June 25, 2013
BOSTON — They played until the Boston days turned to 95 degrees and the Boston nights turned into a steam bath. They played until the TD Garden ice turned to the river Charles.
And when Milan Lucic scored with less than eight minutes remaining Monday night, this taut, terrific Stanley Cup Final looked as if it would head back to Chicago for a seventh game. Or was it really the eighth game? Or even a ninth?
The Bruins and the Blackhawks played until their beards grew long and their tempers grew short. They played and played and played until an exhausted and hurting 6-foot-9 defenseman named Zdeno Chara was whittled down to a nub. And when the game clock insisted they were supposed to stop — in three of the six games of this remarkable series — they kept on playing deep into the night.
There is nothing more bone-rattling and nerve-fraying than hockey in springtime and, finally, finally, it looked as hockey had decided to play on for infinity.
And that's when it happened.
Killer B's were the killers of the B's. Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland scored 17 seconds apart in the final 76 seconds. And just like that it was over. The game was over, 3-2. The series was over, 4-2. And over there were the Blackhawks jumping around like little kids with the Stanley Cup in their arms. Remarkable … and heartbreaking for the Bruins and for the Bruins fans. The same kind of stunning heartache the Maple Leafs had known in this same building in the opening round of the playoffs when they frittered away what appeared to be a sure-fire seventh game victory.
When asked if it was the craziest thing he'd ever seen in all his years of hockey, Bruins coach Claude Julien said, "Certainly the toughest."
"How can you call that?" said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, as stunned as anybody.
"I still can't believe the finish," goalie Corey Crawford said. "Oh my God, we never quit."
Both teams could count history on their side. Joel Quenneville's Hawks won Game 6 in Philadelphia to capture the 2010 Stanley Cup. Julien's Bruins won Game 6 at TD Garden against Vancouver to stave off elimination and go on to win the 2011 Stanley Cup in a seventh game. Yes, both teams had history and neither team had any guarantees.
So they skated on Monday night, both recovering stars and determined grinders alike. Toews left Game 5 in Chicago or more accurately had been forced to sit on the bench in the third period after Johnny Boychuk dropped the Hawks' captain head first into the ice with a clean hit. Patrice Bergeron left Game 5, too, taken to the hospital.
As of Saturday night neither looked as if he would play in Game 6. Both played Monday night. Of course they did. They're hockey players.
"Bergy has been the glue for this hockey team for a lot of years," Bruins forward Chris Kelly said.
And wouldn't you know it? Toews tied the game at 1 in the second period and assisted on the tying goal with 1:16 left.
Chara began looking like the tires on my old beat-up car from college. He played monstrous minutes all spring. He is a giant in so many ways. Yet as this series went along, as the Hawks kept attacking him, he began to wilt. His tires were fraying. When he misplayed a puck off a mid-zone faceoff in the second period, it resulted in a 2-on-1 break that Toews finished by burying a wrister through Tuukka Rask's pads. Afterward Julien said Chara was among the Bruins who were playing hurt. He said he didn't want to make excuses. He said he was proud of his team. And then he said the hurt ran deeper than you could have imagined.
"At the end of the day what hurts the most was, although we had to focus on our team to win the Stanley Cup, in the back of our minds we wanted to do it for the city of Boston [after the Marathon bombing] and for what Newtown has been through. The best way we felt we could cheer the area was to win a Stanley Cup. That's what is hard right now. We had more reasons than ourselves to win the cup."
Desperate to keep their season alive, the Bruins finally produced the kind of first period they had been looking for all series. They could have been ahead 2-0 or 3-0, especially if David Krejci had been able to finish off a perfect Brad Marchand feed at the net on the power play late in the first period.
They had to settle for a 1-0 lead on Chris Kelly's goal. Six weeks ago, more people probably would have figured Julien would be coaching the Clippers before Doc Rivers. Although it wasn't fair, and it wasn't, there seemed to be a push to push Julien out the door if the Bruins lost in the first round. In recent weeks, however, it seemed like every button Julien pushed was the right one. And here he was after a strong shift by the Kelly-Seguin-Paille line, putting that unit right back on the ice after a television timeout. The move paid off. Kelly won the draw and Tyler Seguin was able to knock a pass in front of the net down with his glove and shove a backhand pass to Kelly, who had a wide-open net to finish.
And when Lucic exploited some sloppy play behind the net, the Bruins looked as if they had pushed and prodded, cut and bruised enough for a Game 7. The schedule called for 360 minutes through six games. They had already played 435 because of all the overtime. There was no doubt this one was going seven, because, at least, in minutes played it already had by the end of this night.
Yeah, it was all about turning down the excuses and turning up the air conditioning. Jaromir Jagr battled through an injury on this night. Chicago's Andrew Shaw took a puck in the front off a Shawn Thornton drive and returned looking like Rocket Richard with blood running down his face. And when Toews pushed the puck through a desperate Chara, who was on the ice for 10 of Chicago's last 12 goals, finally the Bruins broke. Bolland jammed in a shot with 58.3 seconds left.
The ice had melted to a slush. And the Bruins had suffered an epic meltdown.
Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant