On April 24th, 1995, the Boston Bruins got the stuffing beat out of them by a non-playoff bound New York Islanders team. With six games remaining in the (shortened) regular season schedule, the loss was less than ideal -- the Bruins were playing for playoff seeding and home ice, while the Islanders were theoretically looking at a spot at the basement of the standings.
"Lockout: Original Edition" meant the Bruins were coming to the end of a 48 game season, and to that point, the the team had put together a pretty nice campaign. With six games to go, they were 23-16-3, and before that loss had won four in a row. They were positioned well for the playoffs, but getting into a groove was still necessary, pundits and fans argued.
For those folks, the loss to the Islanders was the exact opposite of that. Instead, as Nancy L. Marrapese pointed out the following day in the Globe, "the Bruins played a strong half-period, then ran out of gas as the Islanders slapped them with a 5-3 loss."
Sound familiar? Stupidly so? Yeah.
Cam Neely was tough on the team after the loss, pointing to a lack of effort and determination:
We need these points...You shouldn't have a problem getting geared up for these games, especially this time of year. Sure, we don't have the talent we normally would if we were a healthy team, but you can sure have the work ethic. That can take you a long way, especially against a team that's been struggling all year. But if you give that up, it's going to make it easy on any team.
So the Bruins lost, and badly, to a team out of the playoffs. They bounced back against the Whalers (RIP), but lost again the following game to a potent Pittsburgh Penguins team (insert Jagr salute here). Given their position in the standings, one would think people wouldn't panic. One would (naturally) be wrong. The loss still had implications for the playoffs, and in the end (Marrapese wrote the next day) "it cost Boston a chance to put a stranglehold on the fourth-place spot in the Eastern Conference -- and home ice."
How did those Bruins respond? By winning their last three games and scoring 14 goals in the process. Offense was not a problem for Boston in the 1994-1995 season, that's for sure, and two losses towards the end of the season didn't change that. They rolled into the playoffs, riding high on a final record of 27-18-3 and 57 points, good enough for 4th in the conference. People were pumped for the playoffs. Maybe, maybe this year, they said to themselves.
There's little point in drawing a direct parallel between the Bruins team of Lockout 1.0 and today's team. They're very different in a whole host of ways, and to make anything more than a cursory comparison isn't very helpful. What looking at that team in light of today's squad can do, however, is offer a bit of perspective. Those 1994-1995 Boston Bruins, led by Neely and Bourque and Oates, won 8 of the last 10 games of the season. They were talented and tough and were heavily favored to beat the Devils in the first round of that year's playoffs.
Spoiler: they didn't. They narrowly avoided being swept, but were shut out in three games, including the first two at home. In five games they scored only four goals -- which matters mostly because that was less than the Devils scored in four of those games.
But we all well know how that playoff story ended. What we can't know is how this one will.
Of course, there are always clues. Were those two late season losses for the 1995 Bruins the cracks beginning to show for the team? Some might argue that, in hindsight. As for today, people who watched last night's game might tell you that the Bruins didn't look like a team that will win a single playoff game. And maybe they won't. People taking a peek at the Fenwick/Corsi +/- might say, well, wait a minute, the Bruins actually had some stretches where they looked pretty dominant (or, as the ever venerable TomServo would point out, it was a tale of two games, fancy stats-wise). Maybe things aren't as dire as they seem. Then again -- maybe they are.
The record of these Bruins is already better than that of their 1995 counterparts, with three games left to play. Will that record end up being predictive of playoff success? That's anyone's guess, and will involve a number of variables (such as injuries
and Dale Hunter shot blocking). The Bruins might win their next three games; they might lose all three. They might get swept in the first round, and they might take the Eastern Conference Final series to a game 7. The terrible beauty of the playoffs is that the regular season -- how it began, how it ended -- matters very little once playoff hockey begins. The 1995 Boston Bruins would attest to that, I think.
For all that people talk about favorable matchups, the reality of the ‘second season' is that even though are are win/loss scenarios that are more likely to play out, anything can happen, and in a shortened season where teams that have been unsustainably good or bad don't quite have time to even out, it probably will.
For both the fans of 1995 and the fans of today, the best possible advice was/is to take a deep breath. The not knowing, the unpredictability, that's part of the fun.
Basically: buckle up, kids. Those are the playoffs knocking at the door.