From the Great Wall to Game 7, the Bruins took it as far as they could.
This team, a M.A.S.H. unit in November and December, lights-out in January and February, and playoff conquerors of Toronto (seven games), Columbus (six), and Carolina (four), met their match in a team that was left for dead at midseason.
The Blues, last in the NHL on Jan. 2, are Stanley Cup champions.
They finished the job with a 4-1 win Wednesday night at TD Garden, leaving Boston with their first Stanley Cup in 52 years as a franchise. The Class of 1967 reigns this year over the Original Six. “Gloria” over “Dirty Water.” Blue over black, though it was a series that turned both teams black and blue.
The Bruins, trying to capture their first Cup since 2011, had a worthy squad. They were down, 3-2, in this series — and to the Maple Leafs in the first round — but pushed each to a seventh game. In this, the first Cup Final Game 7 held on Causeway Street, they fell behind by a pair, and couldn’t recover.
Jordan Binnington, the rookie who arrived after St. Louis fired coach Mike Yeo and made Jake Allen a backup, turned aside 32 of 33 shots. His split-legged stop on Joakim Nordstrom at 8:57 of the third period, erasing an empty net with a flash of his right pad, is now a signature moment in Blues history.
Some two minutes after it happened, Brayden Schenn sent a snap shot past Tuukka Rask (16 saves on 20 shots), and St. Louis knew the Cup was theirs. Zach Sanford, who grew up a Bruins fan in Salem, smashed in a one-timer at the doorstep with 4:38 left, making it the same 4-0 score that gave the Bruins the Cup in Vancouver eight years ago.
This Game 7 was lost in the first period. The Bruins were hammering the Blues for much of it, but St. Louis scored twice in the final 3:13 to take a stunning 2-0 lead into intermission.
Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly tipped one at 16:47, and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo walked in and scored with eight seconds left. Those were the Blues’ third and fourth shots of the game, while Boston, which had several Grade-A looks, got nothing on its first 12 shots.
It was a study in missed opportunities. David Pastrnak, seemingly never right since his broken thumb in late February, whiffed on three chances in the first (and another in the third). Marcus Johansson and Sean Kuraly had acres of open net, but the puck wouldn’t settle. When St. Louis defenseman Colton Parayko compounded his team’s early jitters by dumping the puck over the glass 7:57 in, Binnington made sprawling stops on Brad Marchand and David Krejci.
The opening goal came when O’Reilly — who became the first player since Wayne Gretzky in 1985 to score in four straight Cup Final games — got position on Brandon Carlo in the high slot and deflected a Jay Bouwmeester point shot five-hole.
It was the beginning of their downfall, but the Bruins believed until the final moments.
“I love these guys,” said Marchand, who was devastated at his locker stall afterward. “I love every guy on this team. I’m very proud of everyone who worked their ass off all year to get to this point. We’re a hell of a group. We came together like a family. It hurts.”
Part of Marchand’s pain stemmed from the 2-0 goal, and a line change gone wrong.
He was gassed at the end of a shift lasting 1 minute 2 seconds. Knowing he couldn’t last if St. Louis established itself in Boston’s zone, Marchand stopped backchecking at the blue line near the bench. As Jaden Schwartz chipped the puck into the Bruins’ zone, Marchand got a piece of him, but that was all he had.
“I thought that guy was by himself,” Marchand said. “Obviously he wasn’t.”
Pietrangelo sped by him, Schwartz collected the puck, and fed his wide-open defenseman. Johansson, changing on, had no chance to make a play as Pietrangelo sent a backhand over Rask’s blocker.
The second period was scoreless, and although the Bruins upped their shots edge to 23-10, they looked out of synch and heavy-legged for much of it. Of their 11 shots, only two were from closer than 34 feet.
“That belief,” Marchand said. “It takes one shot to turn the tide of the game . . . We just needed one. It didn’t happen.”
They also didn’t get the best finish from Rask, who entered Game 7 as a Conn Smythe favorite. He had saved 95 of 96 shots in three previous closeout games.
“There really shouldn’t be,” coach Bruce Cassidy said, when asked if he anticipated criticism of his netminder. “We’re a team. We scored a goal with two minutes left, he could have stood on his head and given up one, so . . .
“They outplayed us at certain moments of the game at all positions. He was excellent; he was our best player. I don’t think anybody’s leaving the building tonight, unfortunately, in our locker room saying they put their best foot forward.
“That’s the whole group; we didn’t get it done. Every position, coaching staff, whatever you want to say. They ended up being better than us and did what they had to do to win.”
In the first three minutes of the third, Rask made a three-on-two save on Oskar Sundqvist and shoved aside a heavy wrister from Vladimir Tarasenko.
But the Blues continued to clog the middle of the ice, and the arms of referees Chris Rooney and Gord Dwyer remained down. Rask left the net with 3:51 to go, the Bruins desperate for another Toronto-in-2013 comeback, and Matt Grzelcyk scored with 2:10 on the clock.
It was not enough. The Blues threw their sticks and gloves at 10:41 p.m. Wednesday and piled on their goaltender. The Bruins took knees or sat on the bench, and Rask stood, watching it all.
Finally they lined up for the handshake, Zdeno Chara first. He met Binnington at center ice, and shook his hand.
“It’s such a tough moment,” the 42-year-old captain said afterward, stoic.
After the procession, Chara, his head bowed, waited until the rest of his teammates had filed off the ice. He embraced Patrice Bergeron, who was the last Bruin to step off the ice in this roller-coaster of a season.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Bergeron, who later replied, “Of course,” when asked if he was playing through injury. “The character we’ve shown to get to this point, how tight we are, how much adversity we battled through, is amazing.”
Marchand, eyes wet with emotion, called those two “the ultimate leaders,” and said it was the most painful loss of his career.
“By far,” he said.
“I’ll never get over this. I’m not over 2013 yet. This hurts more than that. It’s not something you forget.”