Chara

Chara

No. 2: Every team reports to training camp with no less than clinching a postseason berth as goal No. 1. But in the case of the 2007-08 Boston Bruins, the situation might’ve been more dire than for most teams.

Out of the lockout, the club has missed the playoffs two straight years. With  Claude Julien taking the reins, the Bruins were onto their third coach since the labor stoppage. And in a city used to championship bubbly from two of its major sports teams (and anticipating it from a third), another postseason no-go would’ve been a disaster.

Behind goals from Zdeno Chara and Phil Kessel, the Bruins pulled off a 2-1 win over Ottawa April 4 to secure their first trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2004. For an encore they pushed the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. Both achievements are most worthy of the Top 10 Bruins Stories of the calendar year ’08.

There were times during the roller-coaster season that it seemed there would be no chance for the Bruins to keep skating into mid-April. The Bruins suffered through  a six-game winless stretch (0-5-1) near the end of ’07 before bouncing back with a three-game winning streak. Then they made believers of many with a six-game winning streak in Februray.

Entering their next-to-last regular season game at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, the Bruins needed a win over the Senators and a Carolina loss to Florida to secure the postseason berth with one game left. With two goals in support of him, Tim Thomas made 17 saves so the Bruins could hold up their end of the bargain. Then Florida helped out with a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes.

“There was no party at all. I’m a firm believer that there’s more to come. I don’t want to get satisfied too easily here,” Julien said the next morning as his team prepared to face Buffalo in the regular season finale.

A lackluster performance that night at TD Banknorth Garden resulted in a loss to the Sabres, and when the regular season ended the next day the Bruins were relegated to the eighth seed in the East — meaning a first-round dance with their hated rivals from Montreal. Few gave the Bruins a chance to win the series, and after four games those experts looked dead-on. But then with the series shifted to Montreal for Game 5 and the Bruins facing elimination, Boston — sparked by the return of Kessel to lift the offense — sent the series back to the Hub for Game 6.

In a game that became an instant classic, the Bruins somehow managed to stave off elimination one more time. The Bruins trailed by one goal three times before goals by Milan Lucic and Kessel put them ahead for the first time on the night. Then Chris Higgins evened the score 4:04 before the final horn.

Overtime seemed inevitable — that is until Marco Sturm scored the biggest goal of his NHL career with 2:37 to go.

The Bruins hung on and hit the road for Quebec.

Although the Canadiens dominated Game 7, the Bruins had achieved their preseason goal and then some. Just making the playoffs would’ve been enough. But to come one game from advancing beyond the first round the Bruins proved that they’d made enormous strides as an organization and really set the tone for their fast start to the 2008-09 season.

“For sure it’s something we need to build on,” Chara said on the club’s break-up day. “We made some positive first steps in the right direction and we just need to make sure we have an even better season next year.”