This one hurts, and it is going to hurt for a very long time.
Not only did the Bruins players and many others believe they had the best team in this Stanley Cup Final that slipped away from them, it also very well could have been the last best chance for a core of aging greats such as Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to win that second Cup.
After winning the Cup in Vancouver in 2011, they lost it on home ice in 2013 in Game 6 to the Chicago Blackhawks, a team most would agree — either at the time or in hindsight — was the team of this decade. The B’s, it also was felt at the time, seemed still to be on the ascension.
But with their 4-1 loss Wednesday in Game 7 to the St. Louis Blues at the Garden — the first time a Cup Final Game 7 ever had been played in Boston — there was a distinct feeling they let something wonderful, something attainable escape them.
Millions of New England hockey fans — some diehard, some just on board in the last month — may feel let down by the B’s this morning. But no one feels more so than the B’s themselves. When the room opened after the loss, Jake DeBrusk was sitting in his uniform still, holding his head and trying to figure out what just happened. Meeting reporters, Brad Marchand was hoarse after an obvious crying jag he had on the ice. When asked what his homecoming had meant to him, Weymouth, Mass’., Charlie Coyle tried to answer before getting choked up and then was mercifully excused by a club media relations member.
It was, understandably, a tough room.
“It’s a heartbreaker,” said Marchand, eyes red with emotion. “It’s tough to describe. They just took our dream, our lifetime dream away from us. Everything we’ve worked for our entire lives, 60 minutes away from that. ... You can’t describe it.”
To say they lost to a lesser team would be unfair to the Blues. They came in here and won three games at the Garden in the Final, including a Game 7 after they lost their chance to win at home in Game 6. That is a resilient bunch and a worthy champion.
But if the B’s best players had played to the best of their abilities, it very well could have been different. Marchand was kept off the board in three of the seven games, David Pastrnak for four and Patrice Bergeron for five. All went without a point in Game 7.
“That’s playoff hockey,” Marchand said. “You’re not going to dominate every game. It is what it is. Obviously we hold ourselves to a higher standard. We would have liked to have been better. But that’s hockey.”
This one was there to be won in the first period, but that’s where the B’s lost it. They outshot the Blues 12-4 and had at least a half-dozen Grade A scoring chances but St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington (32 saves) was outstanding, stopping great chances by Marchand and Marcus Johansson, to name a couple.
Withstanding the initial push had been the key to the road team’s success (5-2 in this series) and it worked for the Blues yet again. First Conn Smythe Award winner Ryan O’Reilly tipped a Jay Bouwmeester shot between Tuukka Rask’s pads. But the killer came with 7.9 seconds left in the first. Marchand was covering for a pinching Matt Grzelcyk when the Blues counter-attacked. One St. Louis gained the Bruins zone, Marchand made an ill-advised change, leaving Alex Pietrangelo all alone to take Jaden Schwartz’ pass to make it 2-0.
“I thought that guy was by himself. Obviously, he wasn’t,” Marchand said.
The Blues did a tremendous job in the second period of limiting the B’s chances and in the third, Binnington made one more highlight stop on Joakim Nordstrom before the Blues tacked on two more. Suddenly, there was a lot more blue in the Garden than Black and Gold.
“It’s an empty feeling,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It’s a long year. Someone had to win and someone had to lose and we came out on the wrong side of it. It’s not the way you picture it. It’s as simple as that.”
Any team that gets to a Final has had a special year, and that’s true for the Bruins. But the longer you go, the more painful it is when you lose your last game of the season.
“Today, it wasn’t our night,” Krejci said. “Too bad it was the most important day of our lives.”