Shattered Dreams in Boston

BOSTON – Only the truly sadistic could envision such a scenario.

Then again the true Bruins diehards, the men and women who feel betrayed by the Jacobs regime, those who worship at the altar of Espo, Orr and the Chief. The ultimate pessimists, fed up with nearly four decades of futility and tease after seemingly endless tease.

Only they would see this one coming.

Yes, Scott Walker, Scott (bleeping) Walker, the same guy who sucker punched Aaron Ward at the end of Game 5, sending shock waves through this series and waking up the preverbal sleeping bear, scored the game winner with 1:14 left in overtime, ending the Bruins ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ of a season and sending the Carolina Hurricanes to their second Eastern Conference final in four seasons.

“It’s pretty tough,” rookie Byron Bitz said. “You battle like hell like that, and it comes down to one goal, one shot. It’s like a knife to the heart.”

All the sports cliché’s and athlete speak in the world can’t conceal the inevitable. The Boston Bruins leave TD Banknorth Garden tonight with no more games left to play. No future opponents to prepare for and only next season to worry about. All because they overlooked one of sport’s destined truths. Every game, whether it’s a Game 3, or a Game 7, count the same in a playoff series and the first to win four of those games eventually moves on.

And it’s easier to win a playoff series when you need to win one of the last three games instead of three in a row.

“We dug ourselves in a hole,” Head Coach Claude Julien said. “If we had a better start and played better, we probably would have had a different result.”

Amid chants of ‘WE WANT IT’ throughout the third period and overtime, hockey fans were treated to an epic conclusion of a gutty, gritty seven game battle. Good guys, bad guys, storylines, subplots and everything in between. And in the climax, both teams came to play, and as Matt Cullen put it, ‘you had to work for every inch of space on the ice.’

Yet at the end of the night, the sad reality finally hit the Bruins dressing room, if they hadn’t waited until Game 5 to really ‘want it’ bad enough, they wouldn’t be teeing off tomorrow, nor would they have been here tonight.

“I’m not going to sit here and say they didn’t play well,” Marc Savard said. “They played some great hockey games. They had game plans and they stuck to them, but unfortunately at times, we swayed away from ours and we’re paying for it now.”

“It’s tough.”

Milan Lucic, who tied this epic clash with 13:47 left in the third period, summed it up best.

“We just didn’t have it in Game Two, Three and Four,” the forward said. “We needed to be better than that. I guess you can say, we shot ourselves in the foot that way.”

Surely the Hurricanes deserve credit. They were the better team for four of the seven games in this series. They won, the Bruins lost and they’ll give Sidney Crosby and the defending Eastern Conference champs all they can handle over the next two weeks.

Still, there’s something to be said about watching a fairy tale season turn into a pumpkin over the course of a week, only to see just enough recourse to keep the wayward wagon from swerving to its ultimate demise, all before taking the hopes of millions of Cup-starved fans and crushing them in an even crueler fashion than what they had prepared for just four nights ago.

You could say Lucy pulled the football from under Charlie Brown again.

“When we were playing our game, I thought we were having the best of Carolina,” Patrice Bergeron said. “When we weren’t, they were outskating and outplaying us. They’re a great team and it is very unfortunate. It hurts to say that because I thought we had what it really takes to go far.”

So did I, so did a lot of people.

This should have been different. There wasn’t a ‘hot goaltender’, nor is there a central figurehead to blame, much like ‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton was during the late 90’s, 2002 and 2004. Nor was it the fault of the Head Coach, who was not outmaneuvered by the suit to his side, like Mike Sullivan was in 2004.

The Bruins had more talent. They were deeper. They were more explosive. They absolutely beat Carolina to a living pulp throughout the regular season.

What they lacked was the experience and the emotion to get the job done. They weren’t tough to play against until they were placed against the wall and sucker punched into the series. And when that time did come, it wasn’t going to phase a club with 10 of its best players who had already reached hockey’s ultimate goal. Or a team that was down two goals with 80 seconds left in its season just a few weeks ago, only to still be standing.

“It sucks, you know,” Lucic said. “We worked hard all season, we got ourselves down 3-1 and we worked so hard to get back, but we didn’t get rewarded. It could be a much better feeling right now.”

This club may have had things come too easy. They started strong, coasted through the winter months and had many of us eagerly awaiting games like these. The optimist in all of us thought they’d be playing hockey well into late May and early June. Unlike last season, where scoring goals were a tooth and nail endeavor and the playoffs were considered playing with house money, the expectations got the better of us, and this hockey club.

“It was a good ride,” goaltender Tim Thomas said. “It was only seven months ago, or whatever it was, when a lot of people thought we’d barely make the playoffs and others thought we overachieved by getting there the year before.”

Thomas shouldn’t worry too, too much. For every disappointed optimist out there, there is surely a diehard pessimist that’s seen this coming for seven months now.

After all, they’re used to it.

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