FOXBOROUGH — The stage was grand, rows upon rows of seats filled with black and gold — and pockets of bleu, blanc, et rouge — rising up from an ice surface dwarfed by its surroundings. The play, however, was less so, a display denigrated as "embarrassing," "one of our probably worst games," as a tremendous loss on all fronts — most importantly, on the scoreboard.
The Bruins came out with nothing, continued with nothing, and finished with nothing in a 5-1 manhandling by the Canadiens in the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium on New Year's Day. It was the fourth loss in five games for the Bruins, and it left them 3 points back of Montreal (with three games in hand) with the Canadiens jumping over the Panthers to again lead the division.
"We didn't represent the Bruins or the city of Boston very well today," defenseman Torey Krug said. "It's always what-ifs, I mean forever now it's going to be a game we're not very proud of and we're always going to look back and be embarrassed about.
"We just didn't do a good job of responding. I thought emotionally it was there for them and it wasn't for us, and when the other team scores a goal or a big play happens, we need our best players to step up and make something happen for us and unfortunately we were just waiting around tonight and it's not acceptable."
The day started with some of the crowd of 67,246 booing Jordan Smith, the national anthem singer, simply for not being Rene Rancourt, and finished with that same crowd trickling toward the exits early, only to sit in miserable Route 1 traffic made more miserable by the result on the ice.
"The unfortunate part is that I think we played one of our probably worst games at the worst time," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I think it just seemed like it was one of those nights we couldn't get anything going in the first period. They were all over us. And it didn't matter what we tried to do here, we just couldn't get it going.
"We obviously didn't deserve to win and we kind of have to push this aside and unfortunate that it was on a big stage like this, you would like to have your team give a better performance. But we didn't."
And it was that way from the start. The Bruins came out with little, getting their second shot on goal at 3:06 of the first period and not getting their next until 17:56. The ice appeared tilted toward one side, but after the intermission and the switching of ends, it was clear that wasn't the case.
"We couldn't generate any rhythm," Patrice Bergeron said. "We weren't first on pucks. We were second on every one of them and you can't get any pucks on net if you don't have the puck, so that was basically the reason why."
Montreal scored just 1:14 into the game, with David Desharnais getting credit for a puck that touched off Bruins defenseman Joe Morrow's stick on its way past Tuukka Rask, shades of the sole score the goaltender allowed the last time these teams met, a 3-1 Bruins' victory in Montreal Dec. 9.
But on this day, it wasn't the only one.
The Canadiens extended their lead at 2:00 of the second with a goal by Paul Byron, and again at 17:20 with a goal by the newly returned Brendan Gallagher.
Mike Condon, the Holliston native who allowed one goal on 28 shots, needed to make just one superlative save in the first two periods, the glove save coming in the final second of second period while the Bruins were on the power play. Condon robbed Ryan Spooner, getting across the crease to nab the puck out of the air.
There was not much heavy lifting otherwise, though the Bruins did have a goal called back at 8:20 of the second.
"All I can say is it was probably a quick whistle," Julien said. "The puck was loose underneath his skate. The referee lost sight of it. There was no explanation given to me. I'm just going by what they seemed to indicate, [that] the whistle had blown before the puck went in."
After Matt Beleskey gave the Bruins some life — briefly — by deflecting in a long shot from Adam McQuaid at 3:56 of the third, Max Pacioretty quieted any residual cheers with a backbreaking goal at 8:49. Byron added his second with 1:32 left, capping a lost day for the Bruins.
"We looked flat out there and they kind of caught us off guard," Rask said. "It's disappointing. It's very disappointing. I really don't know what else to say.
"Lose like that, it takes the fun out of it, obviously. Too bad we couldn't give the fans a little bit more to cheer for."
Winter Classic sights and sounds
Fans gathered for the 2016 Winter Classic