There is perhaps no dichotomy starker than seeing the winning and losing teams after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final; the undiluted joy of the winners contrasted with the sadness and exhaustion of the losers, whose dreams of getting their names on the most famous trophy in sports have come up one agonizing victory short.
Fans get an inside look at each extreme following the St. Louis Blues' 4-1 victory against the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Cup Final in the seventh and last installment of "Quest For The Stanley Cup," which debuted Friday at 6 p.m. ET exclusively on ESPN+ in the United States and YouTube.com/NHL in Canada and provides an inside look at the players and coaches from the remaining two teams in this year's playoffs.
The Blues get a chance to win the Cup in front of their own fans at Enterprise Center with a 2-1 win in Game 5, and as center Ryan O'Reilly takes his son on an off-day bicycle ride before Game 6, he pedals through a neighborhood awash in Blues flags and banners. But what O'Reilly says, "you grow up dreaming about as a kid" falls apart; the Bruins spoil the party with a 5-1 win, living up to coach Bruce Cassidy's commandment to "trust the guy beside you." One of those guys is rookie forward Karson Kuhlman, who scores on a perfectly placed third-period shot after replacing veteran David Backes, a former member of the Blues who is scratched for the second straight game.
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So it's back to TD Garden, where Boston center Patrice Bergeron perfectly captures the pregame sentiments of each team.
"Remember that kid's dream inside each and every one of us. We remember that. We don't forget," he says. "A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory, and it's going to be with each other, as a team. We put whatever it takes into tonight's game. Every second, every moment, is ours."
Unfortunately for the Bruins, that's not the case. Boston pelts rookie goalie Jordan Binnington for most of the first period, St. Louis quiets the crowd and leads 2-0 on late goals by O'Reilly and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. After a scoreless second, the Bruins push for a goal early in the third period, but Binnington refuses to budge and prevents Boston from getting the one goal that could have turned the game around.
Instead, goals by center Brayden Schenn and rookie forward Zach Sanford, a native of Salem, Massachusetts, give the Blues a 4-0 lead. A late goal by Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk spoils Binnington's shutout but does nothing to affect the outcome, which ends the season and sends the Blues into a euphoria they and their fans have never experienced.
Video: Quest For The Stanley Cup: Locker rooms ahead of Gm7
As the Blues mob Binnington and celebrate their first Stanley Cup championship since entering the NHL as part of the first wave of expansion in 1967, the Bruins quietly line up at center ice behind captain Zdeno Chara, still wearing the facial protection he's needed since blocking a shot in Game 4. Pietrangelo, now the captain of a Stanley Cup-winning team, salutes his counterpart when they greet one another before each moves on.
Chara and the Bruins bask in one final wave of applause and salute their fans before skating off the ice without the Stanley Cup. Instead, Pietrangelo hears the words every player dreams of hearing from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, "Come get the Stanley Cup."
The Bruins' emptiness contrasts with the Blues' unabated joy, and especially their biggest fan. Laila Anderson, an 11-year-old with a life-threatening immune disease who's shown earlier dissolving into tears when her mother tells her she's going to Game 7, now gets to celebrate on the ice with her favorite team.
"This is unreal. Unreal. You're the best. Thanks for coming. I'm so happy to have you," defenseman Colton Parayko says while embracing her before lifting the Cup and taking a knee while the Blues' biggest fan puts a hand on the trophy during a picture.
The quest for the Cup is done for another year. For the Blues, more than a half-century of disappointment is over. Their names will be engraved on the trophy after they, among the 31 teams that began the season more than nine months earlier, realized their goal.
"We did it," a triumphant Binnington says. "Legends."