When the end has come for the Bruins in recent seasons, it hasn’t often been accompanied by much suspense.
When the Bruins were eliminated by the Islanders in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, the Fightin’ Potvins prevailed in the decisive sixth game, 6-2. The Isles scored the game’s first goal, three unanswered to break a tie in the second period, and a pair of empty netters for a couple of unnecessary exclamation points.
When the Bruins were bounced from the bubble in five games by the Lightning during the pandemic-altered 2020 playoffs, the finale of the second-round series was a thriller — a 3-2 Tampa Bay win in double-overtime. But had the Bruins won that game, they still would have trailed the series, 3-2, and they lost the previous two games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions by a combined 10-2 score.
Then there’s the last time the Bruins faced a Game 7 prior to Saturday, which also happens to be the last time they had a chance to achieve something that would be remembered forever. The Bruins had home ice for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against St. Louis, but from the get-go the brutish Blues treated TD Garden like it was their own backyard rink. They scored the first four goals — the soul-crushing second score resulting from a Brad Marchand gaffe at the end of the first period — en route to a 4-1 win and the franchise’s first championship.
The stakes, of course, weren’t in that range on Saturday, but the Bruins’ performance in Game 7 of their first-round matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes had shades of that Cup Final loss three seasons ago. The Bruins seemed to be skating uphill all day. The Hurricanes controlled play, and eventually, their fortunes in a 3-2 win that wasn’t as close as the score.
The Hurricanes scored the game’s first goal with 84 seconds left in the first period, then added a second 3:14 into the second period, just 12 seconds after the Bruins had killed off a 4-minute double-minor on Taylor Hall for high sticking. Jake DeBrusk’s score from the slot cut the Hurricanes lead to 2-1 at the 5:04 mark of the second.
But suspense was fleeting. The Hurricanes went up, 3-1, on Max Domi’s second goal — he also assisted on the first goal, by Teuvo Teravainen — after Trent Frederic’s bid to tie the game had hit the post. Carolina remained in such command, controlling the puck, containing the Bruins’ stars, wisely using its advantage in quality depth, that the remaining suspense was confined to the final 30 seconds or so. David Pastrnak’s one-timer with 21.7 seconds left and Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman pulled for the extra attacker brought the visitors to within 3-2.
The final seconds of the season contained a couple of oh-so-close scoring opportunities and endless chaos, but in the end all the Bruins were left with were what-ifs to lug into the summer.
It was impossible not to notice that this loss, the Bruins’ first elimination in the first round since 2017, felt like the end of something bigger. Patrice Bergeron, a warrior on the ice and one of the classiest athletes this city has ever known, is not under contract for next season, and the retirement rumors have percolated for a while. It did not go unnoticed — it could not go unnoticed, for all eyes were drawn to the captain at the conclusion of what could have been his final game — that he took a moment to acknowledge every teammate with a hug or a handshake as they departed the ice for the final time this season. The suspense in the game may have been sparse, but it’s going to be abundant this offseason until we know Bergeron’s status. Add me to the heavy majority — perhaps it’s even unanimous among us — that hopes to see him in that No. 37 sweater again, and for seasons to come.
It’s hard to believe that the Bruins have gone 11 seasons now since they last hoisted the Stanley Cup, with that endlessly fulfilling seven-game victory over the Canucks. (It remains the only seventh game the franchise has won the road.) That team seemed to have endless possibilities ahead of them, but they let the Cup slip from their grasp in ‘13 against the Blackhawks, lost the turf war to the Blues in ‘19, and have never managed to secure that second championship. It sure looks now like they never will. Their stars were always admirable, but as a whole, their rosters just haven’t had the depth required to navigate the NHL’s brutal postseason.
Much of the core has moved on now. Zdeno Chara departed for the Capitals after the ‘20 season. David Krejci returned to his native Czech Republic last summer. Tuukka Rask’s return in January was short-lived. And the rest of that remaining 2011 core is heading to the twilight of their careers — Marchand just turned 34. Bergeron turns his sweater number in July.
The Bruins’ future will feature Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm, and Swayman, who stood tall in his five straight starts in net to conclude this series. But they are not just the future. They are the present. It remains to be seen who else will remain, and who will join them. The suspense begins now.