That is a fitting end to one of the most frustrating seasons in the history of the Boston Bruins.
They were expected to be Stanley Cup contenders. By January they appeared unlikely to see the playoffs. Last week it looked like the nightmare had ended and there was at least an Eastern Conference finals appearance to hang their hats on.
Then came Game 7.
In the first period, it looked like Boston -- which had squandered a 3-0 series lead by dropping three straight to Philadelphia -- had finally put the Flyers behind them. The Bruins had a 3-0 lead before the 15-minute mark on the strength of two Milan Lucic goals.
Then, they sat back and watched the Flyers come all the way back to claim a 4-3 victory that ended the B’s season on Friday at TD Garden. In the end, a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty served as the perfect villain.
“I don't know how the hell that happened,” Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “It is just shock right now. Disappointment. Good bounces, we had some penalties. Especially the last one. I didn't even know we had one. Everybody was like 'What happened?'”
It looked like Marc Savard was coming for a change and had his stick up coming back down the ice. Instead, he passed the bench and continued down the ice as if he saw something on the back-check. Vladimir Sobotka jumped over the wall, realized Savard was still on the ice and did circle back to the bench.
By that time, however, it was too late. The penalty was assessed, and on the ensuing power play, Flyers winger Simon Gagne broke the 3-3 tie with a bouncing puck he put over Tuukka Rask at 12:52, and the Bruins’ season was all but done.
“I do think that I had a pretty good seat through the third period pretty close to where the guy was changing and I think it was pretty close and a very gutsy call with seven minutes left with all the [expletive] that is going on out there,” Shawn Thornton said.
For Sobotka’s part, he said he heard his name and he probably did.
"I don't really know. I knew that [Savard] was changing and I heard my name and I jumped on the ice and we had six guys on the ice," Sobotka said. "I thought he was going for a change but I didn't see that he was on the back-check ... I just heard my name. I don't want to talk about it."
Coach Claude Julien, without naming names, pretty much validated Sobotka’s statement.
“We had a player coming down the ice and he had his stick up as if he wanted a change and changed his mind and we had the next guy jumping on and he got caught and did kind of a loop and came right back to the bench, the puck goes in the corner,” Julien said. “They call those. They have been calling them all playoffs.”
It is a fitting irony that the guy who made a dramatic comeback in the series was the harbinger for the end of it. Savard never really gelled against the Flyers and when David Krejci went down in Game 3, he did not pick up the slack.
Letting the Flyers come back by four goals and four games was not all Savard’s fault, of course. Here is what we learned from one of the most devastating losses in Boston sports history:
THE KILLER INSTINCT WAS MISSING
Milan Lucic delivered an unassisted goal on a giveaway rush down the right wing that beat Flyers goalie Michael Leighton five-hole at 14:10 in the first. That gave the Bruins a 3-0 lead, and began a celebration at TD Garden of what appeared to be a berth in the Eastern Conference finals. After all, only twice in NHL history had a team come back from a three-goal deficit in Game 7.
Boston then rested on its laurels and started waiting for Sunday, when their historic rivals would come down from Montreal for another epic showdown. It did not exactly happen like that, of course.
“There was definitely some complacency, that is for sure. It’s something that we are going to have to deal with for the whole summer,” Lucic said.
A 10-minute burst followed by 50 minutes of backpedaling to lose the biggest game of the year, in such historic fashion, is something that Lucic and company will have to swallow until June when a guy named either Tyler or Taylor walks through the doors at TD Garden.
It started with a local product. James Van Riemsdyk (from the University of New Hampshire) had a hustle play in front of the net, and got a dribbler passed Rask. It was Van Riemsdyk’s first career playoff goal and it was the signal that the Bruins had gone soft, from Rask to Chara and everyone else.
“I’d say the first goal kind of put us on our heels a little bit, but I don’t think in that first period it was, I think we kept battling, we kept playing really well, but I think the second period was not the second period that we should have got,” Patrice Bergeron said. “They scored three minutes into the second period and, you know, it’s tough, a one goal game and we kind of went even back on our heels even more. I think the second period really hurt us.”
Hurt them it did, and that familiar feeling started creeping up around the Bruins. Nobody ever expects to see a 3-0 lead vanish, but before the second period was halfway through, Danny Briere had tied it.
The Bruins were able to muster enough to keep the Flyers off the scoreboard again until Simon Gagne’s game-winner, but one had to have the feeling that the lesson that had been learned all year and epitomized in the last four games of these semifinals would be Boston’s fate. A lack of fire leads to a lack of goals leads to losses.
Of course this Bruins team was destined to become an annotation in history. It had the longest losing streak (and home losing streak) since the 1920s. It was the lowest scoring team in the league a year after being the second highest. It could not close out one-goal games for months.
All of a sudden, the Bruins were able to reverse course on all of those fronts for a month-and-a-half in the playoffs, disappointing the Sabres in the process. They gave Boston hope, a tease. In the end, however, they reverted back to form.
“Killer instinct was missing,” Mark Recchi said. “Desperation at the end of a first period to not allow them to score, which I think is imperative and it didn’t happen. What are you going to do? It’s over now. And another long summer to think about it. It’s disappointing.”
BIG AND BAD ABBREVIATED
TD Garden was rocking all night but no more so than the first 15 minutes of Game 7, when it appeared all was well and the Bruins were going to move on.
What went well? For starters, everybody was hitting. That was the first positive sign that the Bruins were going to be on to start the game. From Andrew Ference to Mark Recchi to Zdeno Chara and Vladimir Sobotka, the Bruins were bouncing Flyers off the boards, off the ice, everywhere.
The hit total after the first was dubious as it said Boston led 15-12 in that department. Philadelphia registered 12 hits only if the scorekeepers counted them bouncing off Bruins after they got hit.
The hits created space. Then the hits created penalties. Then the hits during the power plays created space that allowed the Bruins to find creases and break down Michael Leighton.
“I think we were extremely pleased with the way we started the game. We started the way we wanted to start it,” Julien said. “We had lots of energy, we got a 3-0 lead, and that’s something that we wanted to do tonight — come out that way.”
The Bruins scored two straight power play goals. Michael Ryder authored the first from the right dot, when he was able to put the puck back towards the crease after a hard rebound past a crashing Mark Recchi at 5:27. The second came when Dennis Wideman rescued a broken rush in the neutral zone by circling back around and coming down the right wing, getting deep enough to draw Philadelphia defenders to his side of the ice before whipping the puck back across to Lucic crashing at the perfect time.
That was all before the 10-minute mark. The Flyers would only take one more penalty (Daniel Carcillo high-stick in the second) all game.
THERE WAS PLENTY OF FIGHT IN THE FLYERS
This is not all about the Bruins choking away a three-game lead and becoming one of only four teams to do so in a seven-game series in the history of professional American sports.
As damning as that fact is, the Flyers actually did come all the way back. They may not be the 2004 Red Sox on a march towards destiny, but they did make their mark on history.
“It was great. I love coaching. It was great for me to be behind the bench,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. ”But this is all about the players. The players won a hockey game today. That’s the biggest news you can write about. They worked for it, they fought for it and they earned it.”
Danny Briere was instrumental in bringing the Flyers back in the second period and the series as he assisted Scott Hartnell on the goal that brought the score to 3-2 with a spin-o-rama through the crease. He then went wrap-around on Tuukka Rask to make it 3-3 at 8:39 in the second. He had 10 points (five goals and five assists) in the series and the Bruins had no answer.
“I thought we just matched up well against the Bruins for some reason,” Flyers center Danny Briere said. “I was thinking about the first two games here [in Boston] and it could have gone either way. Game 3 was our best game at that point and they won that one also.
“I just had a feeling that if we were able to start creating our own bounces, then we were able to come back in the series. I don’t know if the other guys believed it but I certainly did. Even down 3-0. I’ve been down 3-0 before and I never had that feeling as strong as it was against the Bruins.”
The Bruins did not panic when Hartnell brought the score to 3-2. The writing was on the wall but the three-goal first period lead was still having some sort of aphrodisiacal effect on Boston.
When asked if Julien thought about calling a timeout after Philadelphia’s second goal, the coach said he did not think he needed one.
“At 3-2, I didn’t think it was necessary at the time, personally. We’d still got the lead and I thought we got better as the period went on,” Julien said. “We picked it up slowly. But I didn’t think it was necessary. Again, that second or third goal went off [Matt] Hunwick when he went around the net.
“Again, it takes a little bit of luck sometimes and that luck you get from working hard. The team that won tonight deserved it. Let’s not forget that. They worked hard, they got themselves back in, and, as people mentioned, they got some healthy bodies back and they became stronger and better as the series went on. They found a way to win.”