It was a final frame collapse like no other. The Boston Bruins, just under two minutes away from a Game 7 in the NHL Stanley Cup Finals, gave up two goals in 17 seconds. In the blink of an eye, the Chicago Blackhawks went from planning their Game 7 strategy to planning their victory parade route.
It was brutal.
Sadly, when looking at Boston’s regular season this year, is this most recent, albeit most tragic, third period fumble really that surprising? For the last two months of the season, the Bruins held onto a late lead like drunks with a hand grenade, fumbling them away left and right. Even worse, they always seemed to come at crucial points of the year.
They blew a game late against the Winnipeg Jets which ended up kick-starting their inconsistent play that didn’t end until Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They allowed the rival Montreal Canadiens to erase a two goal lead in a late March game that Boston ended up losing in a shootout. And in the first game played after the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon, when the city was in need of a win to help keep their minds off the horrific events from days before, the Buffalo Sabres stole the game late and won it in a shootout.
So no, if you’re going to ask me if I’m surprised the Bruins lost the Stanley Cup the way they did, the answer is “absolutely not.” However, the team had given fans indication that the regular season struggles had been left in the dust coming into this series.
After falling into their old habits against Toronto, the Game 7 miracle seemed to knock Boston out of the doldrums. They tore through the New York Rangers, and absolutely embarrassed the Pittsburgh Penguins, sweeping the Eastern Conference’s top team right out of the postseason.
But it was Game 1 against Chicago where those same old problems started peeking back into the Bruins’ play. They had leads of 2-0 and 3-1 and were looking like a team who would waltz their way to a Cup. But they blew both leads, losing in triple overtime.
There wasn’t much time for fans to worry about Boston’s inability to close a game, as they won Games 2 and 3. The ship was back on course, no worries. Of course, these kinds of issues don’t just disappear.
Enter last night. The Bruins were against the ropes, facing elimination, but held on to a 2-1 lead as the clock ticked down. Facing the end of their season in the final round, would they finally manage to lock it up and secure a win when they needed it to stay alive?
And so it was, the biggest red flag for the Bruins throughout 2013 ended up being their final undoing.
Its easy to blame a goalie for events like this, but I have trouble faulting Tuukka Rask. Let’s instead look at the defensemen, especially Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, who had been so efficient throughout the postseason but now looked lost. How about the odd choice coach Claude Julien made in keeping the line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton, and Milan Lucic out during the last minute even though they were hardly the best defensive forwards? Each of these played a huge factor in why the Bruins are cleaning out their lockers tomorrow instead of taking pregame warm ups.
Every blown lead the Bruins coughed up this year was one the fans hoped would be the last. Surely this team had enough experience and toughness to shore up whatever holes had come up and get everything back on track.
But they just kept coming, and they just kept getting worse.
None, however, was worse than last night. For Bruins fans, this was the worst Vietnam flashback they could ever imagine. Not only did Boston drop a game they looked to have in their grasp, but it resulted in the opponent winning the Stanley Cup.
You would hope this should sting enough to ensure the team will do everything in their power to fix this glaring problem. Unlike earlier in the year, there isn’t another game coming that will help them move on and forget. They’ve got a long three months to let this one simmer.