THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

A chance to change, but a familiar ending

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 15, 2010

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The Grapes of Wrath or the Wrath of Grapes?

Only the Bruins could lose a 3-0 lead twice in the same series.

Only the Bruins could lose a Game 7 on a power-play goal after getting called for too many men on the ice.

Are you kidding me? Watching the Bruins blow a series on a too-many-men penalty is like watching the 2010 Red Sox lose a one-game playoff on a homer hit by a guy named Bucky.

Until last night, too many men on the ice in Montreal in 1979 (a Boston team famously coached by Don “Grapes’’ Cherry) was arguably the worst moment in Bruins history.

Now it has happened again. In a Game 7 on a night when the Bruins led, 3-0. In a series in which the Bruins led, 3-0. It’s as if the spoked-Bs have been put on the ice to torture their loud, loyal fans.

The Bruins last night lost to the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-3. The game was decided with 18 seconds left on a power play and 7:08 left in the game, when Simon Gagne scored after the Bruins were penalized for too many skaters (the infraction occurred when Marc Savard changed his mind and stayed on the ice as Vladimir Sobotka stepped on for a shift).

Three to nothing in games . . . then 3-0 in Game 7. At home. With a chance to play 39-win Montreal at home in the conference finals. Then too many men.

Choking. It’s called Bruins.

“I wouldn’t say we choked,’’ offered defenseman Johnny Boychuk. “We had a chance to close it out . . . If you want to say we choked, I’m proud of the way we battled. I’m just in shock that we’re not playing anymore.’’

“I’m not going to stand here and find excuses,’’ said Claude “Grady’’ Julien. “The bottom line is we had a 3-0 lead in the series and a 3-0 lead tonight and we blew both. There’s no excuses.’’

It’s going to take a while to get over this one. The Bruins have become part of North American sports history; one of only four teams to lose a best-of-seven series after taking a 3-0 lead.

In Boston, it makes them the Red Sox of the new century. Where the Sox had Denny Galehouse and Don Zimmer and Bill Buckner and Grady Little, the Bruins now have Savard, Sobotka, Grady Julien, and the epic fold of 2010.

There is nothing like it in Bruins lore. The Bruins haven’t won a Cup in 38 years and haven’t been to the conference finals since 1992, but they’ve rarely taken their fans to the brink. Now the sad Philadelphia Story of 2010 takes its place above six-men-in of ’79 and the shocking stoning at the hands of rookie Ken Dryden in 1971.

It is a new low, the worst moment in franchise history since Bobby Orr left as a free agent in 1976.

Humbled and haunted after losing a 3-0 series lead, the Bruins came out hitting everything that moved, and speedskated to a 3-0 lead before Rene Rancourt caught his breath. There seemed to be no residual impact from the previous three games.

I hate to keep bringing the Red Sox into this (actually, I don’t), but the Sox had 3-0 leads in Game 7 of the World Series in 1975 and again in 1986. You know what happened.

It’s just never easy with this Bruins team. They can’t stand success. Most teams would be emboldened by a 3-0 lead. The Bruins got sloppy. They stopped skating. And it took only 14:29 to turn a 3-0 lead into a 3-3 tie. Danny Briere tied it with 11:21 left in the second with a stunning rush down the ice and around the net.

It was 3-3 after two and there was good energy in the barn at the start of the third. With 8:50 left in the third, the Bruins were caught with too many men.

“A very gutsy call with seven minutes left, considering all the other stuff going on out there,’’ said a diplomatic/annoyed Shawn Thornton.

“I’m not going to criticize linesmen for calling it,’’ said Julien. “We had a player [Savard] come to the bench and had his stick up and changed his mind. They call those. They’re calling them through the full playoff. We’ll leave it at that.’’

Translation: “I’m not taking the hit on this one, fellas. It was Marc Savard’s fault.’’

“Everybody’s intense,’’ added Julien. “It’s communication. The communication has to be very good nowadays, more so than ever. There’s no margin of error when it comes to too many men . . . This is playoff hockey. The guys are cranked up and those things happen.’’

My only regret is that I wasn’t sitting with Harry Sinden when all this happened. Give-’em-hell Harry, now locked in the basement, hasn’t been allowed to talk since he ripped Savard two years ago.

The power play was almost over when Gagne slipped behind Dennis Wideman, gathered a deflected puck, and scored.

Impossible. Just impossible.

Maybe we can take comfort and cover in the notion that this team wasn’t really that good, not really Cup-worthy. It might make it easier to accept this hideous defeat.

But the opportunity was there. And by any measure this goes down as one of the worst collapses in the history of sports.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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