Haggerty: Bruins remarkable run trumps bitter end

Haggerty: Bruins remarkable run trumps bitter end
June 26, 2013, 12:45 am
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BOSTON – It may or may not be difficult for some to understand, but the sting of the Bruins’ shock-and-awe loss in the third period of Game 6 will eventually fade away.

On one level, the Bruins choked on the Stanley Cup Final stage while allowing two goals in a 17-second span during the final 1:16 of the third period. It was clear, even from the words of some of the Bruins players on the ice at the time, that they were rattled once the Blackhawks tied the game in the closing minutes of the third period.

But it was also just as clear to those watching this entire season from beginning to end that the Chicago Blackhawks were a slightly better hockey team than the Bruins. Their skill, speed and aggressiveness forced Boston into those late-game mistakes in Game 6.

Not only were the Hawks high-flying and blessed with great skill like the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they had the grittiness and toughness of a worthy Stanley Cup champion willing to pay the price for playoff wins.

The combination of those traits is why Chicago prevailed over Boston when Pittsburgh failed in the Conference Final, and a talented, finesse Vancouver club similarly came up empty against the Bruins two years ago in the Cup Final.

It was a Bruins team reaching the end of their rope due to injuries and exhaustion, and one that didn’t have much of a prayer of winning Game 7 in Chicago had they managed to win Monday. Tyler Seguin talked about “90 percent” of the Bruins players enduring through some kind of injury or another during the Stanley Cup Final, and that’s why there was a welling of pride along with the emotion of loss in Boston’s postgame dressing room.

“I would say that they earned, but by the same token I would say that we gave them as hard a push as anybody could have to win the Cup,” said Andrew Ference. “If you win it then you earned it, that’s for sure. They earned it. We threw everything we had at them, and they absorbed a ton of hits and a lot of adversity, and managed to come through in the end.

“We went at them hard, played them hard and they managed to fight through it. It’s an empty feeling and a cruel way to lose, but at the same time I’m proud of what our team is, and what we’ve done. I am proud of how close every game was for both teams, and how hard-fought the series. It’s hard to be disappointed in the effort.”

When a few years have been removed from the bitter sting of defeat, the 2013 NHL season will be looked at as a positive for the Boston Bruins on a number of fronts that 17 seconds couldn’t erase. A second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in the last three years is validation that the Bruins are playing, coaching, managing and operating as one of the showpiece franchises in the NHL.

Cam Neely, Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien wanted to build a franchise that will seriously contend for a Stanley Cup championship each and every season consistently, and that’s exactly what they've done. The B’s have proven their regular season consistency by qualifying for the playoffs six consecutive seasons, and further showcased that their talented, in-their-prime nucleus can be measured among the best around the NHL.

Some might have argued that the 2011 Stanley Cup was about a hot goaltender in Tim Thomas carrying his Bruins teammates or a number of fluky bounces allowing Boston to win a series of Game 7’s. But this hockey season proved that the Bruins are the opposite of a fluke or a one-hit hockey wonder, and that Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg and Tyler Seguin are the type of nucleus that can be molded into a top Cup contender.

What they were was the lesser team against the great Chicago Blackhawks by no more than a game or two. That puts the Black and Gold right at the head of the NHL class against one of the best teams put together during the salary cap era.

“It's one of those things where you look at who you played against. That Chicago team I think lost seven games in the regular season, and you can see why," Claude Julien said. "They're deep. They got stronger as the series went on, and they're a great hockey club. They need to be congratulated on that. But at the same time, I'm going to stand here and tell you how proud I am of our team, and how those guys battled right until the end. Without getting into all these injuries because it's not the time, we battled through a lot.

“You know, when you realize that when you're a couple wins away from a Stanley Cup, and how those guys push through a lot of things. I have nothing but good things to say about it. This is a good group of guys, and it's unfortunate that it takes a loser in these kinds of situations. It doesn't take away the fact that you can be just as proud of them as their coach of your players.”

It won’t be the same exact combination of players for the Bruins next season because of the existing contracts for 2013-14 already bumping up close to the lowered salary cap ceiling. But the Bruins have built a strong foundation for a great hockey club that’s ready to introduce talented young players with a core group of character that have already proven they’re Cup caliber.

Beyond the personal statements about the Bruins organization, the B’s did something else even more important. They captured the city of Boston’s attention after a horrendous April, and embraced the Boston Strong theme like no other pro sports team in the city’s landscape. The sight of Jeff Bauman, Carlos Arredondo and the Richard Family proudly waving the Bruins flag on the TD Garden ice prior to Game 6 was another reminder of just how closely the rise and fall of Boston’s beloved hockey club is in tune with the biorhythms of the Hub.

Patrice Bergeron playing through a broken rib, torn rib cartilage and a separated shoulder, and the visual of Gregory Campbell finishing out a penalty kill shift on a broken leg are exactly the kind of gritty, unbending, stubborn toughness that Bostonians respect and value more than anything else.

That is why there’s a special connection between the Boston hockey club, and an entire city of hockey lovers.

The fans could feel it throughout Boston’s remarkable playoff run, the players could feel it from the time they vowed to do something special in the playoffs to help ease some of the heavy hearts worn by their fellow Bostonians and the first responders could feel it when the Bruins organization treated them like the true heroes that they are.

“We really felt that we wanted to play as hard as we could, obviously, for a number of reasons, and playing for the city was one of them,” said Zdeno Chara. “We tried to have a better result, but it didn’t happen. But I think that we are very proud of the fans, the way they stood behind us and cheered us on.”

Even in bitter defeat, the Bruins fans cheered their players one last time for a remarkable playoff run that once again captured the imagination of Bostonians everywhere, and the Bruins gave a team-wide stick salute before leaving the ice. The gestures completed the circle of love between a hockey club and the city that adores them even in bruised, gritty Stanley Cup Final defeat.

That’s something special that even the worst 17 seconds in Bruins history could never take away.