Near-miss had been the mantra of the Boston Bruins for three straight years coming into the 1993 season. The franchise lost the Stanley Cup Finals to Edmonton in 1990, then fell in the conference final to Mario Lemieux’s Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992. The 1993 Boston Bruins continued the pattern of successful regular seasons and raised Stanley Cup hopes amongst the faithful…but this time the playoff demise came much sooner and was an ominous sign of things to come.
The ‘93 Bruins were led by Hall of Fame center Adam Oates. At the age of 30, he scored 45 goals and dished off 97 assists to key the eighth-best offense in the league. Joe Juneau and Dmitri Kvartalnova were 30-goal scorers and the incomparable defenseman, Hall of Famer Ray Borque, passed for 64 assists. With Borque leading the defense, that end of the ice was even better. Andy Moog was a competent, if unspectacular goalie and the Bruins were third in the league in goals allowed.
For much of the season, Boston was like Moog—competent, if unspectacular. They were 21-14-2 at the New Year, losing three of five to the teams that would eventually make the Cup Finals—Montreal and Los Angeles.
The Bruins split a couple games with the Penguins in January and lost again to the Canadiens in an 8-5-2 month. February was more of the same—losses to the main contenders, Montreal and Pittsburgh, while still chipping away at everyone else. After a 3-2 loss to the Penguins on March 9, the Boston’s record stood at 35-24-7.
Then they got hot. Two days later, the Bruins beat the Canadiens 5-2 in the Boston Garden. That win kickstarted a 16-2 stretch that included two more wins over their archrival. The Bruins surged past Montreal and a good Quebec team in the old Adams Division. Boston’s final 51-26-7 record trailed only Pittsburgh in the Wales Conference (the East).
The NHL playoffs were division-based, even more so than is the case today. The top four in each division qualified and were seeded 1 thru 4. Everything in the first two rounds was exclusively inside the division.
From that standpoint, getting the top seed in the Adams draw, seemed big for Boston, as it got them away from Montreal and Quebec, who would have to battle each other. The Bruins would instead play the Buffalo Sabres, who were well off the pace set by the division’s Big Three.
But Buffalo had talent. Pat LaFontaine scored 53 goals and was a 2nd-team All-Star. Dale Hawerchuck at center, passed for 80 assists. Alexander Mogilny was a 23-year-old scoring machine, pumping in 76 goals and getting All-Star notice himself.
And the Sabres pulled the trigger on a huge midseason trade. They sent a future Hall of Fame forward in Dave Andreychuk to Toronto in exchange for another Hall of Famer—goalie Grant Fuhr, who had won Stanley Cups in Edmonton.
Hockey offers the most unpredictable postseason in professional sports as it is, but even allowing for that, this still seemed like a perfect storm coming towards Boston. The underachieving team, as Buffalo was, can easily be the most dangerous in the postseason when the slate is wiped clean. And if your own goalie struggles, while close games consistently go the wrong way? That’s a recipe for disaster and it’s exactly what happened to the 1993 Boston Bruins.
Boston rallied from deficits of 2-0 and 4-2 in the opener to force overtime, but eventually lost 5-4. In Game 2, Moog’s struggles continued and he was chased from the game. The Bruins couldn’t solve Fuhr and lost 4-0.
The series went to Buffalo, where the Bruins continued to have to play from behind. Moog was benched, but it didn’t help, as Boston trailed 2-0 and 3-2. Again they forced overtime. And again they lost.
Boston came out fighting in Game 1, getting an early power play goal from Cam Neely for a 1-0 lead. It was their first lead of the series and was eventually extended to 5-2. Moog was back in the net, but with a chance at some redemption, he played his worst game of the series. In spite of facing a modest total of 28 shots, the goalie had given up the lead by the time eight minutes were left. And for the third time in the series, Buffalo got an overtime goal to win.
It was a disheartening end to the season and it proved to be the end of a mini-era, one where the Bruins played deep into the spring and early summer. They would not make it as far as even the conference finals until 2011, the year they won their most recent Stanley Cup.