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Dan Shaughnessy

Their Cup runneth empty

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 15, 2009
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If you really want to know the truth, this felt a little like that football game in Glendale, Ariz., 15 months ago. You remember, History Derailed and all that.

Granted, these Bruins weren't flirting with perfection like the Belichickmen of 2007, but going into last night's Game 7 at the Garden it was almost impossible to find a New Englander who did not believe the Bruins were going to beat the Carolina Hurricanes and move on to the conference finals for the first time since 1992.

It did not happen. The Boston hockey season of so much promise went up in smoke against the boys from Tobacco Road as the B's were eliminated by the Canes, 3-2, in overtime on Causeway Street.

Making matters worse, Carolina got the winning goal from Hub Puck Enemy No. 1, Scott Walker, the same guy who threw a sucker punch at Aaron Ward at the end of Game 5. It was like seeing the Sox lose to the Yankees on a walkoff by Alex Rodriguez.

Ouch. This was going to be the Bruins team that made hockey relevant again in Boston. They were all about the grammatically incorrect "We Want It Bad" and "Bruins Hockey Rules." They were the team that won more regular-season games than any team since the Bobby Orr 1971-72 Cup winners.

We really thought they might win Boston's first Cup in 37 years, or at least get to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990. Hockey krishnas were once again parading through Boston Common and the Public Garden.

But in the end, the 2008-09 Bruins were just another disappointment. They go into the books as underachievers (which should never be confused with Gerry Cheevers). And the Hub's Hockey Renaissance goes on hold indefinitely.

"It's disappointing, especially here in front of our fans," said Patrice Bergeron. "It hurts to not be able to advance."

"It's shocking that it ended like this," added Marc Savard. "We had a chance to win and didn't get it done."

So much for New England's sports hubris. Guess we had a few too many of those three-win days with the Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins all coming out on top. It was all backward yesterday. The Sox lost in extra innings. The Celtics lost in regulation. And the Bruins' season ended in the 19th minute of overtime.

But you could not beat it for drama. This was the Bruins' 18th Game 7 in a history that dates to 1924, and it was only the fourth to go into overtime. The OT was nonstop action, with goalies Tim Thomas and Cam Ward performing alternating handstands. In the end, Walker was able to bat home a rebound after Thomas stopped a shot by Ray Whitney.

The Garden went silent when the light turned red. Widener Library quiet. It was as if someone hit the mute button.

Chalk one up for Carolina and their fandom of Goobers. The Canes advance to play the Pittsburgh Penguins and we can only wonder if Big Papi will have a home run when the B's resume their interminable quest for the Cup at Ristuccia in September.

This was supposed to be the year. Remember, Boston was the top seed in the East. The B's allowed the fewest goals in the league. They beat the Canes four times in four tries during the regular season. Then they crawled out of a 3-1 hole and brought the series back to Game 7 at the Garden.

They even scored the first goal of the final game, usually a sure sign of victory. Not this time.

With P.J. Axelsson off for tripping, the Canes tied the game at the exact moment the penalty expired. There was unexpected concern on Causeway. The first-period tie swept aside the fans' bravado.

It got very quiet with 12:15 left in the second when old friend Sergei Samsonov took a nifty pass from Joni Pitkanen and flipped it past a defenseless Thomas to make it 2-1. This was not the way Bruins' fans envisioned things.

Carolina took the 2-1 lead into the third. The emboldened Canes kept the Bruins away from the front of Carolina's net early in the period. Then Phil Kessel went to shucking and jiving behind the net and got the puck to Savard, and who fed Milan Lucic out front for a quick strike and a 2-2 tie with 13:41 left.

Both goalies made multiple saves down the stretch in regulation. It was almost time for the 11 o'clock news when overtime started. Nobody cared. The action was tremendous.

And the ending was particularly grating.

Scott Walker? Of all the cheap-shot artists in all the gin joints in all the world - he had to score the series winner?

"There's not much you can say," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "Obviously, it's a huge disappointment. We can say what we want, but we had higher expectations than this."

Everybody did. This was the year in which the Bruins were supposed to outlast the Celtics.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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