The 1983 Boston Bruins were seeking to get the franchise back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1978. The ’83 Bruins had a great regular season and a good playoff run, but the dynasty down in Long Island proved too much to overcome.
Goaltender Pete Peeters was the lynchpin of Boston’s success in 1983. Peeters saved 90.3% of his shots and won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie. He was the key to a defense that ranked 2nd in the 21-team NHL in goals allowed.
There was also a defenseman who wasn’t bad—future Hall of Famer Ray Borque, who scored 22 goals and passed for 52 assists. Borque, along with Mike O’Connell were both good passers who helped on both ends of the ice.
The offense was ultimately led by 21-year-old Barry Pederson. With 46 goals and 61 assists, Pederson had the fifth-most points of any player in the league. Rick Middleton scored 49 goals and added 47 assists. Keith Crowder had a 35/39 line.
But the offense didn’t stop there. Peter McNab was at 22/52. Mike Krushelnyski and Tom Fergus were each 20-plus goal scorers. All of these weapons, plus Borque and O’Connell on the back end, added up to the fifth-most prolific attack in the NHL.
The regular season didn’t start well, with a loss to hated Adams Division rival Montreal. But the Bruins bounced back to beat the Canadiens twice in December. They also knocked off the Philadelphia Flyers, who were on their way to winning the Patrick Division. Boston beat the New York Islanders, the three-time defending Cup champion. And the Bruins knocked off the Edmonton Oilers and a rising star named Wayne Gretzky.
It was enough to get them to a 23-9-6 record by the New Year and Boston just kept churning from there. They had a strong run through March that again saw wins over the Flyers, Islanders and Oilers. By season’s end, Boston’s record was 50-20-10. Their 110 points led the league, got them home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs and brought the President’s Trophy—given to the top regular season team—to Beantown.
The NHL playoffs were strictly division-based. You took the top four teams in each of the four divisions, seeded them 1 thru 4 and they played amongst each other. Boston’s Adams Division playoff run would start against the Quebec Nordiques (today’s Colorado Avalanche).
Quebec had potent scorers. Michael Goulet lit the lamp 57 times. The Stastny brothers—Peter, Anton and Marian—averaged nearly forty goals apiece. The Nordique attack was more potent than Boston’s, ranking third in the league. But the defense was a problem, ranking just 16th and goalie Dan Bouchard not being in Peeters’ class.
But Bouchard would play well in this series. Even though Boston outshot Quebec 37-21 and 37-18 in the first two games, the Bruins had to fight to escape. It took a couple goals from O’Connell and an overtime goal from Pederson to win Game 1, 4-3. And they trailed 2-1 early in the third period of Game 2, before the shot assault finally wore Bouchard down and Boston won 4-2.
The first round was a best-of-five affair in 1983, so the Bruins went on the road with a chance to clinch in Game 3. But Bouchard continued to hang tough and a 2-1 loss extended the series. Quebec then came out attacking in Game 4 and outshot the B’s 39-15. But Peeters showed why he was the Vezina Trophy winner, delivering a clutch effort and winning a 2-1 game of his own. Boston was moving on to the Division Finals.
Montreal was supposed to be waiting here, but the Canadiens had been swept out of the playoffs by the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo was coached by the great Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman and had 30-plus goal scorers in Gilbert Perreault and Tony McKegney. The Sabres had gone 38-29-13 in the regular season and were sixth in the league defensively.
Boston jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the series opener, but then Buffalo hammered Peeters for six straight goals and the result was a 7-4 loss. The goalie came back strong in Game 2 with 37 saves and keying a 5-3 win that evened the series.
Game 3 was tied 3-3 in the final minutes when a late Buffalo goal handed Boston another defeat. Game 4 was close to a must-win and the Bruins clung to a 3-2 lead in the third period. The passing of Middleton took over. He assisted on three consecutive goals that broke the game open and the 6-2 win reclaimed home ice for Boston.
Middleton came out in Game 5 with two goals and an assist. Pederson had two assists and a goal. Crowder and Krushelnyski each lit the lamp. And that was all in the first period. Boston was up 5-0 by the first intermission and the game ended at 9-0.
Smelling a clinch, the Bruins went on the road and grabbed the first two goals of Game 6. But the Sabres clawed back to tie the game 3-3 with eleven minutes left and then scored two more times down the stretch. We were going to a Game 7 at the Garden.
Boston trailed 2-0 into the second period. Middleton fed Pederson for a goal that got the Bruins back in the game. Then a proud veteran, Brad Park, a Hall of Famer in the last legs of his career, scored the tying goal. It went to overtime. And Park delivered one more time, with the goal that won the game 3-2.
The conference finals were at hand and the Islanders had again come out of the Patrick Division bracket. Boston would have to dethrone the dynasty.
Mike Bossy led the way for the Isles as a 60-goal scorer. Bryan Trottier and John Tonelli each cleared the 30-goal threshold. But New York didn’t have Boston’s depth on offense, ranking just 15th in the NHL in goals scored. What they could do was defend. The Isles had the league’s stingiest defense and goalie Billy Smith was a proven postseason winner.
Smith showed his mettle in Game 1. The Bruins hit him with 32 shots in a fast-paced game, but lost 5-2. They maintained the pace in the second game and held a 2-1 lead late in the second period. With Peeters holding his own, Boston broke it open. Pederson scored twice off of feeds from Middleton and Boston evened the series with a 4-1 win.
The middle games down at Nassau Coliseum followed the same script. In both cases, the game was tight early in the third period, with the Bruins trailing by a goal. In both cases, Peeters and the defense collapsed. Boston lost both games, by scores of 7-3 and 8-3.
Peeters redeemed himself back in the Garden for Game 5. He faced 45 shots, stopped 44 and a balanced offense that saw ten Boston players get a point gave them a 5-1 win. Now they just needed to find a way to get one road win and get another Game 7 back at home.
No such luck. The offenses of both teams were rolling early, and the Islanders led 4-3 early in the second period. Then Bossy unloaded. He scored three second-period goals, lit the lamp four times on the night and Boston fell 8-4. The playoff run was over.
It was still a strong year for the Bruins in 1983 and with the Celtics flaming out surprisingly early in the playoffs, the Red Sox on a rebuilding year and the Patriots playing .500 ball, it was the Bruins who led the way in this great sports city for 1983.
But from the perspective of history, 1983 marks an end point. Boston had been a consistent contender and making at least some dent in the playoffs. That temporarily stopped after this year. Over the next four seasons, Boston failed to win a series in the postseason. Not until 1988 did they get out of the rut and return to the Finals.