To Boston Bruins fans of a certain age, ‘The Save’ conjures memories of Tim Thomas’ paddle stop on Steve Downie, a miraculous effort that clinched Game 5 of the 2011 Eastern Conference final and ultimately propelled the franchise to its first Stanley Cup in 39 years. But to an older generation of Bruins fans, ‘The Save’ will forever belong to Reggie Lemelin, whose sensational stop predates Thomas’ by more than two decades.
It was in the first period of Game 7 in the 1988 Wales Conference final, with the Bruins battling the New Jersey Devils in a winner-take-all affair with the victor advancing to the Stanley Cup final, that Lemelin cemented himself in the hearts of Boston faithful. With New Jersey on the attack, a shot by Neal Broten was kicked aside by Lemelin. The rebound trickled over to Pat Verbeek, who had time and a wide-open net for what should’ve been the game’s first goal. As Verbeek slapped at the puck, Lemelin lunged across his crease and batted the puck down, sending the Boston Garden crowd into a frenzy. “You make saves like that all the time, it’s just the timing of it and the stage of it,” Lemelin said. “It was at a crucial moment of the game when they could have taken a 1-0 lead, and then I make that save with the open net when Verbeek has his hand already up in the air, and we go down two minutes later and score. That’s what it’s all about.”
Lemelin’s diving save sparked a rout by the Bruins. Boston bombarded New Jersey the remaining two-plus periods, winning 6-2 and earning a berth in the Cup final. And while the Bruins fell short to the dynasty-era Edmonton Oilers – and Lemelin now admits how outmatched Boston was in that series – it hasn’t soured him on the entire playoff run.
Lemelin has fond memories of one playoff series in particular from the spring of ’88: the second-round matchup against the Montreal Canadiens. “I was born and raised in Quebec City, so it was always a rivalry with Montreal, and when I came to Boston, it was obviously the biggest rivalry in the NHL in those days,” said Lemelin, who’s now 63. “To be able to (play Montreal) and have all my family watching it, be a part of it, brothers and sisters and parents, you really felt like you were in a different world for those couple of weeks. To win it in the end was very, very rewarding.”
Over the next five seasons, Lemelin’s role in the Boston crease would change. Initially brought in as a free agent to be the starter, he would cede No. 1 duty to Andy Moog by the 1990 playoffs, though the duo remained together to form one of the most formidable tandems in Bruins history (along with Eddie Johnston and Gerry Cheevers, as well as Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas). And while a return trip to the Cup final in 1990 saw Boston fall short once again at the hands of the Oilers, Lemelin got to experience championship glory as a flag-bearing alumni member during the Bruins’ 2011 run.
As for ‘The Save,’ it may have been surpassed by Thomas’ stop on the way to the 2011 Cup, but that doesn’t mean Lemelin has been forgotten. “We’re a lot older now and some of the kids now say, ‘Oh, my dad always talked about you,’ and that kind of stuff,” Lemelin said. “People don’t recognize me anymore because we got older and don’t look the same, but once they hear the name, they pay attention. ‘Yeah, I know you, I heard about you.’ ”
Born: Nov. 19, 1954, Quebec City, Que.
NHL Career: 1978-93
Teams: Atl, Cgy, Bos
Stats: 236-161-63, 3.46 GAA, .884 SP, 12 SO
DID YOU KNOW?
Several goalies are known for revolutionizing the way the position is played, from Patrick Roy with his butterfly technique to Martin Brodeur with his puckhandling, but Lemelin was an innovator, too. In his final seasons in Calgary, Lemelin collaborated with a San Francisco-area designer to create the Aeroflex pad, which used a high-density foam that made the pads lighter and allowed for quicker movement.