“One more time”, the Bruins may have been subconsciously thinking to themselves during last night’s final game of the NHL season, “We’ve done it all year, we’ll do it one more time.”
Alas, the 2018-19 Boston Bruins had already taken one too many trips to the ‘fall behind early but bail ourselves out’ well. Going down early to the porous Leafs or upstart Canes is one thing. Coming back from being down 2-0 to the suffocating, stifling, smash-mouth St. Louis Blues and their wunderkind crease jockey would be much too tall a task and ask for the Bruins. And so their season ends with an ugly 4-1 Stanley Cup Final Game 7 loss, so tantalizingly and agonizingly close to not only a Stanley Cup but also matching what the Orr-era Big, Bad Bruins of the ’70s did (two Cups in thee tries over nine years).
Instead of becoming part of another inane bar argument about which team was the best in franchise history, the Bruins of this decade will be seen as champions but champions that squandered two shots at becoming a truly legendary era in Boston Bruins history. Rather than Stanley Cups to bookend the decade, these Bs will forever wear the label of ‘what if?’. Incredibly, the legacies and lore were largely determined by one game.
After a couple of minutes of tentativeness to open Game 7, the Bs took control. Most of the period was in the St. Louis zone. They peppered rookie phenom Jordan Binnington and had a few high-quality chances that the stud goalie stifled. That’s when I first got a slight pang of fear that the Blues goalie would be otherwordly and that it was imperative that the Bruins score the all-important first goal. Conversely, Tuukka Rask hadn’t seen a shot in about 12 minutes which isn’t always the best thing for a goalie.
Like we’ve seen a million times before, the team getting outplayed gets on the board first because hockey. Ryan O’Reilly killed the Bruins yet again with a tip from the slot that solidified his Conn Smythe campaign. With seconds left in the first period, the Bs would surely feel good about themselves heading into the room down 1-0, having played well and held the Blues to just a few shots, right? Well, that was until that old franchise bugaboo—the line change—reared it’s ugly head again.
Brad Marchand had a brain fart that a veteran in his position just can’t make.
Of all the options he had there (stay out, go to the bench, or both), Marchand took the last, worst one and the resulting breakdown gave Alex Pietrangelo his own HOV lane to the net. Suddenly, the ‘not a big deal’ 1-0 deficit doubled and the Bruins officially put themselves behind the 8-ball with 8 seconds left in the first.
That’s because there aren’t many teams better at getting a lead and then sitting on it like the Blues. For essentially the rest of the game, they clogged the middle, high-flipped the puck out of their zone, and blocked shots when needed. As Whits said on today’s Spittin’ Chiclets, the game was pretty boring unless you were a Blues fan. But boring wins when you have the lead and the Blues, yet again, played an ideal road game.
The Bs could barely get anything going in third. The Blues smelled blood and were just on top of them at every turn. Even so, if the Bs just got the next one, the complexion of the game would change greatly. They got a golden opportunity. But…
That’s when we knew it probably wasn’t going to be the Bs night. Yet another defensive lapse put a bow on it with 8:35 left in the game. Brayden Schenn waltzed into the zone untouched and beat Rask with a one-timer. 3-0 Blues. The Bruins aren’t scoring four on Binnington on this night. Game. Set. Match. Local lads Zach Sanford and Matt Grzelcyk traded goals to close out the scoring and give over/under bettors the push.
That’s the other thing that stings. The Bruins didn’t play anything close to their best (i.e. the previous game). Of course, the Blues had a part in that. But the Bs were sloppy, passed up way too many shots, made too many mental errors, and were simply outworked by a team that just looked hungrier. Unlike the Blues, the Bruins didn’t cash in when they got chances.
It was there for the taking. The last game for all the marbles. A legacy-defining win. But the Bs played with fire one last time and had nothing to put it out with.