Perhaps it was wishful thinking, a hometown scoreboard’s operator’s desperate and subliminal hope. Most likely it was a physical mistake brought on by sheer shock at what had just transpired.
But as the Chicago Blackhawks celebrated their go-ahead goal with 58.3 seconds remaining in Game 6, the goal horn confirming the nightmare as the capacity crowd at TD Garden gasped in unison, a brief, erroneous reprieve flashed on the scoreboard:
Next to the Bruins logo: 3.
Next to the Blackhawks logo: 2.
If only it were true. But like the Bruins’ hopes of forcing a sure-to-be-epic Game 7 in this invigorating Stanley Cup Finals series, it all proved terribly fleeting.
The goal, scored by the Blackhawks’ Dave Bolland, gave Chicago, not the home team, a 3-2 lead.
It came just 17 seconds after Bryan Bickell had tied the score, and 59 seconds before the Blackhawks would celebrate their second championship in four seasons, reveling on the Garden ice in a manner agonizingly reminiscent of the Bruins’ party on Vancouver’s territory two years ago.
The scoreboard correction was made quickly, gone in a blink, just like the Bruins’ hopes. Soon enough, the cruel reality set in. There will be no Game 7, no parade in Boston, and no solace to be found for a long, long time. The Blackhawks, 3-2 victors, are worthy, admirable champions. But dammit, the Bruins would have been too …
“I mean, you are going to remember forever,” said defenseman Johnny Boychuk. “You remember winning it but I think you remember losing it a little bit more, now that we have had that happen.”
Dennis Seidenberg will turn 32 next month. He’s played in the NHL since 2002, for five teams. His name is on the Cup, but there have disappointments along the way. He’s seen some things, but never a greater disappointment than this.
“I would say so,” he said when asked if it was the biggest letdown of his career. “We were up by a goal, on to a Game 7, and to give it away that quickly was pretty disappointing.”
Across the room, David Krejci, still in full uniform, spoke in a whisper as he tried to make sense of the game’s final moments.
“Before you knew it, [Bickell’s tying goal] was in the net. And right after, same thing,” said Krejci, whose assist on Milan Lucic‘s go-ahead goal with 7:49 left in regulation was his 26th point of the postseason.
“The second goal hurt so bad, and we just couldn’t recover. Then the third one happened. It all of a sudden felt like you had so much weight on your back. You couldn’t move, couldn’t think, and just couldn’t get it done.”
Only the habitual self-defeatists among us require or desire a list of the most painful recent defeats in Boston sports lore. They will revel in parades that will never happen and banners never to be raised.
There have been a few such disappointments recently, a few too many, a hazardous side-effect of having so many teams compete for championships. I’ll leave it to others who prefer to rank such things to provide the context. But I have a hard time putting this among the worst.
Oh, hell yes, it’s absolutely a collapse when you can’t hold a one-goal lead with roughly 90 seconds remaining and permit the season-ending goal within the same small window. But in the end, the Bruins lost to a great Chicago team, one that lost seven games during the regular season.
The collapse? Turn the mirror around and see that it was an extraordinary comeback too. And the irony of the Blackhawks rallying in a similar – perhaps even less stunning – manner to the way the Bruins shell-shocked the Leafs in Game 7 of the first round was not lost on the participants.
“I just said to somebody that we did it to Toronto, so I guess we get a taste of our own medicine here,” said Tuukka Rask, the ever-candid goalie. “It sucks. We did it to somebody, now we get to see what it feels like.”
This team deserves a better legacy than being remembered for letting a sixth game – and thus a seventh – bounce away like a skittish puck. To say that they left it all out there would be a cliche. It also might be an understatement.
“So I had a broken rib, torn cartilage and muscles, and I had a separated shoulder …” said Patrice Bergeron, the irreplaceable forward, when asked about the mystery injury – or injuries – that sent him to the hospital before Game 5 was complete.
Of course, he played Game 6, as did Nathan Horton with his damaged shoulder, and Zdeno Chara with an injury coach Claude Julien would not reveal. Never far out of mind was Gregory Campbell, who sacrificed his season to stop a single shot en route to the Finals.
Even on the other side, there was Jonathan Toews gritting through his Game 5 injury, and Andrew Shaw, that infernal Marchandian pest, returning to the game after taking a puck to the face that required double-figure stitches. Hockey players don’t get hurt while sleeping, you know?
Man, they were tough, and noble in defeat. And that admiration and respect among brothers that you think you see in the Bruins? It’s not a mirage, a made-for-NESN storyline. It’s real.
If you think Tyler Seguin doesn’t care as he should, you haven’t seen the kid in defeat. “I love these guys,” he said afterward, choking back tears.
“This is the tightest team I’ve been on,” said Seidenberg, late of Philadelphia and Phoenix and Carolina and Florida. “We love to play for each other, and we are very tight in this room. There’s no excuses, we could have won this game. We’ve overcome a lot throughout this year this year and in these playoffs, and at the end I think we can be proud.”
This team wanted it for another reason. They wanted the city to be proud, to have a reason to celebrate. They matter to the city, and the city matters to them. That was never more evident than the genuine and heartfelt reaction among the players and staff after the Marathon bombings.
“I think that’s what hurts the most is in the back of our minds, although we needed to focus on our team and doing what was going to be the best thing for our team to win a Stanley Cup, in the back of our minds we wanted to do it for those kind of reasons, the City of Boston, what Newtown has been through,” said Julien.
“It hit close to home, and the best way we felt we could try and cheer the area was to win a Stanley Cup. I think that’s what’s hard right now for the players. We had more reasons than just ourselves to win a Cup.”
In the end, there was no celebration, no small comforts, just a salute.
As the Blackhawks had their fun, the Bruins lingered. Chara cast a giant shadow near center ice, waiting for the commencement of the handshake line. Bergeron doubled over, staring at the ice. Chris Kelly put an arm around Rask’s shoulder. And the remaining Bruins fans, a large chorus still, stood and cheered with one more “Let’s go Bruins!” chant.
The Bruins raised their sticks toward the rafters. Mutual appreciation.
It was a sendoff worthy of a champion, a reminder that there was plenty of sweet before the bitter, so much joy on the way to the frustrating conclusion.
And so that’s how the hockey season that almost never got started ended, on a 90-something-degree day in June. Only in its final minute did it feel like winter.
“It’s the best time of year to be playing hockey,” said Julien, pleasant to the end. “I don’t care if it’s the end of June or the beginning of July. How can you not enjoy coming to the rink, beautiful weather, and best time of year to be playing a game?”
If only there were one more to play. If only the game required 58 minutes rather than 60.
If only the scoreboard’s brief late lie somehow told the truth.