The 1990 Boston Bruins were a talented team under a first-year head coach in Mike Milbury. The Bruins lived up to their potential, making their second Stanley Cup Finals in three years. Unfortunately, they played in The Age of Edmonton and lost to the Oilers for the second time.
Milbury replaced Terry O’Reilly, who had taken to the team to the Finals in 1988. No matter who was coaching, the success was built around two great players. Defenseman Ray Borque, one of the best of all-time, passed for 65 assists in 1990. Forward Cam Neely, a future Hall of Famer himself, scored 55 goals. The Bruins got quality goaltending from Andy Moog and steady support play from Craig Janney, Bob Carpenter and Bob Sweeney.
Boston got off to a good start, keyed by a 7-0-1 stretch in November that included wins over Edmonton, Los Angeles (where Wayne Gretzky now resided) and Buffalo (a fellow contender in the East). But the Bruins gave that ground back in December when they lost six of seven in what should have been a manageable portion of the schedule. They reached the New Year with a record of 21-15-3.
A five-game win streak to kick off January got them back in gear and Boston played consistent hockey the rest of the way. The Bruins finished the season with a record of 46-25-9, won the President’s Trophy for the best regular season record and had home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Hartford Whalers (today’s Carolina Hurricanes were up first) and had a good defense, along with some offensive firepower led by Pat Veerbeck and Ron Francis. The Whalers took two of the first three games and when they took a 5-2 lead after two periods in Game 4, the outlook for Boston looked bleak.
Their backs to the wall, the Bruins attacked and scored four goals in the third period. Two of them were from Dave Poulin, including the game-winner with 1:44 to play and the 6-5 win evened up the series.
Boston had been having goaltending problems through the first part of this series, and for some reason were giving backup goalie Reggie Lemelin equal time with Moog in an effort to find the hottest possible hand. Milbury stuck with Moog the rest of the way and it turned the tide. Boston scraped out a 3-2 win in Game 5 and even though they lost in overtime in Game 6, Moog came home for Game 7 and stopped 27/28 shots in a 3-1 win.
An ancient rival in the Montreal Canadiens was up in the second round. Montreal had a nicely balanced lineup, led by Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Chelios. But the real reason to fear the Canadiens was a goalie named Patrick Roy, who led his team to the fourth-best record in the NHL.
Instead, Moog would enjoy a career highlight in outplaying one of the great goalies of all-time. Boston won the opener 1-0, and then nailed Roy for 11 goals over the next two games, wins of 5-4 (OT) and 6-3. Even though the Bruins lost Game 4, they returned to the Garden in Game 5 and in a game tied 1-1 after two periods, got the lead on a goal by Glen Wesley. Neely sealed the 3-1 win late with a empty-net goal.
After the seven-game war against Hartford and the grudge battle with Montreal, the conference finals against the Washington Capitals was a bit anticlimactic. The Caps’ postseason history is checkered, to say the least and in 1990 they were a sub-.500 team. Beyond Dino Ciccarelli and Geoff Courtnall’s ability to light the lamp, these Caps didn’t have much.
It took a couple periods for Boston to assert themselves. But trailing 3-2 in the opener, Poulin again was a sparkplug. He scored two goals to key the 5-3 win. Moog took over from there, allowing only three goals in the next three games as the Bruins closed out a sweep.
The rematch of the 1988 Cup Finals with Edmonton was on hand, but the fact the Oilers no longer had Gretzky was no small difference. There was real hope in New England that the Bruins’ year had finally arrived. I still remember being at a friend’s house to watch Game 1…a game that went on interminably, into triple-overtime, before Edmonton won it.
The Oiler defense never let Boston get untracked. The Bruins were able to fight out a 2-1 win in Game 3, but they only scored eight goals in five games and it was never a series. A strong season ended with disappointment.
Milbury made it back to the conference finals in 1991 before losing to Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was his final season as coach and the franchise’s long pursuit of a Stanley Cup continued until 2011, when Neely, now club president, finally put together the team that gave a hockey-crazed region its long-awaited Cup.