Eight seasons ago, when the Bruins won what is still their lone Stanley Cup of this era, so many of their heroes were names that remain prominent today. But their legacies are now scuffed and dinged with Stanley Cup Final disappointments that measure in the plural.
Remember, if you can muster the memory in this agonizing aftermath of the Bruins’ 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, how sweet it was then, when you woke up with the delirious joy, that same combination of ecstasy and catharsis, that Blues fans will feel Thursday morning and a long time beyond.
I know, good luck with that, right? No one outside of this region is going to care to hear this, but it’s true. For all of the staggering success Boston’s four major professional sports teams have enjoyed since 2001, collecting a dozen championships among them, the losses still pack a wallop.
Even when you have had so much, you still remember the ones that got away. Especially when defeat comes in large part because past heroes could not deliver like they once did.
When the Bruins stormed into Vancouver on the night of June 15, 2011 and overwhelmed the host Canucks, 4-0, to win their first Stanley Cup in 39 years, Patrice Bergeron scored two goals. So did Brad Marchand, and he chipped in with an assist on one of linemate Bergeron’s scores.
They seized the stage. Wednesday night, the Blues made them cede it, just as they did for most of the series.
Bergeron had a goal and two assists in the Bruins’ 7-2 win in Game 3, an assist in a 4-2 loss in Game 4, and five games with a 0-0-0 line, including Game 7, when any impact he might have had required some searching.
It’s long been suspected that he’s battling an affecting injury. When asked after the game if he was dealing with something, he finally acknowledged as much. “Of course,’’ said Bergeron, fighting to keep his emotions from spilling out.
Marchand, who totaled two goals and three assists in the Final, had a harder time choking back his tears.
“They took our dream, our lifetime dream from us,’’ he said, choking up. “Everything we’ve worked our entire lives, and it’s 60 minutes away from that. You can’t describe it.”
Marchand will have to carry a gaffe with him that changed the tenor of everything. He was a bystander, and not the innocent kind, on the Blues’ devastating second goal.
David Krejci, the postseason leader in points in 2011 and again in ’13 when the Bruins lost to the Blackhawks in six games, tallied two points in the Final — an assist in Game 6, and another irrelevant point on Matt Grzelcyk’s goal. Zdeno Chara, 42 years old and playing with a broken jaw, is beyond reproach. Tuukka Rask remains a superb goalie who has failed twice — he was in net when the Bruins lost in six to the Blackhawks in ’13 — to raise the Cup as final confirmation.
The Bruins dominated play early, at one point outshooting the Blues, 7-1. The Blues went from the 27-second mark to 16:40 in the first period without a single shot on goal. But they made the shots they had count. The Blues took the lead at 16:47 when, after Rask stopped a Sammy Blais bid, Ryan O’Reilly tipped a Jay Bouwmeester rocket past Rask on just the visitors’ third shot of the game.
The Blues’ fourth shot won’t soon be forgotten. With seconds left in the period, Marchand, at the end of a 1 minute 2 second shift, stepped up to attempt a hit on Jaden Schwartz, pulled back, then went for a change.
Bad decision. Haunting decision. That left open ice for Alex Pietrangelo who was trailing the play, Schwartz found him, and he beat Rask blocker side with a backhand with just 8 seconds left in the first.
“I thought the guy was by himself,’’ said Marchand. “So I went for a change, and a couple more guys jumped up on the play.”
At least there was time, 40 minutes to make up for Marchand’s mistake, to pierce Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, to turn their inspired early play into results. But time kept slipping, the clock counting down as the zero on the scoreboard loomed larger and larger.
The second period was an unfulfilled wait for a bounce, a deflection, a Blues turnover from which Binnington could not recover, an inspired Bruins rush, something.
It just never came, even in the third period, when the cheers turned to a stunned din and reminders of past Boston comebacks — remember 28-3! — eventually proved to be nothing but unrepeatable history.
Brayden Schenn scored for the Blues, and then Zach Sanford. Grzelcyk got the Bruins on the board with 2:10 left, but it was all over but the hoisting.
It was impossible to avoid pondering the what-if: If Marchand had made a different decision, and the deficit after one period had been just a single goal, the task of coming back would not have seemed so daunting.
A one-goal deficit would have felt surmountable. A two-goal deficit felt like six.
And in the end, the Blues victory looked an awful lot like the one the Bruins pulled off on the other side of the continent eight years ago.
Eight years later and two crushing Final series losses later, and the legacy of these longtime Bruins is no longer about what they’ve done, but what they have been so close to doing and could not.
“You never know when you’ll get that chance again,’’ said Marchand. “It could be the last one for all of us. When you’re that close and it doesn’t happen it hurts.”