It was one last cross check to the metaphorical face. Patrice Bergeron, with one second left on the clock on Tuesday night, slamming home a meaningless empty netter to make it a 5-1 final at TD Garden. The guy who had three points on April 25, 2018, including assists on two of the Bruins’ four third-period goals. The guy who completed the comeback from 4-1 down in the final minute of regulation on May 13, 2013, then won it six minutes in overtime.
Game 7s, all. At TD Garden, all. Beating the Toronto Maple Leafs every time.
“The Leafs are mulch!,” exulted NESN’s Jack Edwards on Tuesday, when the result was clear. “Again!”
For the 51st consecutive year. Putting them one season closer to an unthinkable ignominy: Having all their titles drop off the Stanley Cup.
Though the look of the iconic NHL trophy has been largely unchanged since 1957, it went through a variety of designs and redesigns in the years before that, ultimately settling on its charming tradition of engraving all winning teams and players on five large rings around its base. To keep the Cup from growing any larger than its current size, however, that meant filled rings would eventually have to be removed, replaced by space for new winners.
This first happened after the 1990-91 season, when the ring with Stanley Cup champions from 1927–28 to 1939–40 — including the first two Bruins victories — was retired to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. After Carolina’s victory in 2005-06, winners from 1940–41 (Boston’s third victory and last for 29 years) to 1952–53 were removed. The third ring removal happened after last season, seasons 1953–54 to 1964–65 placed in the vault.
Gordie Howe’s last Cup victory came in 1955, meaning Mr. Hockey is no longer on the Stanley Cup. Same goes for Maurice “Rocket” Richard, whose powerhouse Canadiens won for the final time in 1960. Bobby Orr is on the clock, as Boston’s 1970 and 1972 victories are on the ring that will be removed following the 2029-30 season.
If the Maple Leafs can’t win another championship to replace their 1967 title before then, they’ll come off right alongside him. It hardly seems like a tall order for a big-spending franchise in the world’s most rabid hockey market, but not only has it been 51 straight seasons not winning a title, it’s been 51 straight seasons not even reaching the final.
Toronto’s last conference finals appearance was in 2002. Their last series win of any kind, as noted plenty these past two weeks, was in 2004, the Leafs losing four first-round series since then.
Now, they haven’t all been to the Bruins in seven games … it only feels that way. (Washington beat them in six games in 2016-17.) And what’s happened to Toronto in Boston these last seven years is not unique. Washington lost three Game 7s to the New York Rangers in four years from 2012-15. Exalted Montreal ended three Bruins seasons in Game 7 in 11 years: 2004, 2008, and 2014. The Habs lost three to Detroit in seven years of the Original Six era.
It’s not as though Canada’s been a nation of championship teams, either. The Leafs’ elimination, alongside Winnipeg and Calgary being upset in the first round out west, means the 1993 Montreal Canadiens remain the last of the Dominion’s squads to hoist the Stanley Cup. (Fun Fact: Montreal’s Cup defense ended in the final Game 7 played at Boston Garden, the 1994 Bruins shredding Patrick Roy for four goals in 25 minutes of a 5-3 win.)
The Habs, however, have decades before they have to worry about disappearing off the greatest trophy in sports. Same goes for the other Original Six franchises, all of whom have championships in the last 25 years.
Not Toronto, though. They have one decade.