BOSTON -- Their voices were scratchy, or silent, or choked. They stared for seconds without speaking, the words stuck somewhere between minds clouded by exhaustion and bodies overwhelmed by the brick wall they had just run into. The feelings for the Boston Bruins were all too real, and impossible to comprehend.
"It's a heartbreaker," forward Brad Marchand said, his eyes red-rimmed and wet. "It's tough to describe. They just took our dream, our lifetime dream from us and everything we've worked for our entire lives. Sixty minutes away from that. You can't describe it."
They tried. They tried to put into words what had just happened, the turnaround that occurred between the top-of-the-world feeling after extending the Stanley Cup Final to a winner-takes-all Game 7 with a victory in Game 6 to watching all that they had worked for come crashing down around them.
They had believed. They had failed.
"It sunk in right away," defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. "One side is elation, the other side is just … nothing."
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On their home ice, at TD Garden, the Bruins had just lost the Stanley Cup Final to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, 4-1, and they were left with disappointment and devastation and the feeling they could have done more, they could have done something. This wasn't how it was all meant to be.
"I think this group was so close, so tight, that was one of the best teams I was a part of," center David Krejci said. "This one's going to hurt for a long time. I haven't got over [losing in the Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013], this one hurts even more.
"It'll be tough. We'll see what the future brings, but that would be really, really hard, a really tough summer. And like I said, losses like that, it's hard to get over and you just kind of have to learn to live with it."
After getting all the way to Game 7, mostly on the strength of an all-time performance from goalie Tuukka Rask, Boston was unable to solve Blues goalie Jordan Binnington in the end. It was unable to get the production it needed from its top line, unable to slash through a St. Louis defense that clamped down as the game wore on.
"It's pretty devastating," Rask said. "It [stinks]."
He would have liked to have made more saves, to have done more, the way he had throughout the first 23 games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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But it didn't work out that way. Rask allowed a goal by Blues center Ryan O'Reilly at 16:47 of the first period off a deflection of a shot by defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, followed by a goal by defenseman Alex Pietrangelo with eight seconds remaining in the period after a bad change by Marchand. St. Louis had scored two goals on four shots in the period, and the Bruins had been unable to break through on 12.
"We created a lot of chances and shots, and I barely made a save, and it was 2-0," Rask said. "I really wanted to make one of those saves, didn't, but we tried to battle back."
He later added, "It was a nightmare for me, obviously."
But, still, they believed. They believed after the first period and after the second, and it was only after the Blues scored two more goals -- by center Brayden Schenn at 11:25 and forward Zach Sanford, a Massachusetts native, at 15:22 -- to go up 4-0 that the belief ever wavered.
They had thought this was their year, their trophy, their championship.
"Felt like it was there for us," Krejci said. "I believed in this group, every single game. I had a good feeling even after the first period that we'd come back. So yeah, that's really a tough one. Definitely hardest loss in my career, for sure."
They were stunned, even as it was sinking in, even as they watched St. Louis celebrate on the ice with sticks and gloves everywhere, with grins and tears and exhilaration, even as they saw expressed all the emotions they had expected to feel -- and didn't.
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Twelve hours earlier, coach Bruce Cassidy had said, of his legacy, "I just want my name on the [darn] Cup."
That will not happen this year. This may be as close as he ever gets.
Hockey, after all, is fickle.
"It's an empty feeling," Cassidy said. "It's a long year. Someone had to win and someone had to lose, and we came out on the wrong side of it. It's not the way you picture it. It's as simple as that."
This wasn't the first time that some of these Bruins had been through this. Six years ago, in the same building, they sat stunned in their dressing room after two goals in 17 seconds by the Blackhawks turned a series that looked bound for Game 7 into a Cup win for the opponent in Game 6.
It was a game and a loss that still stings. But this, this was worse.
"I'll never get over this," Marchand said. "Not over '13 yet. This hurts more than that. It's not something you ever forget."