This wasn’t supposed to be how the story ended for the 2018-19 Boston Bruins.
This was a team that — anchored by a veteran core orchestrating what might be their final title run together — trudged through 24 playoff bouts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, overcoming series deficits against the Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets and Blues en route to forcing a decisive Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
This was a resilient bunch that somehow managed to stay afloat when injuries atrophied their blue line in November and forward corps in March, somehow orchestrating a 25-6-5 surge in the second half that carried over when the calendar turned from winter to spring.
This was a locker room that — after a miraculous comeback win over the Panthers in March — proclaimed that that crop of men assembled by way of the draft, free agency and deals was “a brotherhood.”
And on Wednesday night, that brotherhood appeared destined to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in front of a raucous TD Garden crowd.
Zdeno Chara, playing in his third straight game with a reported fractured jaw, was going to once again lift the greatest trophy in all of sports higher than just about anyone has ever done so before — uttering whatever guttural scream and cheer he could muster through his shattered maw as he handed off Boston’s prize to his teammates.
Tuukka Rask, deserved recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy, could finally put all of the talk regarding his game and status as a Cup-winning netminder to rest. For veterans like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, it would be another chapter of validation in over a decade-plus of tenure wearing a Black and Gold sweater.
The bodies lost on the road to this final bout against the Blues would get their deserved moment as well. Kevan Miller, recipient this season of a damaged larynx, broken hand and a severe leg injury that held him out of postseason play, would finally get a ring.
Chris Wagner, the local kid who was robbed of a chance to play on hockey’s biggest stage when he absorbed a slap shot off the wrist in the Eastern Conference Final, would join Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie Coyle as the first Massachusetts-born players to hoist a Cup with the Bruins since Melrose’s Myles Lane won it all back in 1928.
David Backes, scratched for the final two games of the Cup Final, would still be able to celebrate a title over his former club — a bittersweet, but rewarding conclusion for the former captain of the Blues.
This was how things were supposed to end for this Bruins team.
But in a sport as unforgiving as hockey, such storybook narratives rarely manifest into reality.
“It was really special to be a part of something like this and then to not win, I feel really incomplete,” a sullen Charlie McAvoy said in a despondent locker room, just minutes after the Blues bested Boston, 4-1, to take home their first Cup title.
“It sunk in right away,” the 21-year-old defenseman added. “One side is elation, the other side is just nothing. We made it all this way, I don’t know, I’m at a loss for words.”
What better example of the cruel nature of this beautiful sport than in the opening stanza.
Looking to land a knockout punch against Jordan Binnington, the Bruins peppered the Blues netminder, holding a 22-8 edge in shot attempts and 12-4 advantage in shots on goal going into the first intermission.
And yet, of those four Blues shots, two managed to find the twine in Boston’s net, with Ryan O’Reilly tipping one past Rask at 16:47. Just 3:05 later, Alex Pietrangelo snapped one home, capping off an odd-man rush generated when Brad Marchand inexplicably went off for a change with a counter-rush barreling down at him.
A two-goal deficit remained going into the final stanza, but we’d seen this story before. No lead was safe against this Bruins club, especially in their own building.
“Yeah, we thought we were going to do it,” Marchand said of a potential rally. “We had that belief we have all year, we’ve done it plenty of times. You know, it takes one goal to get going and swing that momentum. … Takes one shot to change the tide of the game.”
That shot came at 17:50 in the third, with Matt Grzelcyk snapping Binnington’s shutout with a quick wrist shot. But by that time, the Blues’ lead had swelled to 4-0.
There would be no miraculous comeback. There would be no parade down Boylston Street. There would be no Stanley Cup.
“We haven’t been in the Final in a long time,” David Krejci said. "Felt like it was there for us. I believed in this group every single game. I had a good feeling. Even after the first period, I felt a comeback. So, yeah, that’s a really tough one. Definitely hardest lost in my career for sure.”
An uncertain offseason awaits this club, with Noel Acciari, Steven Kampfer and Marcus Johansson set to become unrestricted free agents. Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen are due for pay raises as RFAs, with the cap crunch potentially clouding the futures of players like Backes and Torey Krug in Boston.
Reality quickly set in when the doors to the Bruins' locker room finally opened. Chara, still barely able to speak, stared right into nothingness as he collected his thoughts. Jake DeBrusk buried his head in his hands, sobbing at the thought of this brotherhood splitting apart.
"Love these guys," Marchand said while fighting back tears. "We had a hell of a year, and we came very close. I love every guy on this team. I’m very proud of everyone that worked their ass off all year to get to this point, and you know, we’re a hell of a group. We came together. We’re like a family, so it hurts, but yeah, love this group."
As the Bruins wallowed in their room, the Blues etched the final chapters of their storybook ending out on the Garden ice— with a club once dead last in the NHL standings erasing what was a 51-year championship drought.
The sounds of their revelry echoed throughout the hallways of TD Garden — a painful reminder to this brotherhood of Bruins of a fate that would never be theirs.
"It’s a heartbreaker," Marchand said."It’s tough to describe. You know, they just took our dream, our lifetime dream from us, and everything we’ve worked for our entire lives, and it’s 60 minutes away from that. You can’t describe it."
[caption id="attachment_512972" align="alignnone" width="1600"] BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 12: Joakim Nordstrom #20 of the Boston Bruins reacts after his teams defeat to the St. Louis Blues in Game Seven of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 12, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)[/caption]