A crowd of more than 67,000 packed into the stadium with a sea of Black & Gold reaching up to the lights and surrounding the field.
It was the perfect backdrop for a big stage like the Winter Classic.
For the home team, however, the game was anything but perfect, with Boston dropping a 5-1 loss to Montreal in the much anticipated New Year’s Day matchup.
Warmups came and went with the Bruins taking in their surroundings — the fans packing the stands, the music blasting — and making the long walk on to the field for introductions and anthems.
But when the puck dropped, the Black & Gold didn’t appear ready.
Tuukka Rask did begin the game turning aside a Montreal bid that brought out a deep “Tuuuuuuuukk” chant booming throughout the stadium.
But just 1:14 in, David Desharnais converted on a bouncing puck to beat Tuukka Rask and put Montreal up 1-0.
The loss wasn’t just disappointing.
“I’d say embarrassed more than disappointed,” said Rask. “Yeah, embarrassing loss.”
Teams suffer losses, even ones in this fashion, throughout the regular season. But one of this caliber on this stage?
“The unfortunate part is that I think we played one of our probably worst games at the worst time,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “ I think it just seemed like it was one of those nights we couldn't get anything going the first period. They were all over us, and it just didn't matter what we tried to do here, we just couldn't get it going.”
The Bruins were outshot 12-2 at one point in the first period, going more than 10 minutes without a shot on goal.
Rask provided cheer-worthy stops for the fans, with “Let’s Go Bru-ins” chants breaking out at times to try and get the team going. The Bruins weren’t able to generate much offensively at all, even with Rask keeping it a one-goal game after the first period.
“We didn’t have our legs, we weren’t moving, and they came at us hard,” Rask said.
“We obviously didn't deserve to win,” said Julien. “We kind of have to push this aside — and unfortunate that it was on a big stage like this, and you would like to have your team give a better performance. But we didn’t.”
The Bruins tried to up their physicality at points, and take advantage of their three power play opportunities (they held Montreal off the board on all four of their man advantages), but even those attempts fell short.
“Everyone’s really disappointed, really frustrated with the way we showed up,” said Bergeron. “And I can’t think of one reason why, but yeah, it’s tough to get embarrassed like that in a big game.”
When the Bruins found themselves down 2-0 in the second period, it appeared that Jimmy Hayes had jammed in the goal to pull Boston within one. The crowd reacted accordingly.
“All I can say it was probably a quick whistle,” said Julien. “The puck was loose underneath his skate. The referee lost sight of it. There was no explanation given to me. I’m just going by what they seemed to indicate the whistle had blown before the puck went in.”
It could have been the break they needed to gain momentum. It didn’t happen.
Rask kept up his sharp play, stopping a flurry of Canadiens chances, but Brendan Gallagher — in his return from injury — teamed up with Max Pacioretty to bat the puck in and make it 3-0.
Julien implemented line changes. The Bruins tried to pick up their game. They ended up landing 29 hits to Montreal’s 18.
Late in the second, Ryan Spooner had point-blank chance with 00.1 on the clock. Habs netminder Mike Condon flashed out the glove to rob the Bruins of any momentum heading to the third.
Matt Beleskey came through, though, at 3:56 in, when he deflected home an Adam McQuaid point shot to get the fans on their feet. Maybe this was the break, and the spark, that they needed.
“Let’s Go Bru-ins” immediately broke out, with the usual “Woo!” raining down on the Bruins.
Just over five minutes later, Pacioretty scored off the rush to make it 4-1. Another tally with 1:32 to go was the dagger.
“I think we just didn’t respond well to the big stage,” said Beleskey. “We were a little hesitant and that showed in the first period and they got that momentum and it’s tough to come back on them like that.”
“They get one really quickly and it’s frustrating for sure,” said Torey Krug. “No excuses, we just weren’t ready to play and we didn’t represent the Bruins or the City of Boston very well.”
Boston was missing Brad Marchand to suspension, along with David Krejci and Joonas Kemppainen to injuries. They missed Marchand’s spark, Krejci’s creatively and Kemppainen’s faceoff dominance in key situations.
“Well yeah I mean, you think that, especially when we’re missing guys like we are, you have to play hard and stick with the system and definitely didn’t look like it,” said Rask.
“I’ve always said that that’s no excuse…We have to do the job without them,” said Bergeron, who joined the rest of the Bruins in the locker room postgame who couldn’t point to how the night played out so horribly.
The Black & Gold were still appreciative of the opportunity to play in such a game — especially at Gillette Stadium, in the Patriots’ home, with tens of thousands of fans who had been looking forward to this game since its announcement last January.
“I was trying to do that in warmups and appreciate and soak everything in and realize how special it was to be on the ice and be there,” said Bergeron. “After that, I was trying to get focused and get back to being ready. It’s tough to enjoy when you’re playing catch-up hockey all game.”
To move on in the second half of the season, the Bruins will have to quickly put this game behind them, no matter how much it bruised their representation of the Black & Gold.
“Bottomline is it’s a two-point game,” said Bergeron. “It’s a regular season game…We’ve lost some games this year where we didn’t play our best and definitely disappointing on a big stage like the Winter Classic to not show up like that.”
“I always say the same thing, you don't have a choice — you've got to put these aside,” said Julien. “Things aren't going to get any easier right now.”
“We’re challenged right now, but that's where team comes into play, and you have to play for each other, probably a little bit harder and probably a little bit more determined.”