BOSTON – Let’s get this out of the way right out of the chute:
The Boston Bruins lost to the better team on Monday.
The best Blackhawks players ended up getting the best of the Bruins’ best players, and it’s pretty damned difficult on an empirical level to contest that. It’s what leaves guys like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford and Bryan Bickell as winners for this season, and Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Tuukka Rask and David Krejci as almost good enough.
“It’s tough to put into words to describe how we’re feeling right now,” said Patrice Bergeron -- who was already playing through broken ribs and torn rib cartilage and then continued to go out there despite suffering a separated shoulder Monday night -- after the Bruins' 3-2 Game 6 loss. “You work so hard just to get to this point and give yourself a chance to get the Cup. You feel like you’re right there, and you have a chance to force Game 7, and definitely it hurts.
“It doesn't work in your way. Have to give credit to Chicago. They played a great series. But at the same time, it's the last thing you want to say. It hurts to see them hoisting the Cup [in Boston].”
But even though the Blackhawks deserved to win, it was a tough way for the Black and Gold’s season to end. Of major concern was the look of rattled nerves and lost cool for the Bruins in the final minute-and-a-half of the game. A seasoned veteran group of B’s players let the moment become too big on them.
Boston got off to a solid start for the first time in the series and held a 1-0 lead after the first 20 minutes. They threw 32 shot attempts on net, compared to 8 for Chicago and would have been up 2-0 had David Krejci finished off a nice shake-and-bake move by Brad Marchand. But Krejci, open in front, missed on the chance.
Sure, the Bruins allowed a soft Jonathan Toews goal in the second period after a borderline hand pass call brought the faceoff outside the offensive circle, and it was equal parts Tuukka Rask and Zdeno Chara fumbling things away on the play. Chara made an unfortunate decision to pinch when he couldn’t keep the puck pinned against the boards, and then got beaten badly to the net by the speeding Toews. The fact it was a five-hole goal wasn’t exactly a shining moment for Rask, who wasn’t quite brilliant in the decisive Game 6 loss.
That goal wiped out Boston’s early momentum and left the contest tied heading into the final 20 minutes. But it appeared the Bruins had forced the ninth seven-game playoff series in the Claude Julien Era when Milan Lucic punched home a Krejci pass with just under eight minutes to go in the third period, giving the Black and Gold a 2-1 lead.
And it was fitting. After all, the Bruins under Julien had never lost a playoff series in less than seven games. Each time they'd gotten beat in the postseason -- by Montreal in 2008, Carolina in 2009, Philadelphia in 2010, Washington on 2012 -- it took seven games for the nail to be driven into their coffin. (And two of those losses came in overtime.) It's a tribute to Julien's game plan and the strong leadership within the ranks that keeps the players focused.
This time, however, the Bruins simply tanked it in the final two minutes.
It was all Toews on the tying goal, as the Blackhawks captain attracted the defense to him and then found Bryan Bickell in front to pound home for the loose puck for the game-tying goal. Seventeen seconds later, Dave Bolland scored off a Johnny Oduya point shot that hit a fellow stick, the left post and then bounced right onto Bolland’s stick.
And that was that.
“It was just one thing right after another,” said a stunned Krejci, who was on the ice for Chicago’s game-winner at the end of the third period. “Before you knew it, it was in the net. Right after, the same thing. The second goal hurt so bad, and we just couldn’t recover. Then the third one happened. It all of a sudden felt like you had so much weight on your back. You couldn’t move, you couldn’t think, and just couldn’t get it done.”
The fallout was obvious in the Boston room.
Krejci was still in full uniform, sitting solemnly at his locker stall when the media entered and tears were welling up in his eyes through his comments. Johnny Boychuk had a wide-eyed look of disbelief after watching the puck bounce right to Bolland’s stick for the game-winner, and said the loss will stay with him “forever.”
Tyler Seguin admitted following the game that it might have been the “longest he’s ever cried,” knowing how close they’d come to forcing the issue with an anything-can-happen Game 7 in Chicago.
But the magic ran out for the Bruins, and Chicago was good enough to step in and make the B’s pay as soon as they retreated back on their heals.
“It was kind of a rollercoaster [this year] a bit,” said Rask. “It was a difficult season even to start with, because you know you’re going to have a real tight schedule [thanks to the lockout], play almost every other night. We played some good hockey and some not-so-good hockey. Then going into the playoffs we made a miracle in the first round going through Toronto after that deficit.
"We made a good run. Really satisfied at our effort at the end, but it still sucks to lose like this.”
It was easy enough for most of the Bruins players to tip their cap in a respectful way to the gritty, clean and competitive way the Blackhawks conducted themselves in the series. Chicago was the best team in the NHL all season and the better team in the best-of-seven series with the Black and Gold.
Still, one gets the sense that those 17 seconds of chaos between Chicago goals in the third period are going to gnaw at the Bruins during an ultra-short offseason.