Spring was in the air, and as one Boston Globe correspondent wrote, “perhaps the ultimate certainty was watching the Bruins in the Stanley Cup playoffs” every year at that time. When the Bruins clinched a playoff berth on April 11, 1996, it marked a record-breaking 29th consecutive season of playoff hockey for Boston.
The 80th game of the Bruins’ 1995-96 season was held at Boston’s FleetCenter, where they hosted the Hartford Whalers. Although Hartford scored first on a power play midway through the first period, Boston tied up as the final seconds of the period ticked down. Each scored again during the second period, but Boston’s Sandy Moger potted the game winner at 11:32 of the third.
The victory nudged the Bruins up to 89 points, putting them in a four-way tie (with Washington, Florida, and Montreal) for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. After losing the rematch at Hartford, the Bruins defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the season finale. Boston ended the season with 91 points (40-31-11), ranked second in the Northeast Division.
One of the reasons credited for Boston squeaking into the playoffs was the re-attainment of goalie Bill Ranford. After his first two seasons in the NHL, in March 1988 Boston traded Ranford to the Edmonton Oilers only to take him back on January 11, 1996. After clinching, Ranford commented, “It’s a pretty big accomplishment. The team can finally relax a little. We’ve been playing playoff hockey for the last two months. It was good to let off a little steam.”
In contrast to Ranford’s short time with the Bruins, captain Ray Bourque already had been with the team for 16 years of consecutive playoff appearances. Based on his experience, he said, “I think everyone was worried. We couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. We weren’t playing consistent and couldn’t get anything going. I’m just happy this team got together and went out and got it done.”
The Bruins’ coach, Steve Kasper, had just been hired the previous May. He claimed, “I’ve said it over and over again – the goal was to make the playoffs.” It took much more effort than expected, but under his leadership, the Bruins pulled it off. “It took a long time to wrap it up. But the last 25 games, this team has really come together. When you fall behind, you worry because you can’t control what the other teams are doing,” Kasper explained. “I believed in what we were doing and I said when we went on the road in February that I felt it would be a good opportunity to come together. That was a starting point and we never really looked back. It took us 80 to nail down a spot, but we’re happy to be in it. I’m really happy with the club. We battled some long odds and came out on top.”
Making it to the playoffs was one thing but making it through the rounds was another. It only took five games for the Bruins to be eliminated by the Florida Panthers in the Conference Quarter-Finals. The following season, the playoff streak ended, as did Kasper’s time as Boston’s coach.
All in all, Boston has only missed the playoffs 22 seasons, less than a quarter of their total 94 since joining the NHL in 1924. Their 72 playoff appearances is second only to that of the Montreal Canadiens, who have appeared in 83 postseasons. However, the Bruins still lead the NHL in consecutive appearances, for the seasons from 1967-68 to 1995-96. The Chicago Blackhawks simultaneously trailed them by one when their streak lasted from 1969-70 to 1996-97. On the other side of the coin, the Bruins also have one of the worst droughts for missing the playoffs with eight seasons from 1959-60 to 1966-67. Only four other teams have nine or ten-season droughts. Going beyond hockey, the Boston Bruins’ 29-season playoff streak is still the second-longest in North American major professional sports. Only the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos have gone longer, with 34 consecutive postseasons.
- Nancy L. Marrapese, “Bruins join ‘in’ crowd,” Boston Globe, 12 April 1996, pp. 87 and 93.
- Todd Archer, “A not-so-sure sign of spring,” Boston Globe, 12 April 1996, p. 94.