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The Boston Globe

Sports

Christopher L. Gasper

This Bruins team deserved a better ending

Patrice Bergeron and the Bruins saluted TD Garden fans after the loss.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Patrice Bergeron and the Bruins saluted TD Garden fans after the loss.

Cruel.

That was the word Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference kept using as he tried to describe what had happened to his team. How the Bruins lost Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, 3-2, and the series to the Chicago Blackhawks, four games to two. How their season had gone from extension to extinction. How salvation had turned into devastation. How the Cup had been lost.

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Game 6 was cruel because this bunch of redoubtable Bruins deserved better than to see their season end and the Stanley Cup be awarded to the Blackhawks on Boston ice thanks to a 17.7-second span that will live in heartbreak, hockey history, and Boston sports infamy.

With the Bruins leading, 2-1, the Blackhawks scored two goals in 17.7 seconds to swipe hockey’s holy grail. The game-winner came off the stick of Dave Bolland. He took a Johnny Oduya shot that was tipped off the stick of Michael Frolik and ricocheted off the left post and stuffed it past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask with 58.3 seconds left.

“It’s just a cruel feeling,” said Ference, who was in front of the net for the gut-wrenching goal. “You play a tight game, and obviously, guys give an effort where everyone can look themselves in the mirror and be proud of what they did. It’s just a sickening feeling. Those last couple goals — I didn’t even see the tying goal — but I know the winning goal, and you get a bounce like that, high-tip, bounce that is perfect for the rebound. You feel helpless when you see it go in. It [stinks].”

Bolland’s goal came 17.7 seconds after Bryan Bickell had tied the game off a beautiful feed from Chicago captain Jonathan Toews (goal and an assist) with 1:16 left. The line of Toews between Bickell and Conn Smythe award winner Patrick Kane was a Blackhawks wrecking ball that was on the ice for seven goals in the final three games of the series.

Just like that, in less time than it takes to microwave popcorn, the Bruins had gone from preparing to play Game 7 in Chicago on Wednesday night to game over for the season.

The irony of the ending was not lost on the Bruins. If not for a similar incredulous climax in their favor in Game 7 of their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs they wouldn’t have even been in the Stanley Cup Final. In that game, Boston was down, 4-1, in the third and scored two goals, 31 seconds apart, during the final 1:22 to send the game to overtime, where Patrice Bergeron won it.

“Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don’t,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We’ve lived through both of them, so we know how it feels on both sides of it, winning and being losers.”

The Bruins were stunned in their dressing room. Ference and Johnny Boychuk, who had been on the ice for the fateful goal, were still discussing exactly what had happened. Ference didn’t even know who had taken the original shot that ended this Original Six series.

“No, it was scrambly up top,” he said. “You could see the shot coming. There [was] some traffic in the high slot. It hit somebody I don’t know who it was. Me and Tuukka were both playing the shot, and it just cruelly tipped perfectly for a rebound for their guy. Like I said, it’s a helpless feeling, looking at it as good as we played tonight. That’s the way it goes. We’ve been on the other side of that coin.”

Before the shocking denouement to what was a nip and tuck series — four of the six games were decided by one goal and three went to overtime — it seemed like the Bruins were going to send it to Game 7.

Hockey’s Houdinis, a team able to wriggle out of almost any jam, appeared that for its latest trick they were going to pull a deciding game out of their hat.

Milan Lucic had put the Bruins up, 2-1, at 12:11 of the third period. Lucic had a shot that banked in off the back of Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.

Battered and bruised but not broken, the Bruins were poised to extend their winter’s tale by another game on a warm summer evening at TD Garden.

All the stories about the resolve, resiliency, and tenacity of the Bruins — words that still apply to this admirable bunch of Spoked-Bs — were being prepared to be written.

But this time they were on the other end of somebody else’s miracle.

The ending will be hard to overcome or forget. But as Julien pointed out, there is accomplishment in reaching the Cup Final for the second time in three years.

There is valiance in playing through the litany of injuries the team had. There is no greater symbol of the Bruins’ will than Patrice Bergeron, who gutted his way through Game 6.

Bergeron, who left Game 5 in Chicago with what he disclosed after Game 6 as being a broken rib, torn rib cartilage, and a separated shoulder, was active for Game 6.

The hockey heartbeat of the Bruins, Bergeron first touched the ice with 18:59 left in the first period. Like the Bruins, he was wounded, but refusing to go down for the count.

But guts aren’t always rewarded with glory. This time there was no reward for the Bruins, only a cruel twist of fate that will make Bolland as dirty a word in these parts as Dent, Boone, or Tyree.

How long will the Bruins remember the ending to the 2012-13 season?

“Forever,” said Boychuk. “I mean, you are going to remember forever. You remember winning it, but I think you remember losing it a little bit more, now that we have had that happen.”

For the Bruins, it will indeed be a cruel, cruel summer.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.
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