BOSTON -- Bruins fans and players who had enjoyed a warm, sunlit day and early evening were surprised on exiting TD Garden to be pelted by a cold, biting rain. It was a fitting conclusion to the worst Stanley Cup Playoff loss in team history.
Six years ago, Boston sports fans rejoiced when the Red Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series to defeat the hated New York Yankees, then swept the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series since 1918.
Now they know the reverse side of those emotions. History was indeed made when the Bruins became only the third NHL team to lose a series after taking a 3-0 lead -- and only the third to lose a Game 7 after taking a three-goal lead.
Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic is normally a bundle of energy, a big, strong, hard-hitting 21-year-old with a record of success -- MVP of the 2007 Memorial Cup -- and a bright future. Lucic is also loquacious, always happy to give forthright answers and he doesn't charge by the word.
But it was a different, quieter, seemingly smaller Lucic who sat whispering short answers Friday night in his dressing-room stall after the Bruins had been eliminated in historic fashion in the second round of the Eastern Conference Semifinal.
Like his teammates, Lucic identified three key reasons the Bruins lost 4-3 in Game 7 and thus the series: the lack of killer instinct after taking the 3-0 lead; the Flyers' third-period power-play goal during a too-many-men penalty that gave the Philadelphians a 4-3 lead with 7:08 remaining in regulation; and the injuries during the series to leading goal-scorer Marco Sturm and second-line center David Krejci.
After the Bruins took a 3-0 lead on Lucic's second goal of the first period, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette called a timeout -- and his team played much better after that, James van Riemsdyk scoring a deflected goal at 17:12 with a broken stick. The Flyers then ran all over the Bruins in the second period, scoring twice and outshooting them 11-6.
Lucic was asked what impact the timeout had.
"It was more so us," he lamented. "We just sat back. We didn't keep going and that's why we lost."
Next to him, the rugged, wide-bodied Mark Recchi, who normally stands and draws himself to his full height while talking to reporters, sat slumped in his stall. At 42, Recchi won't have many more chances to win his third career Stanley Cup -- and he seemed reluctant to let go of this failed chance. More than 30 minutes after the game ended, Recchi had yet to remove an article of his uniform.
For the second year in a row, the Bruins had lost a second-round series they were favored to win. The Carolina Hurricanes eliminated them last year -- in Game 7, in overtime. As tough as that loss was, this one may well have been worse.
"You don't get too many chances like this, and this is two years in a row," Recchi said. "You don't get too many chances to go to the third round and get an opportunity to go farther. This is what we play for. This is what I play for. It's very disheartening right now."
Rookie goalie Tuukka Rask led the league with a 1.97 goals-against average and .931 save percentage during the regular season and was spectacular against the Buffalo Sabres in the first round and for the first three games against the Flyers. Rask in no way failed his teammates -- but he was merely good, not spectacular, in the last four games.
Rask stood and answered all questions but his usual grace eluded him a couple of times -- like when he was asked why the Bruins were outshot 7-0 in the first few minutes of the second period.
"You tell me, you saw it," he snapped. "I don't know. We didn't have that same jump and we kind of backed off maybe a little bit. And they came at us pretty hard too. They played good hockey. I don't know. We just didn't find that same jump as the first 10 (minutes)."
"Lack of killer instinct," Recchi muttered, but it was the too-many-men penalty at 11:10 of the third period with the score tied 3-3 that ultimately cost the Bruins. Center Marc Savard waved his stick as he approached his bench and his replacement, Vladimir Sobotka, hopped over the boards. But Savard didn't see him and wheeled back into the play. Linesman Greg Devorski made the call.
"I think that it's a terrible call. It's a 3-3 series, Game 7, you don't make that call," Recchi said. "The referee was looking at the play the whole time and he didn't call it. The linesman called it. It was terrible judgment on his part but it is what it is now."
"One guy (Savard) has signaled to come off, and as he got by the bench, the other guys jumped and he changed his mind," Julien said. "He decided he was going to stay in there."
The Bruins famously lost a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final in 1979 when they were caught with too many men on the ice while leading the Montreal Canadiens with two minutes left in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Semifinal. The Habs' Guy Lafleur scored on the power play to tie the game, and Yvon Lambert won it in overtime to eliminate the Bruins. The Canadiens then went on to defeat the New York Rangers for their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup.
Throughout this series the Bruins refused to blame the injuries to Krejci and Sturm for their stumbles but it became more apparent that they were lacking key elements as they went 2 hours and 14 minutes without scoring from Game 4 to Game 6 and the final 45 minutes of Game 7 without a goal. The chemistry with Krejci that propelled Miroslav Satan to 3 goals and 5 points in the first three games wasn't there with Savard -- Satan had no points in the final four games.
Savard played his first game since his March 7 in Game 1 of this series and had the winner in overtime. He also had an assist in the Game 3 victory but only one assist after that.
"'Krech' and 'Sturmie', you can't really replace those guys," said right wing Shawn Thornton. "Some other guys got opportunities and I think they battled. ... Some guys stepped in and did what they could with what was given."
Meanwhile, Rask said that despite the historic series defeat, he was proud of his teammates for battling through injuries all season and rallying late to qualify for a playoff berth.
"Really proud," Rask said. "It was a tough season for us with all the injuries. A lot of guys stepped up and did a really good job for us. Everybody in this room should be proud of themselves."
Rookie Johnny Boychuk certainly should be. He went from a journeyman AHL player this season to a first-pairing NHL defenseman on a team that went to the second round of the playoffs -- in no small measure due to him. He responded with tears welling in his eyes, but not falling, tough to the end.
"We're not really worried about that right now," he said. "(We) got (our) dreams crushed, winning a Stanley Cup, and I can't really think about anything but that right now."
Nor was Julien handing out compliments.
"I'm not going to stand here and find excuses," he said. "The bottom line is we had a 3-0 lead in the series, we had a 3-0 lead tonight, and we blew both. So there are no excuses. We have to take the responsibility that goes with it. Everyone."