Losing the Stanley Cup is heartbreaking. It's guaranteed to leave a room of elite athletes so ruined the poor bastards can barely get the words out as they try to articulate how proud of their teammates they are.
But some losses are worse than others. There's the Cinderella tale that just falls short. There's the world-beater that gets beaten down by injuries. Then there are the losses that aren't called losses at all. Rather, "loss" is swapped out for its ugliest replacement.
And the Bruins choked.
It's the last thing anyone in Boston wants to hear or think right now, but unfortunately it's as simple as this: The Bruins, were the best remaining team a week into the playoffs. They had home ice in the Stanley Cup Final against a slower team with an exploitable goalie. Then, with the Cup in their building waiting to be presented to them, the Bruins suffered their greatest margin of defeat since Game 1 of the first round.
They didn't lose because they couldn't handle the toughness or because the refs were meanies. They lost because Game 106 of the season was unrecognizable.
The worst of the Bruins showed up in their forward stars once again doing nothing, but two of their strengths failed. For a team so famously composed and resilient, the Bruins sure let a frustrating end to a dominant first period drown them. Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, finally couldn't bail them out as he did throughout the spring. The latter will still yield a parade in Boston, as talk radio callers will undoubtedly bask in one of the dumbest narratives in sports staying alive.
Chokes typically have goats attached to them. It realistically won't be Rask, even though Game 7 was statistically his worst night of the postseason. He'll get a pass for being the one who got them there, while Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak will probably lead the pack for following up brilliant regular seasons with uncharacteristically quiet performances in the Final.
Whether Patrice Bergeron gets a slice of that pie remains to be seen. The obvious guess in all three cases is that injuries were in play, as it remains unfathomable that the best line in hockey did not score a single goal in five-on-five play with all three of its members on the ice.
Taking a step back, this wasn't the season-long nightmare experienced by the Celtics. Part of the fun of this Bruins team was that even in finishing tied for second in the NHL, they were the underdog. If you thought the Bruins were going to win the Cup, you were either really biased or just liked picking upsets, because the Lightning were waiting to eliminate them in the second round for the second straight year.
But the circumstances changed, leaving the Bruins as the best team in the playoffs as a result. Once Tampa was gone and Rask was established as the postseason's best player, the expectation -- not that word, not "goal" -- was the Cup. It would take either worse play or some major injuries -- not a better opponent, because one didn't exist -- for the Bruins to fail to meet that expectation.
For now, here's what we know about whatever injuries may or may not have plagued Boston's star forwards: They weren't significant enough to keep them out of the lineup. Plus, if a player was playing through significant injury and underachieving to the degree those players did, you'd think a coaching decision would have been made on it at some point (think Pastrnak in Round 2).
Instead, the Bruins took the ice for Game 7 as the better team on paper with little reason to believe they had it in them to squander such an opportunity. They didn't, and a city synonymous with championships is going to have to fix its mouth to use that other word.
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