To many, the Bruins’ loss is a rebalancing of the sports universe
We’re still locked in the seven stages of sports grief, grappling with the Bruins’ stunning loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on home ice. It’s still hard to fathom that the Blues so thoroughly dominated the deciding game in the manner they did and claimed a Stanley Cup that felt destined for a duck boat ride.
Here in the Hub of Hardware, that haunting night of hockey at TD Garden is like a bad dream you keep trying to wake from. But for the rest of Sports Nation, the Bruins’ loss — Boston’s loss — is a karmic correction. Our pain is an overdue righting of the cosmic scales. It’s a rebalancing of the sports universe. They’re tired of seeing Boston teams win it all and take it all this century. A Boston sports Triple Crown, three professional sports titles in one sports year between the Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins, would have been too much to bear.
The pucks postmortem is necessary following the Bruins falling short and getting the short end of some suspect officiating in the series, but so is a reminder of how incredibly blessed Boston sports fans and observers have been since 2002. It’s hard to argue that Boston sports fans and teams haven’t enjoyed a disproportionate share of good fortune this century with 12 championships and 18 championship-round appearances among the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics. Even with the Bruins’ defeat on Wednesday night, Boston teams have won two-thirds of the titles they’ve played for. That’s a .667 winning percentage, the same winning percentage the World Series champion Red Sox had last year when they won a franchise-record 108 regular-season games during a historically successful season. It’s a winning percentage that a lot of fans would take for one of their teams for one season, never mind while playing for 18 championships in 17 years.
That’s not even counting the Cinderella-to-icon emergences of Tom Brady and David Ortiz.
A Bruins win on Wednesday night meant Boston would’ve claimed its third professional sports championships in a span of 227 days, or about 7½ months. Pardon the comparison, but we’ve become the New York Yankees of professional sports fandom. The thrill of winning championships hasn’t worn off here, but the sheer novelty of it has.
It’s nothing like the crusty, cynical days of preordained doom and self-abnegation, a time filled with curses and curse words. Thank goodness. However, the newness, the euphoria, the wonder, the sense that it’s a momentous, once-in-a-lifetime event, that was palpable in St. Louis last Sunday leading up to Game 6 as the city braced for a Cup celebration 52 years in the making, and that was so evident after the Blues won Game 7 on Wednesday, has faded.
Perhaps, karmic balance is to blame for the egregious non-call that facilitated the decisive second goal by St. Louis in Game 5 of the series, a tipping point. Justice is blind and so were the referees. Clinging to a 1-0 lead, Blues forward Tyler Bozak fork-lifted Boston’s Noel Acciari with his stick — a blatant tripping penalty that went uncalled — to set up the eventual game-winner by David Perron and stake the Blues to a 3-2 series lead.
After I wrote about that travesty, I received an e-mail from a reader in Missouri. He brought up the obligatory mention of the uncalled Timo Meier hand pass that set up the overtime goal that allowed the San Jose Sharks to best the Blues in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. But he added something else, a good-natured plea for Boston sports beneficence. St. Louis has been a frequent and favorite foil for Boston this century.
“You guys have won many titles in Boston. Some of which were at our expense. You can spare one title, can’t you? October will be here soon and January right after that. You’ll forget about this soon enough. I’m kinda tired of seeing your number 4 flying through the air scoring the deciding goal  years ago. Let us have some new hockey memories in St. Louis. Thanks.” — Bill in St. Louis.
Boston sports teams’ embarrassment of riches and trophies don’t inure us from dejection or disappointment. Even in times so good, so good, so good, there will always be stinging defeats (Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, the loss of the 2007 Patriots’ perfect season in Super Bowl XLII, the Bruins’ 3-0 series lead, 3-0 Game 7 lead collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks) and major disappointments such as the Bruins’ Game 7 loss on Wednesday. The Celtics dropping the 2010 NBA Finals after leading, 3-2, and the Malcolm Butler benching in the Patriots’ Super Bowl LII defeat also come to mind.
When the losses stop hurting, the championships stop mattering. But they don’t hurt as much as they used to. This pain will linger . . . until the Patriots start training camp and their pursuit of a seventh Super Bowl title since 2001. The Blues look like a one-and-done title team.
I recognize that none of this is solace for the crestfallen Spoked-Believers or their hockey heroes. This likable and redoubtable Bruins team, players who poured their hearts into the season and sacrificed their bodies during it, deserved better than to go out with a clunker. They were red-eyed and ashen in their locker room following the 4-1 Game 7 loss for good reason. Classy Bruins bellwether Patrice Bergeron repeatedly called it “heartbreaking.” Brad Marchand and David Krejci referred to it as the most painful loss of their careers.
This one hurt more for those players, 42-year-old captain Zdeno Chara, and 32-year-old goalie Tuukka Rask because it felt like the last call for a second Cup for the Bruins core. It brings to mind the profound words of John Greenleaf Whittier: “For of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’ ’’
But sometimes the universe pushes back. The scales have to be rebalanced. You have to be reminded that’s it’s not supposed to be this easy to win championships. Blame a lack of finish around the net and a collective Boston backlash for the Bruins’ loss. The Sports Gods on high decided Titletown needed to give some other city a turn.
You can’t win them all, even though here it sometimes feels like you can and you should.