(Photo: Associated Press)

By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12

Well, tonight would have been Game 1 of the playoffs for the Boston Bruins in all probability. I probably would have worn one of my jerseys to classes before drowning myself in hype videos in my dorm room and heading to the nosebleeds at TD Garden insanely early. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has the world on pause – for good reason – so no hockey, no playoffs, and no sports, at least for right now.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to live in the Greater Boston Area for my entire lifetime – not even 20 years – go to school in the city, cheer for the best teams in the world, and witness some of the most unparalleled moments in sports history, making for lasting memories.

The Bruins have contributed in large part to those instances, and with so many contests to choose from, I took stab at ranking the best games I’ve had the privilege to see. So without further ado, here is my ranking of the top 10 Bruins games of my lifetime:

10. Bruins @ Senators – 2017 First Round Game 5

Much to the surprise of everyone, the Bruins capped off a wild run to close out the regular season under Bruce Cassidy and made the playoffs for the first time in two years. This series truly felt like the Bruins against the world, with a young, exciting team ahead of schedule with their retool going up against the red-hot Ottawa Senators. Game 5 was the embodiment of that mentality.

The B’s gave up two breakaway goals, both sending an already rocking Canadian Tire Centre into a frenzy – man, that place can get loud despite the attendance issues. With their backs against the wall, the young guns found a way to shine through with David Pastrnak showing the first sign of life before Sean Kuraly, who strictly scores big goals, announced himself to the world.

This was during April vacation of my junior year in high school, and I was on a service trip in New Rochelle, N.Y. with the school’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity. That trip was a blast, and one of the best moments was staying up until about 1 a.m. huddled around my iPad, watching double-overtime and seeing the first “Kuraleap.”

9. Bruins vs. Leafs – 2019 First Round Game 7

After the Bruins forced Game 7 with a thrilling Game 6  victory on Easter Sunday over the Toronto Maple Leafs last year, in what might be one of my best spur of the moment decisions, one of my roommates and I decided to drop a small fortune on nosebleed tickets to be at the Garden that Tuesday. Save for a second period surge from Toronto, the Bruins utterly dominated that game and the Garden was a madhouse. Speaking of the “Kuarleap,” I remember thinking to myself “what if Kuraly scores on this rush?” Sure enough, he did, and the roof popped off the building.

8. Bruins vs. Canucks – 2011 SCF Game 3

After losing the first two games of the series in Vancouver and seeing Nathan Horton get obliterated by Aaron Rome’s late, head-hunting hit, the Bruins could have easily folded. However, in a testament to how special this 2011 team was, Boston rallied and owned the Canucks from the drop of the puck in the second period. The sheer beating that was put on Alex Burrows, Daniel Sedin, and the scoresheet makes this one of my favorite games to rewatch.

7. Bruins vs. Leafs – 2019 First Round Game 2

This was the first Bruins playoff game I ever attended, and aside from Game 7 of the 2019 First Round and of the 2019 Finals, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited about a hockey game. The Bruins absolutely took it to the Leafs in this one, both on the scoresheet and in the physicality department, and the Garden was absolutely rocking. After this win, maybe because I was riding the high of being at a crazy game, I was certain Boston would make a deep playoff run last season.

6. Bruins vs. Leafs – 2018 First Round Game 7

Similar to some other games against Toronto that I’ll mention later on in this piece, the Bruins found themselves facing an uphill battle. After a back and fourth opening frame and a second period Marchand, Tuukka Rask and the B’s would like to have back, the Boston was down heading into the third period, and it looked like the Leafs’ potent offense was just too much.

Early in the final 20 minutes, Torey Krug tied things up and breathed new life into the Garden. From there, Jake DeBrusk would make his mark as a rookie, scoring what is easily one of the biggest goals of his career. The Bruins once again proved better than the Leafs when the lights were brightest, and the image of DeBrusk celebrating on his knees after is goal remains iconic.

5. Bruins vs. Canadiens – 2011 First Round Game 5

From Michael Ryder’s glove save, to Tim Thomas robbing Brian Gionta, to Horton scoring the first of his heroic goals, this is another game that seemingly had it all. Tight action for almost the entirety of the night before the teams got tired and things opened up in the second overtime made for exciting drama. Jack Edwards’ call of, “Moen to Gionta . . . Oh! Tim Thomas! Goes right to him to steal it!” as well as his call of Horton’s 2OT winner still send chills down my spine every time I hear them.

4. Bruins vs. Canadiens – 2011 First Round Game 7

And now we find arguably Horton’s biggest goal in a Bruins uniform. People had already fired Claude Julian and dismantled the core in preparation for if the Bruins lost this game. Two quick goals from Johnny Boychuck and Mark Recchi made the Garden go bonkers before the Canadiens clawed their way back, and the game eventually wound up in overtime. A perfect pinch by Adam McQuaid and excellent reads from Milan Lucic and Horton alike combined for one of the most iconic goals of that magical playoff run.

3. Bruins @ Canucks – 2011 SCF Game 7

It was a bit tough to have this game outside of the top two just because of its importance to the franchise, but the entertainment of the top two gives them an edge. Nonetheless, the Bruins finally clinching the Stanley Cup remains the peak of my Boston sports fanhood. The way Boston dismantled the Canucks in Game 7, really for each of their four wins in the series, makes this a classic. There are few things I want more in this world than to see the B’s raise the Cup once again.

2. Bruins vs. Leafs – 2013 First Round Game 7

This one is easily the craziest and most improbable comebacks I have ever seen. The Bruins had collapsed to the lowly Leafs, Phil Kessel got his revenge, and Cody Franson had his coming out party. All of that was a given until Horton scored about midway through the third period to spark the rally.

From there, Milan Lucic would dominate, and Patrice Bergeron continued to build his legacy in Boston hockey lore. I don’t think I’ll ever be unable to recite Jack Edwards’ calls of each of Bergeron’s goals word for word.

1. Bruins vs. Lightning – 2011 ECF Game 7

Following the greatest comeback I’ve ever witnessed, we have the greatest game I’ve ever witnessed. This was the perfect hockey game – high stakes, constant action and flow, no penalties, great goaltending, and a clutch goal. In an exciting seven game series that saw all but two games with at least four combined goals scored between the two teams, this tight, defensive chess match had everyone on the edge of their seats for the entire 60 minutes. Doc Emerick’s call of Horton’s goal, as well as the way Boston dissected Tampa’s one-three-one forecheck will forever replay in my mind when I think of this game.

Obviously, some games might get snubbed from the ranking, so I’ve also put together some honorable mentions that I feel deserve to be recognized and talked about at the very least:

HM: Bruins vs. Blue Jackets – 2019 Second Round Game 5

The Bruins playing Columbus in the second round of the 2019 playoffs may be one of the weirdest matchups I can remember, right up there with the Senators, but it didn’t make the series any less exciting. Fresh off a historical upset of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Blue Jackets were the hottest team remaining in the playoffs, and the Bruins seemingly couldn’t find any answer for Sergei Bobrovsky, until Game 5. After the Bruins extended their lead in the third period, Columbus fought back to tied things up, but Marchand and Pastrnak combined on a two-on-one to win the game late and leave hardly a shred of doubt that Boston would take care of business in Game 6.

HM: Bruins vs. Penguins – 2013 ECF Game 4

I remember all the talk about the big, bad Penguins coming to town and that the Bruins stood no chance in this series. However, Boston flipped the script on Pittsburgh and controlled the series since puck-drop of Game 1. Fueled by a city on the mend, an improbable first round comeback, Gregory Campbell laying it all on the line, and the need to prove Jarome Iginla wrong, the B’s outmatched the Pens in every way. Lights-out goaltending from Rask and McQuaid’s shining moment as a Bruin powered Boston to a sweep in Game 4.

HM: Bruins vs. Flyers – 2010 Winter Classic

A snowy and buzzing Fenway Park, coupled with some classic uniforms – pun intended – made for one of the best atmospheres at a Winter Classic. A goaltending duel between Thomas and Michael Leighton, a dramatic game-tying goal from Recchi, and a something-out-of-nothing overtime winner for Marco Sturm, who also had a knack for big goals, makes this a highlight package that is a go-to for me.

HM: Bruins @ Leafs – 2019 First Round Game 6

The Bruins were on the ropes heading into a rabid Scotiabank Arena for this one. The Leafs finally had a real chance to exorcise their demons with a series-clinching win on home ice, and things didn’t look great for Boston after an early goal from Toronto. But with quality goaltending from Rask and timely goals from DeBrusk and Marchand, the B’s snuffed out the Leafs for a textbook road win, taking the momentum back to Boston.

I’m sure I missed some quality games where this list is so playoff-heavy, and pretty recent for that matter – maybe it’s just that these are the games I have the clearest memories of. Nevertheless, is there a particular regular season game I missed, or another playoff classic I overlooked? Drop a comment and let me know your picks!

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