By Matt Eisenberg
Special to CSNNE.com
"Destiny" is a funny word sometimes. The cities that seem destroyed rebound miraculously. The people overcome so much adversity to create hope. And when those qualities are represented by a team, one can’t help but feel it is destined.
The Bruins put together one of the greatest single-game comebacks in hockey history, let alone Stanley Cup Playoff history. They were dead in the water. They had let a 3-1 series lead escape and trailed by three goals in the third period. They were bound to lose.
Ten minutes later, they advanced past the Toronto Maple Leafs. They had to win the championship for Boston.
The Bruins had the heart of the city with them at all times. A city that little more than two months ago was grieving. Two months ago, when two explosions at the Boston Marathon led to tragedy, Boston didn’t know where to turn. It was a city in pieces.
But days later, the city rejoiced. One of the two suspects of the Boston Marathon bombings was dead. The other was apprehended after a weeklong chase and a standoff that lasted hours. The country rallied around the city’s police department and other law officials. The city stood tall, and no one was going to break its people. They were Boston Strong.
In their first home game after the bombings, the Bruins faithful found a way to show their pride. The blue and yellow Boston Strong ribbon was displayed on the ice. The scoreboard showed the lasting images of the marathon bombings, notably pictures of the people who risked their lives to help those in need.
Rene Rancourt, who typically sings the national anthem at the TD Garden, started it. Then the fans took over. Together, the fans performed one of the most touching and inspiring renditions of the Star Spangled Banner in recent memory. Fans had tears running down their faces.
A city that went through so much in such a little time was united -- in their grief, in their strength. Everyone in the city was Boston Strong.
Days later, at Fenway Park, David Ortiz shouted to the crowd, “This is our f***ing city,” a city that has a never-say-die attitude. They saw it with the Red Sox in 2004, coming back against all odds to win the World Series.
Now it was supposed to be the Bruins’ turn. At least, that’s what it felt like.
The Bruins weren’t just Boston’s team or New England's team. There was the sense they were America’s team. If they won the Stanley Cup, there would be no more perfect ending.
But it wasn't meant to be. The Blackhawks raised the Cup instead.
It felt like 2001.
* * * * * *
The 9/11 tragedies left the entire country in pieces. In times of uncertainty, as a society, we turn to sports as an escape, as something to rally around. New York turned to baseball.
In the first sporting event in New York after the terrorist attacks, Mike Piazza hit one of the most memorable home runs in Mets history, a go-ahead eighth-inning home run to lift the Mets to a win over the Braves. It was symbolic of the strength the city needed to have. When your backs are against the wall, you need to stay strong.
And that was the theme of the World Series as well.
The Yankees had their backs against the wall in Game 4, and then Tino Martinez hit a game-tying, two-out, two-run home run to tie the game in the ninth. The next inning, Derek Jeter hit a walk-off home run to right field, evening the series at two games apiece.
The next night, Scott Brosius performed the same miracle, hitting another game-tying, two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth. In the 12th, Alfonso Soriano hit a walk-off single. There was no stopping the Yankees after those heroic victories, right? They had to win. For New York. For America.
But it didn't work out that way. There was Mariano Rivera. There was Luis Gonzalez. There was a broken-bat single, and the Diamondbacks were champs.
* * * * * *
The Bruins trailed 4-1 in Game 7 against the Leafs. Their backs were against the wall. This was Game 7, but this was only the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The deficit dwindled to two with about 10 minutes to go. It’s still a fairly safe lead, but in hockey, everything can change in a matter of seconds.
Boston has a never-say-die approach. With less than 90 seconds to go, Milan Lucic cut Toronto's lead to one. Thirty-one seconds later, Patrice Bergeron tied it. The Garden erupted. All of the momentum was headed the Bruins’ way. Then in overtime, Bergeron did it again. He won the game. The Bruins scored four goals in less than 20 minutes on the brink of elimination with a city counting on them.
The Rangers and Penguins didn’t pose much of a threat to what appeared to be destiny. No, the Bruins rode their momentum from Game 7 with the Leafs into the Stanley Cup Finals.
This was their time. But instead, the Blackhawks, a team that went the first 24 games of a lockout-shortened season without a loss in regulation, stood in the way.
With their goalie pulled for an extra skater late in Game 6, Jonathan Toews was able to find Bryan Bickell for the game-tying goal.
It seemed destined for overtime. After all, Game 1 went triple overtime and Games 2 and 4 went overtime, as well.
But 17 seconds later, destiny changed. A shot from Johnny Oduya deflected off Michael Frolik’s stick and found Dave Bolland, who put the puck in the net for the winner with 58.3 seconds left.
Just like that, the Bruins went from forcing a Game 7 to being eliminated.
* * * * * *
No one knows what would have happened in a Game 7, but Game 6 had its share of comparisons to Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.
Lucic was Soriano, who hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Lucic’s goal gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead, but it seemed like nothing would stop the Bruins from forcing a Game 7 at that point.
Tuukka Rask was Rivera. That Yankees’ loss doesn’t hang all on Rivera’s shoulders, much like the Bruins’ loss isn’t all Rask’s fault. Rivera kept the Yankees alive all series long. Rask had to stand on his head at times to keep the Bruins in games. Yet Rivera is the one who makes the pitches, and Rask is the one who makes the saves.
But in all aspects of sport, it is a team game. No one player wins the game, and no one player loses. There are critical moments, but goals in the first and third periods count the same.
In the end, Bolland played the role of Gonzalez. Bolland will be remembered for scoring the clinching goal 17 seconds after Bickell scored the game-tying one, a moment that will not soon be forgotten.
What seemed meant to be wasn’t. New York learned that in 2001. Twelve years later, Boston found out.
Destiny is one of those funny words. People pine for it. They want to Hollywood ending.
A team from Boston winning a championship after the city endures tragedy? It felt too good to be true.
Apparently it was.