After coming from behind not once but twice against the Philadelphia Flyers the past two games, the Boston Bruins are now in control of the East Division as February continues. In first place with 18 points, Boston has figured it out after struggling offensively to start the season. A big reason is the return of superstar winger David Pastrnak, who has five goals in only four games this season.
With many of these opponents being new division rivals for Boston (outside of Buffalo in the last 20 years), it doesn’t mean the Bruins haven’t had some memorable games against these seven foes in the past. Let’s look back at some regular-season classics between the Bruins and their seven East division rivals.
December 22, 1979: Flyers Set Record at the Boston Garden
Here’s a game where the Bruins were on the wrong side of history. Before the 1979-80 NHL season, the longest unbeaten streak in the Flyers history was a 23-game run during the 1975-76 season. Four seasons later, Philadelphia not only shattered the previous franchise record and league records, but they went on to set a North American pro sports record. A 35-game unbeaten streak spanning a few months is a record that may never be broken in the sport again.
On Dec. 22, 1979, Philadelphia surpassed the Montreal Canadians 28-game unbeaten streak NHL record with its 29th straight in a 5-2 victory against the Bruins at the Boston Garden. The Flyers dominated this game from the start jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the second period thanks to the play of greats Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber.
Boston scored twice and made it competitive in the third period, but it was not enough as the Flyers put it away late. Both these teams were the top two in all of hockey and looked destined for the Stanley Cup. However, this is when the New York Islanders’ run of four straight Stanley Cups began.
February 29, 1992: Bourque’s 1,000th Point on Leap Day Against Caps
Bruins legend Ray Bourque looked to set a personal mark in his career in a game against the Washington Capitals at the Boston Garden. Bourque needed three points for his 1,000th point coming into the matchup, and Boston was finishing up a mini two-game homestand before heading back on the road for games with Capitals again and the Hartford Whalers.
It looked like Bourque would achieve the 1,000 points on the road when the Capitals stormed out of the gate. Todd Krygier and Dmitri Khristich scored in the first period to give Washington a 2-0 lead. That momentum from the first carried over to the second period when the Capitals scored 38 seconds into the second period to make it three unanswered goals. Bourque got points 998 and 999 on an assist and power-play goal in the second period, but the Capitals answered back each time, scoring three in the frame to take a 5-2 lead heading into the final period.
However, there is something beautiful about the comeback in hockey. Down three in the third period, the Bruins made it 5-4 with about six minutes to go. Still stuck at point 999, Bourque assisted on a Bob Carpenter goal to secure his 1,000th point and tied the game at 5-5. The game ended in a tie, and the Boston Garden was absolutely rocking as Bourque made history. He finished with 1579 points in his 22-year career.
December 3, 1987: Phil Esposito No. 7 Jersey Retired & Bruins Comeback to beat Rangers
This is a neat one between the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins in the 1987-88 season. The Bruins were hanging up legend Phil Espositio’s jersey in the rafters of the Boston Garden. During the ceremony before the game, Ray Bourque (wearing No. 7 at the time) came up to Esposito and gave him his jersey, honoring one of the best players in franchise history. Bourque skated away wearing No. 77 and had a great showing in a comeback effort.
As for the game itself, the Rangers scored three unanswered goals after the Bruins scored a shorthanded one early in the second period to give them a 3-1 lead with 10 minutes to go in the contest. Once again, the Bruins stormed back and scored three in the final minutes to win 4-3. Bourque honored Esposito the only way he could: scoring a goal and assisting on the game-winner.
October 14, 1984: Lemieux’s NHL Debut at the Boston Garden
If you are a hockey fan, one of the first five players that comes to mind is Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux. Lemieux wasted no time putting the league on notice when he scored the first goal of the game early in the first period to give the Penguins the lead 1-0. Everyone knew this guy would be a great player and it made his debut in the NHL long-anticipated.
The Bruins won the game 4-3 thanks to a Ray Bourque goal in the third period. Lemieux finished with two points in the losing effort, but Penguins knew they had something special. He played 17 seasons, all with Pittsburgh, finishing with 1,723 points for his career. The Penguins won two Stanley Cups while he was in his playing days in 1991 and 1992 and won three more as a franchise owner in 2009, 2016, and 2017.
October 7, 1995: Neely’s 17th Hat Trick as a Member of the Bruins
Cam Neely finished with 17 hat tricks in his career, all with the Boston Bruins. It was the last of his career on opening night for Boston in 1995 against the New York Islanders.
Neely scored goals in each of the three periods, but the Islanders continued to fire back. Travis Green scored twice, one being the game-tying goal for New York to make it 4-4 for a final score. However, this was about Neely, a scoring machine for the Bruins in his 10-year career in Boston. Out of his 395 goals in his career, 344 of them came in the black and yellow. He had three 50-goal seasons in that span and is in the NHL Hall of Fame. After the 1995-96 season, Neely’s career ended short because of injury, but this moment in his final season was incredible.
March 28, 1982: Middleton Scores his 50th Goal in Forgettable Night against Buffalo
Rick “Nifty” Middleton looked to be a part of Bruins history by scoring his 50th goal in one season against Buffalo in late March 1982. He scored the goal almost two minutes into the game for the historical mark and the early 1-0 lead for Boston. However, this was a pretty forgetful night for the Bruins at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. The Sabres scored nine goals in the game and routed Boston 9-5.
Middleton did become the fourth different Bruin to score 50 goals in a season, ending with 51 goals in 1981-82, which was his career-high. He finished with 402 goals in his 12-year career with Boston, and there is only one other player to reach a 50-goal season after Middleton did it for Boston. That is Cam Neely. Neely did it in 1989 (55), 1990 (51), and 1993 (50).
January 26, 1995: Future Hall of Famers Stun Devils in OT
Boston and the New Jersey Devils certainly had their battles in the 1990s, especially in the playoffs. New Jersey bested the Bruins in the 1993-94 playoffs in six games the season prior, and this was the first meeting between the two teams the following year. It was only the third game of the season in late January because of the NHL lockout.
In a hard-fought, goaltending duel between Bruins goaltender Blaine Lacher and Devils goaltender Chris Terreri, the game was knotted up at 0-0. The game went overtime, and here is where something special happened for Boston. At 3:43 in the overtime period, Adam Oates scored on assists from Cam Neely and Ray Bourque. All three Bruin Hall of Famers were involved in the scoring play silencing the Devils in an early-season matchup. New Jersey would have the last laugh again, beating the Bruins in the playoffs the second consecutive year and winning the Stanley Cup.
We can expect more exciting classics during the season for the Bruins against their East Division rivals. With every team meeting up eight times a year, there will be rivalries formed that will last forever in hockey history. This division is one of the most competitive in all of the NHL, and it will continue to be a tough test for Boston.