BOSTON — The Boston Bruins were in a state of disbelief after giving up two late goals to concede the Stanley Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday.
Needing a win to force a decisive seventh game in Chicago, the Bruins looked to have done enough to force the decider when they held a 2-1 lead with under two minutes to play.
But a momentary lapse in concentration saw the Blackhawks score twice in a 17-second span to win the game 3-2 and the series 4-2 to the disbelief of a packed TD Garden.
“It was tough walking in that dressing room and seeing how disappointed everybody was and to try and tell them, as I often say, there’s a lot of teams that would have loved to have been in our position tonight,” Boston coach Claude Julien told a news conference.
“There’s a lot of good things to look at. And what we’ve been through and what we’ve accomplished to me is a credit to those guys.
“A loss is hard to take, but you’ve got to look a little further than that right now.”
The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 but their charge through this season’s playoffs had taken on added significance in a city still reeling from the horror of the Boston Marathon bombings and last year’s Newtown shootings in neighbouring Connecticut.
Boston had embraced the team like never before, and their run had helped lift the city’s spirits a little over two months after two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people, including a young Bruins fan, leaving a city dazed and a nation stunned.
“I think that’s what hurts the most, in the back of our minds,” said Julien.
“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, that kind of stuff.
“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.”
Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara said he was stunned by his team’s defeat.
“It’s a tough, tough way to lose a game, tough way to lose a series,” he said. “We really felt that we wanted to play as hard as we could, obviously for a number of reasons, and playing for the city was one of them.
“Obviously we tried to have a better result, but it just didn’t happen.”
Bruins forward David Krejci, who was the leading pointscorer in the playoffs, said his team only had themselves to blame for the loss.
“It feels like we lost it. We had a Game Seven in front of us, It was right there … we just gave it to them, basically,” he said.
“You never want to lose a game like this. You never want to lose a season like this but we did.
“It’s not even a point to say that it’s going to make us stronger in the future. It sucks that we lost and it’s going to hurt for a while.”
While the Bruin were reeling from the loss, the NHL was basking in the glow of a riveting postseason that helped undo much of the damage caused by a labor dispute that nearly wiped out the entire season.
After the ugly underbelly of professional sports was exposed when players and owners spent months fighting over how to split the NHL’s $3.3 billion revenue pie, a breathtaking postseason reminded disillusioned fans of all that is good about hockey.
One of sport’s greatest tests of endurance, NHL players must survive the grind of a two-month postseason and four punishing best-of-seven series before they earn the right to sip from Lord Stanley’s famous mug.
Playing through pain and fatigue, the Bruins and Blackhawks reminded fans that it is still sometimes about the game and not always the money.
The season that almost never was, will go down as one of the most intriguing in the NHL’s long and rich history, culminating in a tightly-contested championship series that had fans on the edge of their seats from start to finish.
A rollicking Finals that featured three overtimes, including one triple overtime, came to a dramatic end on a steamy night in Boston as Chicago staged an improbable comeback with two goals in a 17-second span of the final 76 seconds for a 3-2 victory that gave them a 4-2 win in the best-of-seven series.
“It was one of those seasons we were saying, we’re almost charmed the way we started the season and the way we ended,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, whose team set an NHL record by collecting at least a point over their first 24 regular season games, told reporters. “Nobody saw that one coming either way.
“A lot of great things in between, some great challenges in this playoff series or this playoff round, and then let alone the other three (series).
“But it was one of those seasons, fairytale ending and an amazing season.”
For the NHL it was also a fairytale ending to an amazing season that had appeared headed for disaster with angry fans threatening to turn their backs on the league they felt had deserted them.
The NHL, however, will have little time to savor record television ratings and rave reviews as it continues to mop up the damage done by the lockout.
Before the Stanley Cup is paraded through Chicago’s streets, the focus of the hockey world will have already shifted to New Jersey where the NHL will hold its annual draft on Saturday.
It will be followed almost immediately by the start of free agency that is sure to be tumultuous as teams come to grips with a new collective bargaining agreement and salary cap.
There is also serious work to be done on the international front as NHL owners and players decide if they will take part in the Sochi Olympics in February.
With the Winter Games just eight months away, time to strike a deal is quickly running out as negotiations between the NHL and the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation drag on.
Planning for next season will quickly pick up pace too, as the NHL attacks an ambitious calendar that will include a series of outdoor games, including one in sunny Los Angeles and the re-launch of the popular New Year’s Day Winter Classic that was one of the high profile casualties of the lockout.