The Boston Bruins will forever be haunted by the ending of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, when their usually rock-solid defense cost the team a chance to win its second title in three seasons.
Protecting a 2-1 lead and less than two minutes away from forcing a Game 7, Boston let its guard down and gave up two goals to the Chicago Blackhawks in just 17 seconds to watch its remarkable playoff journey end in nightmarish fashion with a 3-2 loss.
When asked how long this loss will stick with him, an exhausted Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk tried to put the night into words.
"I mean, you are going to remember forever. You remember winning it, but I think you remember losing it a little bit more, now that we have had that happen," said Boychuk.
"It’s a bad feeling. Bad, like an awful feeling. You can’t really describe it. As a player, it’s probably one of the worst feelings you can get when you are up by one goal with a minute and 20 left and somehow you lose the game. It’s just like a total shock."
Boychuk was directly involved in the goal by Dave Bolland with 59 seconds remaining that clinched the championship for Chicago.
He allowed the Blackhawks forward to get position on him and get his stick on the loose puck in the crease. Boychuk's defensive partner Andrew Ference had a great view of the point shot by Johnny Oduya and should have done better to block the shot, but he let it go right through. Bolland pounced on it to score the series-winning goal.
Less than 20 seconds prior, Bryan Bickell scored his first goal of the series at the perfect time, capitalizing on a slick pass from captain Jonathan Toews, who got the puck because the Blackhawks won a puck battle along the boards despite having to battle three Bruins for possession.
Chicago was able to enter the attacking zone prior to this goal because superstar winger Patrick Kane weaved through two Bruins players at the blue line and went past another two before firing a shot on Tuukka Rask.
Kane, who was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP with a team-leading 19 postseason points, dominated the Bruins in this series. It was a challenge that previous superstar forwards such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Rick Nash failed miserably at in the three rounds prior.
The decision to put Kane, Bickell and Toews on the team's top line proved to be the difference in the series.
Head coach Joel Quenneville went to this trio in the second round when the Blackhawks faced elimination trailing 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings. He did so again after Chicago was shut out in Game 3 of the final and in desperate need of an offensive spark.
Here's how these three players' stats compare before and after Game 4, which was the turning point in the series as the Blackhawks won 6-5 in overtime in Boston to avoid another 3-1 hole.
|Player||Games 1-3||Games 4-6|
|Kane||0G, 1A||3G, 1A|
|Toews||0G, 0A||2G, 3A|
|Bickell||0G, 0A||1G, 3A|
|Total||0G, 1A||5G, 7A|
This line went right after the Bruins' top defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, arguably the toughest duo in the league. It was a bold strategy that paid huge dividends for Quenneville, who did what other coaches were afraid to do in the first three rounds: challenge Chara and wear him down.
Getting outmuscled and beaten to loose pucks was a problem for the B's against the quick, highly skilled forwards of the Blackhawks, who were one step quicker on so many of the series' crucial plays.
Boston surrendered only two goals in the conference finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins (also held Crosby, Malkin, Neal and Jarome Iginla scoreless), but it gave up 17 in six games to the Blackhawks.
Chicago had too much speed, a group of puck-moving defensemen who consistently evaded the Bruins' forecheck with quick passes out of their own zone, and a top line that scored big goals in clutch moments.
As a result, the Bruins allowed three goals or more four times in the final, which happened only four times through the first three rounds in the playoffs.
The most frustrating part of Boston's heartbreaking end to the season was that its defense, the biggest strength of the team, let it down when it mattered most. The Bruins finished third in GAA during the regular season and also led the playoffs in that category entering Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"You work so hard just to get to this point and give yourself a chance to get the Cup. And you feel like you’re right there, and you have a chance to force Game 7, and definitely it hurts," said Bruins center Patrice Bergeron.
"It doesn't work your way. Have to give credit to Chicago. They played a great series. But at the same time, it's the last thing you want to say. It hurts to see them hoisting the cup."
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. All quotes obtained firsthand or from NHL media notes.