(The 1989-90 President’s Trophy Boston Bruins retrospective continues with the second half of the regular season. Part 3 looks at the 1990 playoffs and will be posted soon- KL)
In the first couple of days in 1990, Sinden pulled off a key trade, acquiring veteran two-way center and former Frank Selke Trophy winner Dave Poulin, the Philadelphia Flyers’ captain in exchange for Linseman. When the deal was announced, Poulin was less than enthusiastic about joining Boston, having been a Flyer his entire career and visibly stunned that he had been traded.
“I’m going to go home, sit down with my wife, and go over our options,” he remarked when initially interviewed. “I’ve tried to keep my options open.” These words were hardly a ringing endorsement from Poulin, who had just been dealt from the only team he had ever known.
Yet, when he reported to the Bruins several days later, his attitude was upbeat and different from the vague and nebulous Poulin of before. Wearing 19 for the Bruins, Poulin seamlessly and instantly integrated onto a veteran B’s squad that was only beginning to play its best hockey all season. He added middle-to-top-of-the-roster depth, complementing other depth players like Woburn native John Carter well.
Gone were Joyce and former No. 1 overall pick Brian Lawton, replaced with veterans Poulin and Christian, both of whom were proven and experienced performers and Sinden still had another move in mind as the March trade deadline would draw closer.
In the meantime, one forward who took his game to the next level throughout the season was Cam Neely. The 1983 Vancouver Canucks first-rounder who had been dealt to the Bruins on his 21st birthday back in June of 1986 had enjoyed a renaissance in Boston, notching 36 goals in his first full season wearing the black and gold. In 1989-90, Neely exploded out of the gate and maintained a torrid 50-goal pace throughout the season that was exceeded only by the emergent superstar in St. Louis, Brett Hull. Neely’s ability to skate, score, hit and fight made him an instant fan favorite when he first arrived, but few expected him to develop into one of the most feared snipers in the NHL. Over the course of the ’89-’90 season, Neely seemed to get stronger and stronger, often saving his goals for the biggest, most important tilts of the 80-game campaign. It seemed like when the Bruins needed a lift during that season, the big right wing delivered as if on cue. Neely struck for his 50th against the New York Islanders in a 3-3 tie on March 10th and finished the year with 55 goals and 92 points in 76 games.
By late February, the Bruins and their fans began to believe that the President’s Trophy, awarded to the team that finishes with the best record in the regular season, would be theirs. Milbury also added the Jennings Trophy as a target to shoot for as well. The Jennings, awarded to the goaltender (s) who give up the fewest markers in the league, was an award that meant a great deal to both Lemelin and Moog, neither of whom had ever won an individual award in their NHL careers. As the Bruins headed into the final month of the regular season in March of 1990, it wasn’t enough to win hockey games. For Boston, they had to keep the goals-against down in their quest for the Jennings hardware in addition to the President’s Trophy.
Seeing that the Bruins could use some more scoring up front for the stretch drive, Sinden struck again, acquiring more veteran help from Philadelphia, this time in the form of veteran and former Brandon Wheat Kings megastar Brian Propp, on March 2nd. Propp, a former junior scoring sensation with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, had been one of the Flyers’ most consistent forwards throughout the decade of the eighties, putting up four 90-point seasons including a pair of 40-plus goal campaigns. At age 31, Propp had plenty left in the tank and at the price of a second round draft pick in 1990 (Terran Sandwith), was a superb acquisition for the Bruins.
It didn’t take Propp long to make his impact felt, as No. 36 in the Black and Gold scored a short-handed goal in his first game as a Bruin at the Garden, a hard-fought 4-3 win against the Chicago Blackhawks. That game also featured a highlight-reel goal by Neely after he stripped Chicago defenseman Dave Manson of the puck along the left wing boards of the Chicago blueline, skated in alone on Hawks goalie Jacques Cloutier and beat him with a low, hard shot that Cloutier never saw, for his 46th tally on the season. Lemelin was superb in the Boston nets as well, and afterward, Propp expressed his appreciation to the Garden crowd for giving him a standing ovation when he netted his second period short-hander.
“Well, anytime you go someplace new and get that first goal, you’ll always remember that,” Propp said. Seeing he and Poulin on the ice together wearing the spoked B was a welcome sight to many Bruins fans, many of whom were used to seeing them causing problems for the home team back when they both wore the Flyer orange.
One constant throughout the successful season in Boston was the stellar play of All-Star defenseman Ray Bourque. Game in and game out, he played at such a high level, that he had a third Norris Trophy all but locked up by the time January rolled around and was starting to receive serious mention as a Hart Trophy candidate as the NHL Most Valuable Player.
The soft-spoken Bourque kept a low profile for much of the season, deflecting praise to his teammates. However, it was hard not to notice his dominant play, as Bourque was doing everything from scoring goals (19) to assists (65) to dishing out bone-crushing hits like the one on a hapless Buffalo Sabre whose clock got cleaned trying to cross the Boston blue line on that Dec. 29th contest at the Aud that was shown on every highlight film across the U.S. and Canada. Bourque was unquestionably the linchpin of a very deep and talented Boston club and his excellence served notice to the rest of the league that the Bruins were a force to be reckoned with. Where Boston had gotten little mention in Stanley Cup talk going into the season, the team was now considered a front runner, and Bourque was being looked upon to lead the charge.
He would not disappoint.
The Boston Bruins locked up the President’s Trophy in their 77th game on March 29, 1990 in front of a packed house at the Boston Garden. Their victims on that night were the Hartford Whalers and goaltender Peter Sidieorkewicz, who gave up Craig Janney’s game-winning goal of a 3-2 Boston victory in the latter portion of the third period.
Earlier, Sidieorkewicz had stoned Christian on a breakaway chance to keep the score 2-2. However, Janney was able to pick up the rebound of a hard shot that caromed off the Whaler goalie’s chest protector, and lift a high shot up into the net with 3:09 to play. As the seconds counted down, the Garden atmosphere became electric, as the whole city became part of the celebration.
The President’s Trophy belonged to Boston. And for one evening, the players and fans celebrated that fact before waking up to the reality that a long road still lay ahead. For the Bruins, they had secured the home ice advantage throughout the playoffs and first on the docket would be the Hartford Whalers. The President’s Trophy was a nice perk, but no guarantee that the team could go the distance and all the pressure was on the Bruins to validate their dominance over the rest of the NHL.
In the wake of the hard-fought victory, Milbury had this to say: “I’m a little bit awestruck at what these guys have done. Coming into this season, I don’t think that there was anybody who thought this team was capable of first place overall. But as the year progressed, and Ray Bourque began to show everybody that he’s the best defenseman on the planet, they were able to put it all together.”
The Milbury quote and others in this piece are seen in soundbites from the 1990 Bruins highlight video “Reach For The Stars” narrated by Michael J. Fox. You can see a condensed version of that video here:
The Bruins finished with a 46-25-9 record, good 101 points, giving up the fewest amount of goals of anyone with 232. Moog and Lemelin won the Jennings Trophy, the only other piece of league hardware that either goalie would garner over the duration of their playing careers. As the Bruins prepared to square off against the Hartford Whalers in the Adams Division Semi-Final, all seemed right with the world. As the Bruins and their loyal fans would find out, winning a Stanley Cup is a lot harder than it looks, and the storybook season was about to take a shocking turn for the worse.