Wherever this season ends up for the Bruins, be it with a seventh Stanley Cup or dead at destiny’s door, Monday night at the Garden will be remembered, savored, tucked away neatly and in perpetuity in the book of the Hub’s cherished sports memories.
The 2013 Bruins may do nothing the easy way, but they made one night in May impossible to forget.
“They had us on the ropes,’’ said coach Claude Julien, after his club pinned a 5-4 overtime loss on the Maple Leafs to become the first in Stanley Cup history to win a Game 7 after trailing by three goals in the third period. “I’m not going to lie.’’
“They” were the Toronto Maple Leafs and they were going to send the Bruins home for the summer. Nazem Kadri scored with 5:29 gone in the third period, lifting the Leafs to a 4-1 lead, and the Garden filled with a funereal air. Two years removed from beating the Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins were going to be sent packing in the first round for a second year in a row. After scoring the night’s first goal. After blowing a 3-1 series lead. After failing once again to use their size, experience, and savvy to their advantage.
“It was looking pretty bad there,’’ said Brad Marchand, the spirited winger whose play, like so many of his teammates, turned dispirited through the series.
Until . . .
“Everyone started believing,’’ Marchand said. “And we know we can score in bunches. We did that. We showed up when it matters.’’
They showed up, the way Carlton Fisk’s home run off the left-field foul pole showed up in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. From nowhere. When belief and hope had all but disintegrated. With the show about to close, with hope lost in a sea of frustration, with talk radio hosts ready to trade the lot of them and fire everyone but the owner’s son. They showed up. They said no.
“Obviously, we were out of it at 4-1,’’ offered captain Zdeno Chara, who clocked in with one assist and a game-high, bone-crushing 35:46 of ice time. “But all of a sudden it’s 4-1 and it’s like, ‘OK, here we go . . . we can win this game, and we can win this series.’’
No team in Stanley Cup history, first round, second, or third or fourth, ever erased a three-goal deficit in the third period of a Game 7 and lived to talk about playing another day. The Bruins became the first. No one from the Montreal AAA’s of 1892-93 through the LA Kings of 2011-12 ever looked up in Period 3 of a Game 7, winced at being down a three-spot, then pulled off their skates at the end of the night with the satisfaction that filled the Black-and-Gold dressing room on Causeway Street.
“Every goal we scored gave us a lift,’’ said Chara. “But the third and fourth were the biggest.’’
Nathan Horton fired in the second with 9:18 gone, and the Garden crowd, slightly thinned from its 17,565 max, treated it with polite recognition. The start of something big? Few could have or would have believed it. But there it was, with the Leaf lead down to 4-2 and 10:42 worth of regulation to go. There is little respect in losing a 3-1 series lead, and little more in dressing up a trouncing at the hands of a club that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since the wood-and-leather era of 1967.
It was still 4-2 with less than two minutes remaining when the Bruins finally began to show the kind of net drive and presence that eluded them for much, if not most, of the series. Had they died on this night, their obit would have read that they died of half-heartedness around the net. But with Tuukka Rask out of the Boston net and 1:22 on the clock, Milan Lucic picked up a loose puck off a Chara blast and roofed it over goalie James Reimer. One goal closer with the season set to expire in 82 seconds.
Eighty seconds. A minute. Less. Rask again out of net and Chara, the Trencin Tower of Power, parked at the top of Reimer’s crease. David Krejci zipped a pass to Patrice Bergeron high in the slot and the Quebec kid sailed in a 45-foot wrister, Reimer’s view obliterated by the monolithic Chara.
Just 50.2 seconds to go and it was tied, 4-4. The new age building in North Station thundered, in a way much like the old Garden shook, louder than any of the iron horses that rolled into North Station three stories below. Had there ever been a night like this for Eddie Shore, Milt Schmidt, Espo, Orr, or the Cheese?
No. Never. And it still wasn’t over. Never a three-goal lead swatted off the board. And here it had disappeared in just a few ticks short of 10 minutes.
Then 6:05 into overtime, Bergeron ended it, with help from linemates Tyler Seguin and Marchand. The night began with the line altered, Seguin swapped out for Jaromir Jagr because the trio’s offense had disappeared. But with both Horton and Jagr briefly sidelined with skate problems, Julien ordered Seguin (0-0—0 in the series) back on the ice.
Seguin made a key play around the net, Marchand tossed a pass to Bergeron and the pivot’s first attempt was stopped. Bergeron charged, racing straight into Jake Gardiner’s clear attempt, and the series was finished. Bergeron’s shot ripped into the net as assuredly as Fisk’s shot clanged off the pole, not with a loud, obvious ricochet, but with the all-but-silent din of a puck going into twine.
“We came out focused and determined to finish it off,’’ said Julien, noting he was tired and drained, never having been through a night like it. “We knew [in OT] that we couldn’t pass up shots. We couldn’t play on our heels. We had to play on our toes.’’
After all that, the ’13 playoff Bruins are but four of 16 wins toward a Cup. They have the Rangers next, with a chance of meeting the Senators or Penguins in a third round. So much more to do.
“I’m a tired coach,’’ said Julien, well aware of the tightrope walked, the fate his club slipped. “We have to find a way to get these guys to give us what we want. We make it tough on ourselves, not being able to close it out in Game 5 . . . you try to fix your faults and keep the character going.’’
They are still going. Exactly where they do not know. Nothing easy. Much to remember.