By Allan Muir
Common sense tells you that it was one game. Just one game.
And since it still requires four wins to hoist the Stanley Cup, that makes it a little early for anyone to start planning a parade … or a postmortem.
But when Andrew Shaw ended the opener of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night with a triple-overtime dagger, it wasn’t really just one win for the Chicago Blackhawks. And it was so much worse than one loss for the Boston Bruins.
It’s not just that the B’s failed to grab a game that was there for the taking. It’s how they let it all slip away. The result could end their championship dreams before they ever take root.
Blowing a 3-1, third-period lead on the road in a Cup final game? That’s bad.
But losing a heartbreaker in triple-OT? That’s devastating. And history shows that teams don’t usually come back from gaping, soul-sucking wounds like that.
Take a look at the 10 longest overtime games in NHL history. Notice a pattern? The winners of those games captured the series nine times out of 10.
Coincidence? Sure, just like it’s a coincidence that George Clooney does well with the ladies.
It doesn’t matter how professional you are, how focused you are, games like these crawl under your skin and start to itch. You start picking away at the memories, fixating on little moments where you could have done something differently. Where you should have shot instead of passing. How you should have played a bounce differently, taken a different route or gotten a change sooner. You think about all the little bounces that went one way that could have changed the game if they’d only gone another.
And those thoughts eat away at you.
If the Bruins had lost this one 5-0, they could have written it off as a rough night and started from scratch tomorrow after having dropped a game that most people expected them to lose. Not now. The sting of this one is going to linger.
Cam Neely can tell you all about how that feels. The Bruins’ president was a star on a deep, experienced Boston team that ran up against the post-dynastic Edmonton Oilers in the 1990 Cup final. The B’s struggled early in the opener, falling behind 2-0 in the first period before a pair of third-period goals by Ray Bourque sent the game into overtime.
The momentum was Boston’s as extra time started, but it dissipated quickly. Chances evaporated, including a Neely bid that was knocked aside just before it trickled over the goal line, and the game was mired by soft ice and a brief power outage at the old Boston Garden.
When play resumed, the teams battled on into a third overtime, making it the longest game in Cup final history … and then Petr Klima became the Bucky Freaking Dent of hockey.
Klima, whose one-way effort kept him nailed to the Oilers’ bench most of the night, earned his place in history by finishing off a sluggish three-on-two break with a shot that barely squeaked past Boston goaltender Andy Moog.
It was a crushing loss. Neely later said that the Bruins never quite got past it emotionally, but he didn’t need to spell it out. The team’s wounded play said it all.
The Bruins fell meekly to Edmonton in five games.
Boston’s fans will point to the never-say-die comeback in Game 7 of the Toronto series as proof that this year’s squad isn’t inclined to go so quietly into the night. They might be right. It’s possible that this group might be a lot tougher mentally than that 1990 team, and that they might have already put this behind them.
It’s possible, yes. But it’s just as likely that the Bruins are done.