The last time the Boston Bruins had a team this good was 1992-93, when Raymond Bourque, Adam Oates, Cam Neely, Joe Juneau, Glen Wesley, Don Sweeney and Dmitri Kvartalnov led them to first place in the Adams Division with a 51-26-7 record.
The Buffalo Sabres finished fourth in the division, 23 points behind the Bruins, who won 18 of their last 21 regular-season games.
It all came crashing down in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, however, when the Sabres swept the Bruins. Buffalo had staggered into the playoffs on a seven-game losing streak, but former Bruins forward Bob Sweeney scored in overtime in Game 1 in Boston. Grant Fuhr pitched a shutout in Game 2 at the Boston Garden.
The Sabres won again in overtime in Game 3, 4-3, at Memorial Auditorium. The teams went into overtime in Game 4, which ended when second-year left wing Brad May scored his first goal in 30 games, a backhander past Andy Moog.
"May Day! May Day! May Day!" screamed Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret, in a call that became one of Buffalo's most famous sports moments and one of Boston's worst. Having a problem with one of those cocky Patriots or Red Sox fans? Just yell "May Day! May Day! May Day!" and hand him a tissue.
May plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs now, a 17-year-veteran who was acquired Jan. 7 from the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional sixth-round draft pick in 2010.
That play remains a highlight of his career, along with winning the 2007 Stanley Cup with the Ducks.
"I remember being a wide-eyed kid playing with these great players," May said. "We have three Sabres in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Pat LaFontaine, Dale Hawerchuk and Grant Fuhr, and Al Mogilny should be soon. It was a great team to play with. I learned so much.
"We had lost Game 7 in Boston in 1992, my rookie year, and thought we should have won. So it was a thrill to sweep them the next year, only to be swept ourselves in the next series by Montreal. The Canadiens won 11 playoff games in overtime that year, a record, and three of them were against us. It's amazing how close these series often are, so close and so far away."
Your football friends will tell you Las Vegas offers odds on the most improbable of Super Bowl situations, but the odds of Brad May beating Bourque and Moog to score a series-winning goal was not anticipated.
"It was a breakout pass and LaFontaine had the puck through the neutral zone," May said. "I did what I'm supposed to do, come across and support the play. Pat was on his knees and slid the puck to me. I was able to move around Bourque, fake a slap shot and went around Moog. It was amazing. I don't think I was thinking; I just did it.
"It's not blind luck but a result of all those days screwing around on the pond, trying things, and it's one of those moments they can never take away. You know, we were down 5-2 in that game. Grant got hurt and Dominik Hasek came on in relief. I can tell you we wouldn't have been in that game but for what Mogilny did for us all year long, 76 goals."
May grew up in Markham, a northern Toronto suburb, so he's thrilled to be wearing a Maple Leafs sweater.
"This is an amazing hockey culture in Toronto, and to play for the Maple Leafs is an amazing feeling," May said. "It was with a lot of pride that I put on that jersey for the first time. As a kid, I saw myself wearing it."
The May trade was the first significant change Toronto General Manager Brian Burke made after coming over from Anaheim in December. This is the fourth time Burke has acquired May for one of his teams.
"I got traded from Buffalo to Vancouver when Mike Keenan was there and then Brian came in and signed me to a contract," May said. "After 2 1/2 seasons I went to Phoenix and then returned to Vancouver two years later. After the lockout I signed with Colorado and they traded me to Anaheim in my second season. Now I'm here. That's four times with Brian, who traded for me twice at the deadline. He also let me go twice, so it's not all rosy."
That's May in a nutshell -- funny, quick-thinking, self-deprecating.
"We have good people and good talent but there's been a lot of change and turnover," May said. "A lot of guys are wondering what the future holds. At some point in time we have to get 25 guys who believe and just do it. You can take any group of 25 guys and be somewhat successful. The great teams figure it out.
"The rest of the answer lies with the team's brain trust and I'm just a left winger who needs to think of nothing but that. I'm not qualified to answer that question."
May was acquired for his leadership qualities and that answer is a reflection of what he's telling his younger teammates: Do your job the best you can because you can't control the other stuff. He's also there to share his experience as a member of a Stanley Cup-winning team.
Any kid who plays this game, the whole dream is to win the Stanley Cup and I was fortunate to be part of that in Anaheim," May said. "It's not an individual thing. You have to have 20 players in sync every night. The team becomes greater than oneself; it's about the group. It's easy, as an individual, to play a great game. It's harder to get all 20 doing that at once."
May was told NHL.com was going to wreck his reputation as a knuckle-dragging tough guy. He said it was OK with him. When he had his day with the Stanley Cup, he took it to a Christian summer day camp and then to Camp Oochigeas, a special place for kids with cancer.
"I love the fact that I'm part of this group of NHL men like Bill Guerin and many, many others who give back, again and again," May said. "I love being a hockey player for that reason. We can work from a platform that most people don't have, and the opportunity is there to reach out and help these different charity groups and individuals.
"They are looking for someone to champion their cause and I think hockey does a great job in meeting those needs. That's a great team thing and I think the NHL does a great job with it." Elliott's a winner
-- There's new reason for optimism in Ottawa, where the Senators earned seven of a possible eight points in their last four games before the NHL All-Star Break.
The play of rookie goalie Brian Elliott had a lot to do with that. Elliott is 3-1-1 after posting a 3-2 win against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night. Elliott, 23, is not your typical rookie. He played four years at the University of Wisconsin, winning the NCAA championship in 2006 on a team that included Joe Pavelski, Robbie Earl, Adam Burish, Tom Gilbert and Jack Skille.
He next moved to the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators for eight games during the 2006-07 season. He went 18-19-2 at Binghamton in 44 games last season, with a 2.81 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. He was 18-8-1 there this year, with a .926 save percentage and 2.31 GAA, and was named AHL goaltender of the month for December.
Elliott has stopped 134 of 145 shots for a .924 save percentage with Ottawa and has a 2.18 GAA. He has provided quiet, competent goaltending, which has allowed his teammates to play with more confidence in front of him. Elliott was tremendous in the win against Washington, holding off the potent Capitals while his teammates went more than 10 minutes without a shot at the start of the second period.
"We don't have that firepower. When you're missing four of your top six players on your top two lines and two (defensemen) that are normally top four, we've got six players that are in the upper echelon of our lineup that aren't there right now. That's one-third of your team missing. It's impossible to think you have the same team."-- Bruins coach Claude Julien, explaining his team's two straight losses this week
"I felt pretty comfortable out there," Elliott said. " ... I'm trying not to let it sink in and I will think about it after the season. Hopefully, they've gained a little confidence in me in the last five games." News and Notes
-- The Senators suffered two injuries Sunday during their annual team skills competition. Defenseman Anton Volchenkov, out of the lineup with a shoulder injury, suffered a back strain during one drill. Right wing Shean Donovan fell during a race and slid feet-first into the boards. "I would've got up if I'd had a broken leg in seven places. It was so embarrassing," said Donovan, one of the NHL's fastest skaters. ... Ottawa's Peter Regin, who can play center or wing, played his first NHL game Tuesday against the Capitals. Regin, taken No. 87 in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, is from Herning, Denmark, the same hometown as New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen. Regin is the fifth Dane to play in the NHL, joining Poul Popiel (Boston, 1965-66), Jannik Hansen (Vancouver, 2007-08), Mikkel Boedker (Phoenix, 2008-09), and Nielsen. He was returned to Binghamton in the AHL on Wednesday. ... "Sabres defense struggling to score" is not a headline NHL fans are used to seeing. The Sabres have at least a two-decade history of point production from the point, having employed such offensively gifted players as Brian Campbell, Alexei Zhitnik, Doug Bodger, Richard Smehlik, Petr Svoboda, Uwe Krupp and Phil Housley. This season, though, the Sabres' defense is last in the League with 6 goals. That should improve now that Craig Rivet is healthy and back in the lineup. ... Maple Leafs defenseman Mike Van Ryn, who has suffered two concussions this season, failed a neurological test required for him to return to play. He will be re-tested Sunday to see if he can play against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, Toronto's first game after the NHL All-Star break.Author: John McGourty | NHL.com Staff Writer