No one around here was ready for this.
A Boston team losing a championship game? Impossible.
But it happened. The Bruins were spanked, 4-1, on Garden ice in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday. The St. Louis Blues won the first championship in their 52-year history. A Boston hockey season that started in September in Beijing ended in abject disappointment nine days before the start of summer. It was a stunning defeat in an era when we have become accustomed to only good things happening to Boston teams. And it feels like a lost opportunity.
The Bruins had more speed and skill than hard-hitting St. Louis but ultimately succumbed to the smash-mouth Blues. After eight weeks of stellar playoff goaltending, the noble Tuukka Rask will have to live with the notion that once again he did not win the big one. The Finnish Flash could not finish. Meanwhile, Boston’s top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak faded to black.
Remember eight years ago when the heavy-hitting Bruins beat the finesse Canucks, 4-0, in Game 7 in Vancouver?
This was the mirror image of that.
It was 2-0 through two, and at 10:20 p.m. a main hatchway caved in when an uncovered Brayden Schenn blasted a slap shot past Rask to make it 3-0. Fellas, it was good to know you.
So there will be no Hub hat trick of hardware. No champions in three sports simultaneously. Blues coach Craig Berube and goalie Jordan Binnington go into our 21st century hall of villains alongside David Tyree and Eli Manning. “Where was Patrice Bergeron?” takes its place alongside “Where was Malcolm Butler?’’
“It’s an empty feeling,’’ said Boston coach Bruce Cassidy. “It’s a long year. Someone had to win. Someone had to lose. We came out on the wrong side of it. It’s not the way you picture it.’’
This one won’t sit well with the Massachusetts masses. We are a hockey people — folks who drive their kids to early ice times and drink hot chocolate while shivering in frigid arenas. The Bruins have 95 years of hockey history and it’s rare that they are in great position to win the Cup. Boston has won only six Stanley Cup championships, the last one in 2011. This felt like a golden opportunity. But Game 7s generally go to the teams that want it more. The Bruins were not that team Wednesday. Berube and his heavy-metal thunder skaters proved better when it counted. Boston lost three of its four home games in the series.
It was a shocker on par with the Patriots’ three Super Bowl losses of this century. Boston fans assumed the locals would win. How can you lose a series in which you win road games by scores of 7-2 and 5-1? Imagine losing to a team that had the worst record in all of hockey in early January. Imagine losing to a team that gooned it up and attempted to take out your best players with heavy hits? Imagine losing Game 7 on home ice to a 25-year-old rookie goalie?
Imagine losing when the videoboard features the likes of Curt Schilling, Rob Gronkowski, and Bob Kraft during breaks in the action?
Boston was a great place to be on Wednesday. We had Chamber of Commerce weather and a lot of folks left work early to soak up the atmosphere around Causeway Street. Throughout the day and early into the evening there was nonstop speculation regarding who would be the Game 7 banner captain. David Ortiz? Tom Brady? Tim Thomas? It turned out to be Liam Fitzgerald, the legendary “fist bump kid.’’ Fitzgerald was flanked by Julian Edelman and Aly Raisman.
The Blues jumped out to a two-goal lead in stunning fashion at the end of the first. Boston outshot St. Louis, 12-4, in the first period but had nothing to show for it. St. Louis goal machine Ryan O’Reilly (Conn Smythe winner) deflected a Jay Bouwmeester shot from out top in the 17th minute to make it 1-0, and with eight seconds left in the period Marchand got caught in no-man’s land attempting a line change. Alex Pietrangelo made Boston pay with a shifty, nifty backhand that beat Rask.
“I don’t think we managed the puck as well as we need to in a Game 7,’’ said Cassidy. “You get in the room and think the hockey gods are not on your side. I think it gave them a lot of life. We knew it was an uphill battle, but the game wasn’t over.’’
The second period was flat and scoreless. Binnington was suddenly unbeatable. At the end of two, Boston had 23 shots on goal to St. Louis’s 10. But the Blues had a lead that felt insurmountable.
Things fell apart in the third. Schenn’s blast took all the air out of the building. Salem native Zach Sanford scored to make it 4-0, before Charlestown’s Matt Grzelcyk potted a shot as the clock wound toward 0:00.
The seven-game series had plenty of memorable moments: Torey Krug’s road rage run at Robert Thomas. Boston’s 42-year-old captain, Zdeno Chara, leaving a pool of blood on the ice at Enterprise Arena after taking a puck off the face. Chara’s pregame ovation when he returned in full mask for Game 5 at the Garden. Noel Acciari (of the Johnston, R.I., Acciaris) blatantly tripped by Tyler Bozak and not getting the call in the third period of Game 5. Boston hockey boss Cam Neely flinging his water bottle off the wall of his ninth-floor suite.
We had a good laugh at the expense of the Blues Sunday when the vaunted Post-Dispatch told its readers that the Blues had already won before Game 6 was played. A letter from Blues chairman Tom Stillman thanked fans for a “dream come true” and spoke of the upcoming parade. “All of us will remember where we were, what we did, and how we felt when the Blues brought the Cup home,’’ wrote Stillman. “We can finally say, ‘We won the Cup for St. Louis.’ ’’
Premature puck elation, we called it.
Those words came true Wednesday.
The Boston Bruins lost the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final on home ice. It was a thorough beatdown.
“They ended up being better than us,’’ said Cassidy. “We didn’t get it done.’’
So now it’s on to the Red Sox. And that doesn’t feel very good, either.