The Boston Bruins came into the season looking to build on a strong 1983 run when they reached the conference finals. The New York Islanders, winners of four straight Stanley Cups, were starting to show signs of age and the moment was ripe for a new team to come out of the Wales Conference (the East). The 1984 Boston Bruins spent the regular season looking like that team, before a playoff collapse brought it to a sudden end.
Rick Middleton was the leading Bruin scorer in 1984, scoring 47 goals and passing for 58 assists. Barry Pederson, a young offensive talent lit the lamp 39 times and his 77 assists were the third-most in the NHL. Tom Fergus added 25 goals/36 assists. On the back end, defenseman Mike O’Connell could move the puck, finishing with 42 assists.
But no Bruin was better than Ray Borque. The future Hall of Fame defenseman scored 31 goals, handed out 65 assists and was a 1st-team All-Star at season’s end. Borque and O’Connell keyed a defense that protected goalie Pete Peeters. Even though Peeters finished with a mediocre 87.6% save rate, Boston still ranked third in the league in goals allowed. The offense ended up seventh overall in what was then a 21-team NHL.
The Bruins played well early and got out to a 24-11-3 record by the time the calendar flipped to the New Year. The celebrated the arrival of 1984 on January 3 with a 4-2 win over the Islanders. Then Boston beat the dynasty from Long Island again two weeks later. The Bruins reached the beginning of February with a mark of 33-15-3.
Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton was the best team in the league this season and would ultimately win Gretzky his first Stanley Cup. Boston split two games with Edmonton in February. It was the highlight of a mediocre month that finished with the Bruins at 40-21-4. They were in a tough battle with the Buffalo Sabres for the Adams Division (the Northeast) and with the Islanders in the Wales Conference overall.
It took a furious closing stretch, but Boston got the top seed in the conference. They went 6-0-1 in their final seven games. The stretch included two wins over archrival Montreal and was enough to nip Buffalo by a point for first place in the division. The Bruins and Islanders finished tied with 104 points apiece, but Boston’s 2-0-1 head-to-head record would give them home ice in a conference finals rematch.
First, Boston had to get out of the Adams Division bracket. The NHL playoffs had a strict division-based format in 1984. Take the top four teams from each of the four divisions. Seed them 1 thru 4 and play the first two rounds amongst each other.
For the Bruins, that meant the Montreal Canadiens. Even though Montreal was the league’s premier franchise and had been the dynasty prior to the Islander Ascendancy, 1984 was not a vintage year up in Belle Centre. The Canadiens only finished with 75 points. Even though the great Guy Lafleur was still in tow and scoring 30 goals for the season, Montreal only ranked 18th in the NHL in goals allowed.
What wasn’t supposed to happen was for the Boston offense to completely disappear in what was then a best-of-five round. With all their offensive firepower, it was O’Connell who took eight of the team’s thirty shots in Game 1, a 2-1 loss. Two more uninspired performances followed, a 3-1 loss and then a 5-0 whitewashing on the road to complete the sweep.
It was an ignominious end to a nice season. Even worse than the immediate disappointment is that it started a trend. This was the first of four straight years that Boston would lose in the first round of the playoffs. Not until 1988 would they get out of the rut.