Hockey

Kevin McNamara: A painful ending to what could have been for Bruins

Now, this one stings.

This long, historic run of championships by New England's sports teams is filled with great moments, everlasting memories and only a precious few painful defeats. Now we have another stinger to add to the list.

With everything teed up in their favor in a winner-take-all Game 7, the Boston Bruins couldn't deliver Wednesday night at TD Garden. Some early mistakes spotted the St. Louis Blues a 2-0 first period lead and a no-show from the team's offense led to a disappointing, disheartening 4-1 loss.

"It's tough to describe that heartbreak," Brad Marchand said with tear-filled eyes. "We worked hard but it just didn't go our way. We had some opportunities and didn't capitalize and they got that first one and that was it."

The Bruins were all-too-frequently outplayed in 5-on-5 situations in this series and the Blues played smart in Game 7 and took only one penalty all night. Without that extra juice from the power play, the Boston attack was dominated more by errant passes and sloppy stick-handling than great chances at the net.

The Bruins somehow lost three of four games played on home ice in this series. This is inexcusable in any sport and certainly no way to win a Cup.

The Blues looked beaten when they left their home fans behind after a bad loss in Game 6. Yet they weren't shaken and finished an amazing 10-3 on the road in the playoffs. That's how tough, gritty teams win a Cup.

The Bruins, and especially those fans who paid more than $5,000 for the choice seats, began the night hoping to add yet another championship banner to New England's overflowing collection. It's been years now since sports fans in these parts moved on from enjoying an embarrassment of riches to a level of winning that now borders on the obnoxious. We thought the peak might have come back in the mid-2000s when the Red Sox and Patriots won championships within four months of each other, but in retrospect, things were only getting started.

Now we're 18 years out from the first win (Patriots, Super Bowl XXXVI, 2001) and 12 flags are flying in the Hub. The Patriots (6), Red Sox (4), Bruins (1) and Celtics (1) have compiled the greatest collection of championships American sports has ever seen. The Bruins seemed poised to add to that stockpile and create a streak unlike any seen since the city of Detroit won three straight crowns in 1935-36 in baseball, football and hockey.

The current Boston dream run began back in October when the Red Sox whipped the Dodgers, wrapping things up in Los Angeles in easy fashion with David Price cleansing his legacy with a dominating effort on the mound.

A bit more than three months later, the sports world's eyes were trained on Tom Brady and the Patriots in Atlanta. In a defensive battle that was only beautiful in the eyes of Bill Belichick and his legion of followers, the Pats won their sixth Lombardi Trophy over the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3.

That led us to June and the hockey gods seemed to smile upon the Bruins. While the NHL's top teams all exited the playoffs early on, the Bruins fought past the Maple Leafs in a seven-game series and then flew to the final after wins over Columbus and Carolina. The St. Louis team that came out of the West arrived with little fanfare. A last-place outfit in early January, the new champions rode the hot hand of rookie goalie Jordan Binnington to fight back into the mix and hit the postseason as one of hockey's hottest teams.

Even so, the Bruins were the clear favorites in the finals and in Game 7. But the puck Gods did not shine on the Garden.

After dominating the early part of the first period, the Bruins watched the Blues register the critical first goal. Jay Bouwmeester ripped a shot from just inside his blue line that Conn Smythe Award-winner Ryan O'Reilly deflected past a screened Rask. It was only the third Blues shot of the game.

Disaster struck in the final moments of the period when the Bruins' Marchand committed a mental gaffe straight out of the CLCF Midget League. After a long shift, the ace striker was ready for a breather with just seconds left in the period, but as he swung left to the bench for a line change, the Blues flew right toward the net. Alex Pietrangelo backhanded a shot under Rask with just eight seconds left on the clock for a 2-0 lead.

"They chipped it in and I thought that guy was by himself, so I went for a change and a couple more guys jumped up into the play," Marchand said.

A few weeks back, Marchand said that the disappointment of losing to the Blackhawks in the 2013 Cup finals stuck in his gut deeper than the joy of winning it all in 2011. We can only imagine where this defeat will linger.

"You never know when you'll get that chance again. It could be the last one for all of us," Marchand said. "When you're that close and it doesn't happen, it hurts."

This Bruins team joins just a few championship-round losers over this century's great run. They'll be remembered along with the Celtics of 2010, the Bruins of '13 and three Patriots teams that fell short of history.

No championship game disappointment will ever top the Patriots 17-14 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. That halted the Pats' perfect season and will linger as the most painful loss in the region's history.

But this one will hang around for all Bruins fans. They limped out of the Garden feeling they had the better team, but in the biggest game in franchise history, their heroes didn't show up and skate away with the Cup.

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