BOSTON (CBS) — There are no words.
You can try if you’d like, but you will fail.
You will fail to tell the story, to capture the moment, to even come close to describing what took place in Boston on Monday night.
The Bruins lost Game 7. Not officially, of course, but for all intents and purposes, their season was over after a blown 3-1 series lead. Nazem Kadri’s goal five and a half minutes into the third period put the Maple Leafs ahead 4-1, and it appeared at the time to be the most meaningless of meaningless goals. Because again, the Bruins had lost Game 7.
And then, Nathan Horton scored. Something to cheer about for the fans who stuck around to watch the bitter end unfold, but little else.
And then, in the game’s final minutes, Milan Lucic scored, jamming home a Zdeno Chara rebound and cutting the Toronto lead to just one goal. But still, only 1:22 remained in the game. The Bruins had just scored twice in nine minutes. They had scored just twice in the 120 minutes that preceded Game 7. It would take an optimist’s optimist to believe, even a little bit, that the Bruins could score three times in the final minutes of Game 7.
But the Bruins themselves, against all odds and despite loads of evidence to the contrary, still somehow believed. We all thought they were the better team in this series, but they had proven rather conclusively that we were all wrong. When the Maple Leafs took that 4-1 lead, that much had been determined.
Head coach Claude Julien called a timeout. Goaltender Tuukka Rask headed back to the bench, where he had watched Lucic score his goal. The Bruins gained possession in the Toronto end of the ice. Zdeno Chara and Horton battled for position in front of Toronto netminder James Reimer. Jaromir Jagr passed to Patrice Bergeron at the blue line. He passed to David Krejci, who fed the puck back to Bergeron. The Bruins’ heart and soul looked up, saw four white jerseys and two black jerseys between him and the goaltender.
He readied, aimed and fired a wrist shot toward the top left corner of the net. It went in.
The impossible had happened.
The sold-out crowd of 17,565 had lost a few members by that point of the night, with hundreds of fans making their way to the exits after the fourth Toronto goal. Based on the eruptive celebration that followed after rubber met twine, though, you’d never know anyone was missing.
With 50.2 seconds left, the hockey world readied for overtime, but the Bruins damn near won the game, as Brad Marchand’s shot from the left wing was kicked to the slot by Reimer, where Rich Peverley just couldn’t get enough on the loose puck to bury the would-be game-winner. No matter. The teams headed to their locker rooms, and the fans who did stay for the duration of the game spent the 15-minute break singing “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Livin’ On A Prayer.” The doubt, pessimism and downright disgust that had those same fans booing the home team off the ice in the second period had disappeared, replaced by a confidence rarely seen in a city as cynical as ours.
While the Bruins had not won the game at that point, it’s important to remember what they had already accomplished. They were playing without defenseman Andrew Ference, a veteran of 13 NHL seasons and 110 postseason games. He had missed two games already this series; the Bruins lost both.
Early in Game 7, the team also lost defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, another veteran with more than a decade in the league and 57 postseason games on his resume. Seidenberg entered Monday averaging more than 25 minutes per game this series. In Game 7, he played just 37 seconds, injured on his very first shift of the night.
In place of these valuable veterans were rookies Matt Bartkowski, who was playing in the minor league postseason just last week, and Dougie Hamilton, he of just 19 years on this planet. Bartkowski was called up to play in Game 5, and Julien asked him to play just 6:40. In Game 7, he had to play nearly 25 full minutes. He doesn’t even have a locker anywhere near the Bruins’ defensemen, as it is instead all the way across the dressing room, next to goalies Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin. Nobody knew he was even going to be playing until about seven minutes before puck drop. Less than six minutes into the game, he scored to put the Bruins ahead 1-0.
Hamilton, meanwhile, spent the last couple of weeks of the season as a healthy scratch, only playing in Game 2 because Ference had been suspended and again in Game 6 due to Ference’s injury. Hamilton’s future may be bright, but somewhere along the way this season, he lost his coach’s trust, and he played just 10:49 in the Game 6 loss. In Game 7, he was on the ice for more than 21 minutes.
The Bruins overcame those key absences and climbed out from a three-goal deficit in a span of just 10 minutes with their season on the line … and yet, the job was not finished. One miscue in overtime, and it all would have been for naught, a mere footnote in what would ultimately be remembered as another Game 7 loss, another first-round exit. Julien’s job would be in question, and irate fans would even be calling for general manager Peter Chiarelli to be fired. The comeback that had awoken an entire city would have meant next to nothing without a victory.
And the Maple Leafs began the overtime period well aware of that fact. Clarke MacArthur, who scored the game-winner in Game 5, fired a shot on net just 11 seconds into the period. With a raucous crowd on its feet, Rask remained ever calm, kicking the puck away to safety. The Leafs got the next shot on net, too, this one by Joffrey Lupul, who had three goals in the first six games of the series. Rask made another save.
The Bruins survived the initial push from Toronto, and then they took over. Tyler Seguin was reunited with linemates Bergeron and Marchand. The odd timing of the line shift wasn’t coach Julien’s decision, though. It only happened because Jagr, who had taken Seguin’s spot on the second line, had an issue with his skate blade. Intervention from the hockey gods — the same hockey gods who messed with the Bruins’ plane on Sunday night and forced them to stay in Toronto? Maybe, but the Bruins on the ice weren’t worried about that.
Marchand passed to Bergeron at the top of the right faceoff circle, and he sent a one-timer toward net. Reimer gave up a rebound. Seguin kicked the loose puck and wrestled with Jake Gardiner in front of the Toronto net. The puck slipped away, with nobody around. Except for Bergeron. Again.
No. 37 rushed to the loose puck, held his stick harder than ever and made sure he got this one on net.
It was over.
The Bruins had come all the way back. And they had won.
It was an effort that will forever live on video. It will be retold in stories, both with the written word and while shouted loudly in crowded bars. For the 17,000 or so who witnessed it in person, it will be etched in their memories until the day they die.
But unless you were part of it — whether you paid hundreds of dollars to see it live or whether your family roused you out of bed so that you could catch overtime on TV– you won’t ever fully grasp what took place on the ice in Boston. We will try to tell you, and no doubt, you will understand — mostly.
Some events are just too rare, too exceptional, too unbelievable to ever be retold.