There will be no delirious victory cries of “BERGERON! BERGERON!” this spring. No hockey heroics from this year’s undiscovered version of Nathan Horton circa May 2011. No comeback like last season’s against Toronto. No Cup rematch against Chicago.
All that’s left is the bummer of a consolation prize, the Presidents’ Trophy, which of course is no consolation at all, but a mocking monument to the Bruins’ collective underachievement when the stakes were highest.
There was very little suspense in the Bruins’ 3-1 loss to the Canadiens in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Wednesday night at the Garden, a defeat that ended their season and their pursuit of a second Stanley Cup in four years.
No, the suspense was scarce after the Canadiens scored in the first three minutes for the second straight game on Dale Weise’s goal 2 minutes and 18 seconds into it. Teams that score first this postseason are now 24-1, and the team that scored first in this series won each game.
But there was justice. The team that deserved to win — the Canadiens led by at least two goals in five of the seven games — plays on, taking on a Rangers team that vanquished the Penguins in a seventh game the night before this.
This right here, this is the cold, cruel truth: The best team throughout the series won. The best team throughout the season did not.
“We had a great season and we did a lot of good things. When you look at the whole picture, it’s a lot brighter than the ending,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “This time of year you’ve got to play your best hockey, and I don’t think we got to that point. We certainly weren’t playing as good as we could.”
That this vanquishing came via the sticks and shots and saves and smirks of the still-peaking Canadiens, well, it sure makes for a long wait until October, when a new season’s fresh memories only begin to push aside any lingering lousy ones.
Until then, the Bruins can be found at the proverbial (or perhaps literal) golf course, where they’ll universally hope for better fortune hitting the bottom of the cup than they had hitting the back of the net in this series. Montreal outscored them, 20-16 in the seven games, but 7-1 over the final two.
The Canadiens have the Bruins’ number right now like they did through the ’50s … and ’60s … and especially the late ’70s … right up until Cam Neely took matters into his own hands in the late ’80s.
But even given the Bruins’ recent and relative postseason success against the Canadiens, fates and karma should not be tempted. So you bet it was a cringe-worthy flashback when the Smashing Pumpkins’ mild hit “1979” played over the Garden PA system between the first two periods. Few Bruins fans need a reminder of the year of Too Many Men On The Ice, Dammit, Don Cherry, though Sports Illustrated thoughtfully provided an excellent one last week.
This felt like then. The Bruins couldn’t catch a break, and if they did, they’d probably have had no idea what to do with it anyway. Their shooters Glen Wesleyed pucks throughout the series; Brad Marchand’s GPS went especially haywire. Their stars — such as Tuukka Rask, who hasn’t exactly emerged as a big-game goaltender, the oft-sluggish Zdeno Chara, and goal-less drop-passer extraordinaire David Krejci — failed to be at their best. They were good, sometimes, and that wasn’t enough.
“I don’t think David Krejci is the only guy there [struggling]” said Julien when told that Krejci, who has led the postseason in scoring twice, was particularly self-critical after the game. “As a team we didn’t seem to find our rhythm we had most of the year. … We have to take the blame here as a team and that’s why I intend to do.”
The struggles of the Bruins’ name players were particularly glaring in comparison to their counterparts. The Canadiens’ stars — the brilliant defenseman P.K. Subban, an admirable antagonist if there is such a person, sniper Max Pacioretty (he scored the second goal, which might as well have been the sixth) and goalie Carey Price — rose to the moment.
“I’ll tell you one thing, the goaltender, Carey Price was outstanding,” Julien said. “He gave them a chance to win every night. That to me was one of the keys to their success, how well Carey Price played in their net.”
While Julien stuck up for his struggling core, he did not hesitate to suggest that the Bruins’ cast of young defensemen struggled. That may not have been true of Torey Krug (who assisted on the lone goal, a Jarome Iginla deflection late in the second period) or Dougie Hamilton. But Kevin Millar and Matt Bartkowski made gruesome mistakes in Games 6 and 7 that led to early goals, and had dependable Dennis Seidenberg been able to come back from his knee injury at some point in this series … well, it’s a thought even the coach will carry into the summer.
“What really hurts us … we had a lot of first-year players in our lineup and you could see tonight there was a lot of nervousness,” said Julien, who acknowledged Seidenberg might have been able to play against the Rangers had the Bruins advanced.
Of course, this was not supposed to be a season in which growing pains were a viable excuse. The Bruins have a Vezina finalist in Rask, a Norris candidate in Chara, a Selke finalist in Patrice Bergeron, and a roster as deep as any in recent memory.
It was a great season in a lot of ways, as Julien acknowledged off the top. You’d like to see some of those individuals — especially Bergeron — rewarded. But no matter who wins what, it’s hard to imagine there will be much consolation in those prizes.
The Bruins were built to win the Stanley Cup. The greatest trophy in sports is not coming to Boston this year. Those damn Canadiens made sure of it, then exited with their usual grace, whining afterward that Milan Lucic was a big meanie in the handshake line.
“I don’t think we disrespected them,” said Julien. “There’s a rivalry here. As I said earlier in French, we don’t like them. It’s a rivalry. At the same time, the pounding of the chest [something else the Canadiens moaned about], people who have been here, we’ve done that all year, because it’s related to Boston Strong. Our players take pride in Boston Strong. Unfortunately, everything we did seemed to be seen as disrespect. We heard a lot of whining throughout the series, but it has nothing to do with disrespect.”
Whether or not there was disrespect then, there cannot be now. The Canadiens beat the Bruins, and it was just. They were better.
There’s nothing to do now but nod with grudging respect and hope someone destroys their plans as methodically as they did the Bruins’.