The Bruins are hurting. Their pain starts with Patrice Bergeron, the alternate captain whose spirit almost overcame his body’s shortcomings.
Bergeron played with a broken rib, torn cartilage, and a separated shoulder. He was not alone.
Others, including Nathan Horton, Zdeno Chara, and Jaromir Jagr — the list is surely larger — gutted through their respective injuries to carry the Bruins through three rounds of playoff hockey. Most of the roster will not pull themselves out of bed on Tuesday morning without prescription relief.
But the ache of their wrecked bodies will be nothing compared to the mental carnage of what took place on home ice Monday night. The Bruins led the Blackhawks by a 2-1 score. They were just over a minute away from forcing Game 7 on Wednesday night and giving themselves a chance to pursue their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
Instead, they had to watch the Blackhawks hoist the Cup at TD Garden following a 3-2 Game 6 win. Chicago wiped out a one-goal deficit in 17 seconds on goals by Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland. Patrick Kane claimed the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
“It’s tough to put into words to describe the feeling right now,” Bergeron said. “You work so hard to get yourself to this point and give yourself a chance to get the Cup. You feel like you’re there and have a chance to force Game 7. It hurts. It doesn’t work your way. You’ve got to give credit to Chicago. They played a great series. At the same time, it’s the last thing you want to see. It hurts to see them hoisting the Cup.”
The punishment the Bruins inflicted upon Toronto in the opening round — a 4-1 Game 7 loss turned into a 5-4 overtime win — was a kick to the head the Bruins felt themselves.
“We did it to Toronto,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask. “So I guess we get a taste of our own medicine.”
The Bruins lost to the better team. The Blackhawks lost just seven regular-season games. They recorded 77 points, the most of any club in NHL history during a 48-game season. In the playoffs, they got even better.
They wiped out Minnesota in the first round. They rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to dispatch the Red Wings. They beat Los Angeles, the defending champs, in the Western Conference finals.
Against the Bruins, they flexed four-line strength. Corey Crawford bricked up the net. The defensemen retrieved pucks and shuttled them up the ice. They displayed Formula 1 speed throughout the series.
For all that, the Bruins were in position to create a winner-take-all match. Milan Lucic practically fired up the club’s charter with his go-ahead goal at 12:11 of the third. Lucic initiated the play with a ferocious effort. His forecheck prompted Duncan Keith to hurry a pass behind the net that David Krejci picked off. Lucic then went to the front of the net to put himself in position for Krejci’s pass.
But the team plane will remain grounded. The Blackhawks scrubbed the Bruins’ return flight to Chicago with a furious flurry of skill, will, and the right sprinkle of puck luck.
With Crawford pulled for an extra attacker, the Blackhawks started their push. Coach Claude Julien warned his players that the Chicago defensemen would be pinching at every opportunity. The Blackhawks did just that.
Keith, the left-side defenseman, was in the middle of a puck scrum along the left-side wall in the Boston zone. The Bruins rushed the puck in hopes of digging it off the boards and clearing the zone.
But when Krejci tried to go up the wall with the puck, the Blackhawks swarmed. Keith gained control. Then Jonathan Toews settled the puck. With Dennis Seidenberg joining the battle, Chara was the lone player remaining in front to fend off the swarming Blackhawks.
Toews spotted Bickell in front and slid the puck through Chara. Bickell made no mistake, tying the game at 18:44 of the third.
“The tying goal is a great play,” Julien said. “They’ve got their best players on the ice. They made a great pass. We got caught a little bit on the wall with their Ds pre-pinching.”
The Bruins were stunned. But they still believed they would be playing in overtime for a trip to Chicago. Overtime never came.
The Blackhawks gained control of the puck. Rask kicked out Chicago’s initial shot. But Johnny Oduya found the puck and hammered a shot on goal. Oduya’s shot deflected off Michael Frolik and changed direction. Before Rask could reposition himself, the puck landed on Bolland’s stick. With a swift swipe, Bolland put the winning puck into the net with 58.3 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Bruins pulled Rask for one final push. They hoped they could pull off another Toronto miracle. It didn’t happen.
As the Blackhawks flung their gloves, helmets, and sticks into the air, the Bruins stood dazed on the ice.
The Bruins and Blackhawks went through their handshake line. There were just as many hugs as handshakes.
While Chicago’s celebration continued, the Bruins gave their fans one final stick salute. Then they retreated to the dressing room for the last time this season.
“You’re going to remember forever,” defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “You remember winning it. But I think you remember losing it a little bit more.”