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On This Date in Sports April 26, 1988: 45 Years of Frustration

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Boston Bruins end four and half decades of frustration by eliminating the Montreal Canadiens in five games to advance to the Campbell Conference Finals. The Bruins clinched the Adams Division Finals with a 4-1 win as Steve Kasper and Cam Neely each scored a pair of goals. It is the first time that Boston defeated Montreal in a playoff series since 1943. It ended a streak of 18 consecutive postseason series won by the Canadiens, which included the previous four seasons. The Bruins would go on to beat the New Jersey Devils in seven games to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. 

One of the most storied rivalries in the NHL is the one that exists between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. The Canadiens, the oldest professional team in hockey, and the Bruins, the oldest team from the United States, have been battling on the ice for nearly 100 years. Over most of that time, the Bruins have been tormented by the Canadiens. The teams have met in the postseason 34 times; Montreal has won 26 of those postseason series, including a stretch of 18 straight that lasted from 1943-1988.

The Bruins won the first postseason meeting in 1929, on the way to winning their first Stanley Cup. A year later, the Canadiens had their revenge in the Stanley Cup Finals. Montreal bested Boston again in 1931. Their next postseason meeting was in 1943, with the Bruins winning in five games. After that series, it became the domain of the Canadiens, who, in the midst of winning 24 Stanley Cups, often ripped the hearts out of Boston. While making a run of five straight Stanley Cup Championships, the Canadiens beat the Bruins in 1957 and 1958. When the Bruins were the strongest team in hockey, Montreal prevented a true dynasty, winning a seven-game series in the quarterfinals in 1971, as Boston won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972. At the end of the decade, the Canadiens had another dynasty with four straight championships; again, they beat the Bruins twice, in 1977 and 1978. 

The 1979 semifinals may have been the most frustrating series for the Bruins as the Canadiens won in seven games, rallying to win Game 7 in overtime after tying the game on a powerplay after the Bruins were called with having too many men on the ice. That incident led to the firing of popular coach Don Cherry. After realignment, the Bruins and Canadiens became division rivals, with the two teaks meeting in the playoffs nine consecutive seasons, starting in 1984. The first four of those meetings were won by the Canadiens. 

The fifth of these consecutive playoff meetings came in 1988. The Canadiens, coached by Jean Perron, won the Adams Division with a record of 45-22-13. Boston meanwhile posted a record of 44-30-6 for coach Terry O'Reilly, finishing second in the Adams Division. The Bruins needed six games to beat Buffalo Sabres, while the Canadiens beat the Hartford Whalers in six to set up the showdown of archrivals. The Canadiens swept the Bruins in 1986 and 1987 and had won eight straight playoff games against Boston. The streak was extended to nine when Montreal won the opener at Montreal Forum 5-2 with a pair of goals from Claude Lemieux. Boston would turn things in their favor in Game 2, winning 4-3 as they held off a late surge from Montreal to even the series. 

As the series shifted to Boston, the Bruins defense frustrated the Canadiens, limiting them to 45 shots over two games. The Bruins record a 3-1 win in Game 3, while Game 4 was a 2-0 shutout with Rejean Lemelin providing near-flawless goaltending. With a 3-1 series lead, the Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game 5 at the Montreal Forum, with goals by Steve Kasper and Cam Neely. Kasper made it 3-0 in the second period before Montreal got a tally from John Kordic. In the third period, Neely put the game on ice with his second goal of the game, as Lemelin stopped 28 of 29 shots for the 4-1 victory. 

The Bruins would need seven games to beat the New Jersey Devils to reach the Stanley Cup FInals, where they got swept by the Edmonton Oilers. The Canadiens as a result of losing the series fired coach Jean Perron.