The Blackhawks left the Garden with the Stanley Cup held high. The Bruins left with their hearts in their hands.
“Forever,’’ said sullen Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk, summing up the sting of it all. “You remember that forever.’’
As painful as the ball through Bill Buckner’s legs, Bucky Dent’s homer into the screen, and that one too many skaters on Forum ice in ’79, the Bruins botched Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in epic fashion Monday night, coughing up a pair of goals in only 17 seconds at the end of the third period. The last strike, by Dave Bolland with 58.3 seconds left, handed the Blackhawks a stunning, jaw-dropping 3-2 victory and gave them their second Cup title in four seasons.
Like too many times in this lockout-shortened season, the Bruins found themselves comfortable, then promptly fashioned comfort into calamity. They took a 2-1 lead on Milan Lucic’s goal with 7:49 remaining in regulation on their 23d shot of the night, then became far too passive with their attack. The Hawks, once trailing in the third, landed nine more shots the rest of the way, the Bruins only two.
Instead of forcing a Game 7, the Bruins backed themselves out of victory in Game 6.
“A tough way to finish a season,’’ said Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, his game in the Final series very good, but not quite as sharp as the earlier rounds.
In the end, it was the right result. The better team took home the Cup. The Hawks were faster afoot and their touch fine-tuned around the net. The Bruins came thundering out of the gate Monday night, fired 32 times in the first period, but only managed a 1-0 lead on the strength of Chris Kelly’s goal.
“It could have been 2-0 or 3-0,’’ noted Boston coach Claude Julien. “But . . .”
Instead, only 12 of those 32 shots made it to Corey Crawford and only Kelly’s shot made it into the net. Over the next 40 minutes, the force and flurry of Boston’s attack was cut in half. The Bruins landed only 13 more shots, time after time failing to put real pressure on the Chicago net. Crawford showed he was vulnerable here in Game 4 when the Bruins peppered him on the glove side. Their greatest failure in Game 6 was failing to cash in on their first-period assault, then never regenerating that kind of attack the rest of the night.
The Bruins were never really the same team after losing fourth-line center Gregory Campbell to a broken leg at the end of the four-game sweep over the Penguins. That in itself is an indictment. Fourth-line centers, though valuable, aren’t supposed to be so critical to a club’s overall attack. But without the reliable, dogged Campbell there to drive fellow fourth-liners Danny Paille and Shawn Thornton, the offense was never the same.
The Boston attack became even more of a dog’s breakfast in Game 5 when Patrice Bergeron exited with a fractured rib and torn rib cartilage. And it took another step back in Game 6 when Jaromir Jagr was hurt in the first period, relegating the big winger to the dressing room for half the game.
Throughout the series, the Boston forwards delivered only sporadically, both with the puck and without. Checking too often put extra strain on the backline, leading the likes of team captain Zdeno Chara to be on the ice for eight of Chicago’s nine goals across Games 4 and 5. In Game 6, Big Z was on for two Blackhawks goals, including one by Jonathan Toews in which Chara’s miscue off a draw helped spring Toews for a 2-on-1 breakaway.
“Just one thing led to another,’’ said David Krejci, the first-line center, recounting the breakdowns on Chicago’s tying (2-2) goal by Bryan Bickell. “The same thing on the next goal . . . we just couldn’t get it done.’’
Krejci was on the ice for Bickell’s goal and had ample time and space to help clear the puck out of the zone from his spot deep along the wall in Boston’s end. But he failed, and soon Bickell was on Rask’s doorstep for the tying forehand smash. Chara’s partner, Dennis Seidenberg, was late getting back to the crease to provide the needed layer of protection.
“Z was there, and I was playing it toward the middle [of the crease],’’ said Rask. “They had the guy there back door . . . nice play.’’
On the game-winner, Johnny Oduya hammered a slapper from above the left-wing circle and Bolland, left with too much room to operate by Johnny Boychuk, picked up the junk for the winner.
By 10:52 p.m., it was all over. The Cup was about to be rolled out on Causeway Street for the first time since 1990, and like then (Oilers) it went to the visiting team. The Bruins last won the Cup on home ice on May 10, 1970. They’ll now have to wait at least one more year.
But not even a minute later, amid Chicago’s wild hugs and high-fives, the sellout Garden crowd began chanting, “Let’s Go, Bruins!’’ And before the clock turned 11, all the Bruins players gathered on the ice and saluted back. In a few moments, Patrick Kane would collect the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP and Chicago captain Toews would accept the Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
The night was over. The excrutiating ending committed to memory.
Forever.Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.