On Saturday Night, the Boston Bruins will take the ice for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Pittsburgh, and more will be on the line than just the Prince of Wales Trophy and a chance to play for the Cup. The Bruins and Penguins have a long and sordid history that should have the Bruins chomping at the bit as they seek revenge.
The Boston-Pittsburgh rivalry began 22 years ago with first of two consecutive Conference Final clashes. The 1991 Bruins finished the regular season with the best record in the Prince of Wales Conference, and they looked primed to hoist the Cup for the first time since 1972, but the Penguins had other plans.
The Pens went on to win the series in six games, but the battle has endured in the memory of Boston fans for another reason. In the midst of Game 3, Penguins enforcer Ulf Samuelsson upended Bruins star, and current team president, Cam Neely with a violent knee on knee hit in open ice.
Despite winning the first two games of the series, the Bruins collapsed after the hit, even though Neely continued to play before re-injuring the knee in Game 6. They lost four straight, allowing the Penguins to advance and eventually win their first of two straight championships against the Minnesota North Stars.
As a result of the Samuelsson hit, Neely developed a condition called Myositis Ossificans, which eventually ended his career. In addition to cutting short the career of Boston’s best goal-scorer since Phil Esposito, the Penguins also arguably cost a young Ray Bourque his best chance at the Stanley Cup in a Bruins uniform.
A year later, Mario Lemieux and an even better Penguins squad steamrolled through the Bruins in four games before sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks for their second title.
Nearly two decades after the Ulf Samuelsson hit, the Penguins once again earned the hatred of the Boston faithful. This time the victim was Marc Savard. On March 7, 2010 Matt Cooke leveled the Bruins playmaker with a violent hit to the head leaving Savard with a severe concussion.
Savard, who led the Bruins in scoring for three seasons preceding the incident, would never be the same. He played just 25 games the following season before suffering another head injury that has forced him into unofficial retirement for the past two and half seasons.
After robbing the Bruins of two great talents, the Penguins rubbed salt in the wounds by blocking them from acquiring another this past spring. Hours after Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster had agreed on a deal to send Jarome Iginla to Boston, the future hall of famer snubbed the Bruins and used his no trade clause to force a deal to Pittsburgh.
At the time of the deadline, Iginla clearly viewed the scorching hot Penguins as more likely to help him win his first Stanley Cup than the slumping Bruins. The Bruins will now hope to make him regret the slight, and in hockey the best revenge is without a doubt a post-series handshake.
After failing to reel in Iginla, the Bruins cut a deal with the Dallas Stars to acquire Jaromir Jagr. Jagr, it just so happens, was a rookie on the ’91 Penguins team that started the whole feud. Two years ago, Jagr’s former Penguins teammate Mark Recchi lifted his third Cup with Bruins, and this time Jagr will try to fill the role of wise veteran. The Penguins’ second all-time leading scorer will have to go through his old team if he hopes to hoist the Cup for the third time. If he succeeds it would end a 21 year title drought for the NHL’ active playoff scoring leader.
Led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin the 2013 Penguins are just as offensively gifted as the early 90’s version, and they offer a tremendous target for a Bruins franchise hoping to exorcise some demons. They can try to win it for Cam Neely, for Marc Savard, for Jaromir Jagr, or just to spite Jarome Iginla. When it comes down to it, hockey’s holy grail offers plenty of motivation in its own right.
With such an eventful history between the clubs, one thing is for certain: if the Bruins can’t get jacked up for this series, then nothing will push them over the edge. Packed with a great storyline, it should be one heck of a series.