The Bruins were going back to Chicago. The New Garden was as loud as it’s ever been, the Stanley Cup was going to stay under wraps, and the greatest puck series of a generation was going to play out in a seventh game Wednesday night at the United Center.
And then it melted like a snowcone on Causeway Street on the hottest day of the new summer. Before you could say Grady Little or David Tyree, the Chicago Blackhawks had their own Miracle On Ice and captain Jonathan Toews was hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head.
Chicago, 3, Boston 2.
Two goals in 17.7 seconds. That’s all it took to go from ecstasy to agony.
It was hard to believe. It will always be hard to believe. The 2013 playoff Bruins were the exact opposite of all this. They were clutch. They were gritty. They were at their best with their sweaters against the boards. Gregory Campbell skated his shift with a broken leg in the Pittsburgh series and Monday night Patrice Bergeron played with a cracked ribcage and torn rib cartilage. The Bruins were the team that lifted our city after the Marathon bombings and they were going to take this series to the limit and probably bring the Cup home to Boston. For five games (plus five overtime periods) and 58 minutes and 44 seconds of a smoking Game 6, they were even with the Blackhawks.
And then it was over. So suddenly.
“That’s what hurts the most,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “In the back of our minds we wanted to do it for the city of Boston . . . after all the town has been through, it hit close to home. That’s what’s hard right now.’’
The Bruins were leading Game 6, 2-1, set to tie the series at three games apiece, when Bryan Bickell shocked the Garden with a tying goal from the edge of the crease with 1:16 remaining.
Before anyone could recover, while we were all setting our alarm clocks and planning on yet another overtime, Dave Bolland banged home a rebound off the left post and the Blackhawks were winners.
Seventeen-point-seven seconds. That’s all it took.
“You never want to lose a game like this,’’ said Bruins center David Krejci, who had a nifty assist on Milan Lucic’s goal that gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead at 12:11 of the third. “You never want to lose a series like this.’’
“We’ve done it to somebody else,’’ added shellshocked goalie Tuukka Rask. “We know how it feels to be on the other side.’’
Indeed. In the first round, the Bruins hung a devastating loss like this on the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7. Toronto led, 4-1, with less than 12 minutes to play. Boston scored twice in the final 1:22 of regulation, then won in overtime (sound familiar?). From that moment forward, the Sons of Claude gave us an incredible run of playoff hockey.
Now the skate is on the other foot and truthfully, the Blackhawks are worthy champions. They came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals. They were openly mocked after falling behind the Bruins, two games to one, in this Final. Then they beat the Bruins three straight times. When this championship moment is recounted in Chicago, it will be all about the clutch goals from Bickell and Bolland in the final 1:16. Two goals in (have I said this already?) 17.7 seconds.
The evening was off to a rockin’ start when Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman came out to wave the banner and got up out of his wheelchair to stand on his new magic legs. That was followed by Rene Rancourt, who belted out the anthem (take that, Jim Cornelison!), closing with a quadruple fist pump. Good thing this series wasn’t a best-of-nine. Rene’s fist pumps might have delayed the next puck drop.
Clearly tapping into the energy source, the Bruins came out flying. The first period was easily Boston’s best of the series and it produced a goal at 7:19 when Tyler Seguin caught a flying puck (off a Daniel Paille pass) near the front of the net and backhanded it to Chris Kelly, who slammed it home to make it 1-0.
The Bruins outshot the Blackhawks, 12-6, in the period, but that doesn’t begin to explain Boston’s dominance in the first 20 minutes.
The momentum swung toward the visitors in the second. Toews tied it on a wrist shot through the five hole, capping a nice rush on Rask just as a Bruins power play expired. A surprisingly large contingent of Chicago fans cheered madly.
With the score tied at 1 after two periods, the Stanley Cup was quietly ushered into the building. It looked as if it would remain hidden when Lucic beat Corey Crawford with less than eight minutes remaining.
Everything was set. Each team had three wins. The noble Bruins were on their way to Chicago for the ultimate team victory in the ultimate team sport.
And then it all went away. Shocking. Stunning. Final.
Time to hang up the skates and put the Zamboni on blocks. We have postponed summer long enough. The latest and perhaps most memorable hockey season of them all is finally over.