The Boston Bruins and goalie Tuukka Rask were less than 80 seconds away from a seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final.
Then it all fell apart.
”It’s obviously shocking when you think you have everything under control,” Rask said quietly, standing at his locker with a blue baseball cap on backward and a towel draped over his shoulders.
Bryan Bickell beat him with 1:16 left to tie the game, Dave Bolland did it again with 59 seconds to go and the Chicago Blackhawks pulled off a stunning comeback for a 3-2 win on Monday night and their second Stanley Cup championship in four seasons.
The Bruins’ bid for their second title in three seasons ended in a flurry that left them wondering what went wrong.
Rask had been brilliant for most of the playoffs. And he was outstanding again for most of Monday night’s game. Then he got little help from his teammates as he let in two costly goals.
Bickell scored when he got behind forward Milan Lucic and tapped in a pass across the slot from Chicago captain Jonathan Toews.
”It was a quick play out of the corner,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who was on the ice for 10 of the Blackhawks final 12 goals in the series, including Bickell’s equalizer. ”I saw a guy coming to the net.”
Then Bolland put the game-winner past Rask when he converted a shot deflected by Michael Frolik that went off the left post.
”It was a shot from the point. Deflection, rebound, goal. A lot of plays happen like that,” Rask said.
And then his voice trailed off.
He and Chicago goalie Corey Crawford entered the game with identical 1.83 goals against averages in the playoffs. In the clincher, Crawford had 23 saves and Rask 28.
”I thought he was great all series,” Crawford said. ”A lot of the games took a life of their own. Sometimes we had shootouts, sometimes we had tight games, but he was there throughout. You see what it took to beat him tonight, a late flurry like that or we wouldn’t be standing here.”
The Bruins had an even more amazing comeback in the first round of the playoffs than the Blackhawks did on Monday. Trailing 4-1 with less than 11 minutes left in the seventh game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, they forced overtime then won 5-4 on Patrice Bergeron’s goal.
But not this time.
Not against a team that set an NHL record by getting at least one point in each of its first 24 games, going 21-0-4.
Defenseman Andrew Ference dismissed any comparison between the two series.
”That was round one,” he said. ”This is the finals.”
Rask was spectacular in the Eastern Conference finals against the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins. He held Sidney Crosby and company to two goals in a four-game sweep that sent the Bruins to the finals.
He even had better statistics than Tim Thomas, the goalie he backed up when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011. Thomas was MVP of that year’s playoffs then decided to take this season off.
”I’m really proud,” Rask said. ”I think a lot of people didn’t expect us to go this far. We shocked the hockey world against Pittsburgh.”
They suffered a shock on Monday night after celebrating Lucic’s goal that gave them a 2-1 lead with 7:49 left.
How did the Blackhawks come back?
”We knew they were going to pinch (in toward the net), and you lose a puck battle here or there, and they made great plays,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. ”The tying goal is a great play. They’ve got their best players out there on the ice and then they made a great pass.”
And on Bolland’s winning goal, he said, ”our guys were close to him, but, you know, he just out-muscled them on that.”
The loss was especially painful because the Bruins wanted to provide good news for a city where the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath resulted in the deaths of four people.
They wanted to cap off the season with a championship.
”We really felt that we wanted to play as hard as we could for a numbers of reasons, for the city,” Chara said. ”We were very proud of the fans the way they stood behind us.”
In the end, though, the game ended with Blackhawks players hoisting the Stanley Cup over their heads and their fans cheering in the Bruins building.
All that after the Bruins were so close to forcing a Game 7 but couldn’t hold off the Blackhawks’ late charge.