(Photo Credit: Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff)

By: Steve McClure | Follow me on Twitter / X @stmcclure1993

Every generation of Bruins’ fans—in one particular year or another—has come to suffer the springtime sting of facing an opposing goaltender who comes to haunt their dreams. The goalie who makes dazzling and unlikely stops just when you think your favorite Bruins’ team is turning the corner or ready to advance. The netminder who robs your superstar player of the overtime goal with a miraculous glove save. The other team’s last line of defense making a timely save on a breakaway in the closing seconds of what is potentially the Bruins series-clinching game-winning goal (too soon Bruins fans?). These indelible images have caused us uncontrollable hand-wringing and have, in some cases, scarred our psyches. 

With the NHL playoffs approaching and spring hope in the air for the Bruins, I have collected, in my humble opinion, the most frustrating goaltending foes the Bruins have faced over the last 65 years of playoff hockey. Let us take a morose Bruins walk down ‘playoff memory lane,’ shall we? Note: Three of the top six performances are registered so high due to the fact that the goaltender’s stellar play occurred under the intense spotlight of the Stanley Cup finals. 

#6  Montreal’s Jacques Plante was supreme in his 1956-57 Stanley Cup finals effort vs. Boston. Plante was 4-1 in the series, holding a microscopic 1.00 goals against average and .961 save percentage. He shut out the Bruins in Game Two. The Bruins’ Fleming Mackell scored four of the Bruins’ six goals in the series (one of Fleming’s goals was an empty netter), otherwise Plante was almost impossible to beat, stopping 124 of 129 total shots. His performance was not a revelation—Plante is considered one of the greatest netminders of all-time, collecting seven Vezina trophies, six Stanley Cup titles, and one Hart Trophy as NHL MVP—but it was hard for Bruins’ fans to swallow just the same.

(Photo Credit: Canadian Press)

#5  Steve Penney of the Canadiens was a huge surprise to the 1983-84 Boston Bruins. After winning the Adams division with 104 total points, the Bruins faced Montreal, fourth in the division with 75 points—and below .500 for the season. Not satisfied with their veteran goalies— Rick Wamsley and Richard Sévigny—Montreal decided to roll the dice on rookie Steve Penney, who was 0-4 with a .835 save percentage during the regular season. The rest is history.  Tom Fergus would score two goals for Boston over the course of the three-game sweep, and no other Bruins would be able to light the lamp against the rookie goaltender.

In Game One at the Garden, Penney stopped 29 of 30 shots in a 2-1 victory. The Game Two result would be another 2-1 win. Penney garnered the shutout at the Montreal Forum in Game Three, as the Canadiens rallied around Penney defensively and only allowed 19 Bruins’ shots. It wasn’t in the same realm as the 2022-23 Bruins first-round collapse, but shocking nonetheless. Penney was almost impenetrable in the three games, fashioning a 0.67 GAA to go along with a stubborn .974 save percentage.

#4 Bernie Parent stifled the Orr-and-Esposito-led Bruins in the 1974 Stanley Cup finals. His Conn Smythe-winning playoff exhibition culminated in a clinching 1-0 Game Six shutout of a vaunted Bruins lineup, including the two best offensive players in the NHL. Parent’s save percentage was .933 in the series, and his 2.10 GAA against Boston stood in stark contrast to the 4.5 goals per game the Bruins averaged in the regular season and in the prior two playoff rounds.

As bumper stickers in Philadelphia glorified shortly after the title: “Only the Lord saves more than Bernie Parent.” The Flyers would become the first expansion team to snatch a title away from the ‘original six teams’. Since 1974, only fifteen titles have been won by the ‘original six’ cities in the 50 years thereafter. 

#3 Another playoff year, another heartbreak for the Boston Bruins. Ken Dryden and the Canadiens knocked off the Bruins in the 1976-77 Stanley Cup finals. Montreal enjoyed perhaps one of the most dominant seasons any NHL franchise has ever displayed; their regular season record was 60-8-12, and the Habs only lost two of twelve contests in the playoffs. Dryden was the Hall-of-Fame safety valve on a top-notch Montreal defense. He did not have to stand on his head to win—other than himself, there were eight other Hall of Fame players in their lineup—but his finals numbers show how difficult it was for the Bruins to compete in the series.

He stopped 87 of 93 shots for a .935 save percentage, and his 1.47 GAA in the series was perhaps overshadowed only by Conn Smythe-winner Guy Lafleur’s nine points over the four-game sweep and Jacques Lemaire’s three game-winning goals. This was Dryden’s fourth Cup win in as many tries. He would go on to win two more, and he would possess five Vezina trophies by career’s end.

#2 In what might have been the most suffocated the Bruins’ organization has ever felt in a playoff series, Boston lost to the ‘trap-happy’ New Jersey Devils and the Hall-of-Fame play of Martin Brodeur in the 1995 conference quarterfinals. The Devils won four of the five games played, and Brodeur was superb. Cam Neely scored two of only five Boston goals against Brodeur in the series. The 23-year-old netminder allowed only three even-strength tallies throughout the series, frustrating Boston on 126 of 131 total series shots.

By the series end, Brodeur’s GAA was 0.97 thanks to three shutouts. His save percentage was an eye-popping .962. For the Devils and Brodeur, it was a beginning step toward the first of three Stanley Cup titles, as they would defeat the Red Wings later that spring. For the Boston Bruins, it was another playoff demise at the hands of another NHL goaltending legend.

(Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun/AP Photo)

My ‘six-through-two countdown’ list showcases the best statistical performances. However, for the VERY top spot, I have disregarded pure statistics and, instead, taken into consideration other factors. Statistics aside—yes, they appear to be run-of-the-mill—this next netkeeper made Bruins fans’ lives miserable in what ranks right up there with the ‘almost perfect’ 2007 New England Patriots defeat in Super Bowl XLII. The series loss was, indeed, that surprising and that devastating. 

#1 In retrospect, rookie Ken Dryden was the reason The Big, Bad Bruins did not win three Stanley Cups in a row—from 1970 through 1972. His coming out party in the spring of 1971, which resulted in a Montreal Stanley Cup championship and a Conn Smythe award weeks later, is still lamented in the New England region to this day. His statistics do not tell the story at first blush—a blush that is distinctly Canadien rouge, but Bruins fans of that time period, and most certainly the Bruins players on that juggernaut of an NHL team, can show you the deep scars. 

(Photo Credit: hockeygods.com website)

To fully grasp the scope of the Ken Dryden-led upset, one must remember that the 1970-71 Boston Bruins were record-breakers; the team broke the record for regular season wins (54) and points (121); their 399 goals smashed their own 1968-69 record; their +192 goal differential set another new record; the top four NHL point scorers were all Boston Bruins, each reaching the 100 point mark (Orr, Esposito, Bucyk, and Hodge)—until that season only four players in the history of the NHL had 100-point seasons, and since that season, no other franchise has accomplished this feat; individually, Esposito’s 76 goals broke the goals record, and Orr broke the assists record with 102.

The Bruins were a free-wheeling wagon of a team—no one was capable of touching them. But along came a recent Cornell graduate named Ken Dryden. The six-foot-four-inch goaltender dented the Bruins’ dreams. Of Dryden, Esposito inveighed “that octopus” was using voodoo against him. Early on in the series, ‘Pie’ McKenzie claimed the following: “That hand of his is something else. We’ve caught him out of position at least a dozen times and shot for three-quarters of an empty net. Zap—that big mitt comes out of thin air. Twice, I’ve had my stick in the air and was breaking into my goal-scoring dance when he’s done that.” 

Dryden’s .912 save percentage in the seven-game series is somewhat unremarkable, but to put it into fair context, he was facing the greatest offensive powerhouse of the era, and he faced a nightly barrage of shots—far greater than the other ‘goaltending villains’ on this short list I have compiled. The Bruins averaged 40.7 shots over the course of seven games. Dryden turned away 233 of 248. He was never more effective than in Game Seven, making 46 saves—eleven off of Esposito alone—in a 4-2 victory. To this day, Ken Dryden remains the scariest goaltending monster in Bruins’ playoff history.

*Kolzig? Price? Vasilevskiy? Holtby? Let me know of any other goalies you feel deserve a ranking on this short nightmare list!

*Credit to Sports Illustrated’s Jack Olsen for the McKenzie quote, and credit to hockeygods.com for the Dryden photo.