Awful 17 seconds end a fantastic run

Awful 17 seconds end a fantastic run
June 25, 2013, 10:45 am
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The 2013 Bruins skate off the Garden ice for the last time following a 3-2 Game 6 loss to Chicago.

(USA Today sports images)

If there’s a bright spot in last night’s Bruins collapse, then I’m sure having a hard time pinning it down. Instead, I find myself floating back to June 2011 — Game 7 in Vancouver — and a moment that thankfully still exists so vividly in our collective memory. Seriously, take a second and prove to yourself that it's still there. Close your eyes and picture Chara with the Cup overhead, screaming like the indomitable snowman. Picture Patrice Bergeron’s almost sheepish, high-pitch shriek, and the smile that took over his entire body as he skated around with the prize he’d waited his entire life for. Appreciate the fact that that duo, and so many other players on this year’s roster, were there. Appreciate the fact that we all were.

Can you imagine how much worse this would feel without all that?

But obviously this is still pretty bad. And by pretty bad, I mean awful. There’s no escaping a loss like the Bruins suffered last night. You can leave your radio off, throw your TV out the window, and avoid reading columns like this one but in the end it’s gonna get you.

Up 2-1 with less than two minutes left, the Cup was already on its way back to Chicago, and not for a parade but for Game 7. It was real. Plans were already made for a Wednesday night for the ages. When Bryan Bickell tied it up with 1:16 left, those plans were put on hold, but hope was alive. What, you thought they’d make this easy? As if this team would let you off the hook without one more playoff overti — Boom! Dave Bolland lit the lamp and just like that, everything — Game 7, dreams of another Cup, the NHL season as we knew it — came crashing down.

The Blackhawks were the champs, and worthy ones at that. The Bruins were stunned. And Boston fans inducted another member into the club. A new memory to file away with Buckner’s, Dent’s and Tyree’s, with Welker’s drop against the Giants, and the Celtics' blown second-half lead in Game 7 against the Lakers.

They were seventeen seconds that will live in infamy and haunt the Bruins organization forever.

In many ways, the victory in 2011 sort of makes this one harder to swallow, because the memory is still so fresh. We know how great it is on the other side of a Stanley Cup title, and we are well aware what we’re missing right now. That last Cup also changed the expectations for this franchise. Even as they traded blows with Vancouver back then, Boston was still the plucky underdog and there were constant doubts as to whether the Bruins could break through. In the back of everyone’s mind, there was the built-in belief that the B’s would come up short and walk away disappointed but with their heads held high.

By the time this year’s Cup got underway, and especially once Boston took a two-goal lead in Game 1, there was never a “happy to be here” mentality against Chicago. The expectation was always to win, with no moral victories at stake. While 2011 was filled with the unfortunate, “Bruins-like” feeling that they’d find away to lose, this year they’d earned the opposite. They were the new Bruins. We expected them to break through. Always, somehow. Someway. And that makes their sudden, unimaginable collapse all the more unbearable.

Naturally, throughout all of this, there’s also the overlying theme of recovery from the marathon disaster. As time goes on, it’s become easier to separate our personal lives from what happened back in April, but during this run, the Bruins kept us connected. They honored victims and survivors every single game. It would have been so special for the B’s to win one for those victims, and for this city, and to give everyone a reason to be proud of who and what we are. That’s how they would have written it in Hollywood. Instead, this ending is out of the book of George R.R. Martin. It’s just cruel.

But the truth is that the Bruins already did this city proud. They represented Boston so well. And because of the memory of the tragedy, behind the disappointment of last night’s loss, there’s perspective that this is still just a game; sports really is just a distraction. And for the last two months, the Bruins have been a damn good one.

Not only did they distract us, but they inspired us, they entertained, they made us believe at a time when the rest of the Boston sports scene is falling apart at the seams. After last night, that belief has unfortunately transformed into pain, but for now, there’s some relief in the knowledge that this team isn’t going anywhere, that the core will be back and among the favorites to return to the Finals.

And more than that, there is relief in the still-fresh memories of 2011, and the reminder that these Bruins have already given Boston more than we could have asked for.