The Garden was rocking in the wee hours of Thursday morning when Patrice Bergeron redirected a Brad Marchand feed past Tomas Vokoun for a double-overtime game-winner that gave the Bruins a commanding three-games-to-none lead over the Eastern Conference top seeded Penguins.
But having been on both ends of 3-0 postseason collapses in the last decade with the Red Sox (good) and Bruins (not so good), Bostonians are wise enough to know that though the chances are remote, the Penguins are still alive in the series. But other factors make it a virtually insurmountable obstacle for Sidney Crosby & Co. to overcome.
Yes, Pittsburgh entered this series riding a six-game winning streak head-to-head with Boston, winning eight of the last nine battles of the black and gold, but the trend has been dramatically reversed and Claude Julien’s boys have not lost four straight games since mid-March 2012, with just two winless streaks of four games or more in the past three combined regular and postseasons.
A look at NHL history shows that teams taking a 3-0 lead in a seven-game series have gone 109-65 in Game 4, a winning percentage of .626 (including a Bruins loss last round to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals Game 4, before closing out New York in Game 5). Those same teams have won the series 170 out of 173 times, a confidence-building winning percentage of .983.
Expand the study to include MLB and NBA teams and the numbers get even more staggering in favor of the Bruins’ current standing. In 1,212 completed best-of-seven-game postseason series, only four have seen the team leading three-games-to-none fail to advance (a .997 winning clip) according to data found at whowins.com.
But Boston has been part of, and on each end of, half of them: the 2004 Red Sox climbing back from the brink against the Yankees in the ALCS and the Bruins, who in 2010 acquiesced to the Flyers after jumping to a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals. (the others were the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs over the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals and the 1975 New York Islanders, coincidentally over the Penguins, in the league quarterfinals).
Seven other times the team trailing 0-3 made things very uncomfortable by forcing a deciding Game 7, most recently in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals when the Blackhawks nearly pulled off the miracle comeback against the Vancouver Canucks (the team the Bruins eventually defeated for the Stanley Cup).
The key total in all of this for this series is eight. That’s the number of Bruins (Bergeron, Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Milan Lucic, Daniel Paille, Tuukka Rask and Shawn Thornton) who participated both in Game 7 of the ‘10 Flyers debacle and the thrilling Game 3 win that began Wednesday night and ended Thursday morning. That group not only knows the awful sting of a collapse, but based on the strength of their experience hoisting the Cup in 2011, are not a group likely to be associated with two historically significant chokes.
So go ahead and check out those rates for Chicago and Los Angeles hotels and flights. While there’s no guarantee that the Pens won’t steal one, two, or (clutch your chest) even three games this series, lightning would have to strike a very talented and championship-tested group TWICE for the Bruins not to advance to the 2013 Finals. You should like their odds.