — added 50 points and a plus-23.

storm3Everything had changed. Even the Canadiens, who for years had left Boston hopeless, were no match for the Bruins, whose success landed Julien the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach. Boston went 5-0-1 against Julien’s former team in the regular season and in an ironic turn of events faced its rival as the No. 1 seed after facing the top-seeded Canadiens as the No. 8 just a year before. Unlike 2008’s nail-biter, the first round was a breeze for the Bruins, who swept their rivals in four games. With a 4-1 victory at the Bell Centre in Game 4, the Bruins had finally given the Canadiens — who were ESPN’s preseason Stanley Cup favorites — and their fans a feeling that they themselves were all too familiar with.

If Boston fans were scared by the ghosts of Montreal, their next opponent should have been just as scary. The Hurricanes had experience on their side, as they raised the Cup in ’06 behind goaltender Cam Ward. However, the team had fired coach Peter Laviolette in December and hired Paul Maurice en route to a 96-point season that landed them the sixth seed.

The Bruins improved to 5-0 in the playoffs with a Game 1 victory in Boston, but Ward stepped up in Game 2 by silencing the offense and the TD Banknorth Garden crowd with a 3-0 shutout. The Hurricanes used home victories in Game 3 and 4 to push the East’s top team to the brink of elimination, but Thomas allowed just two goals through the next two games to send the series to Game 7.

It seemed only fitting that a season as exciting as ’08-09 would have to end in overtime of a Game 7, which is exactly what it did. After the teams sparred to a 2-2 tie (including a Hurricanes goal from old friend Sergei Samsonov) Scott Walker took a rebound from a Ray Whitney shot and beat Thomas to send the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference finals and end what had been a faith-renewing season in Boston. The run had ended, but the season had injected an Original Six town with Bruins fever all over again.

Peter Chiarelli: The Sporting News Executive of the Year said that maybe the Bruins underestimated the Hurricanes in their playoff series: http://audio.weei.com/m/22330315/peter-chiarelli-bruins-gm.htm
Jeremy Jacobs & Gary Bettman: Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs joined Dale & Holley for the second edition of the Owners Series. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman joined the conversation to discuss the overall state of the NHL and the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals: http://audio.weei.com/m/22483980/jeremy-jacobs-bruins-owner-gary-bettman-nhl-commissioner.htm

Claude Julien: The coach talked about last year ending on a disappointing note but looked ahead to this year and discussed the new players adjusting to the Bruins system and players returning from injuries, and helped preview the 2009-10 Bruins: http://audio.weei.com/m/26670179/claude-julien-bruins-head-coach.htm

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