Bruins loss to Blues a reminder of how hard it is to win championship

Jim Hackett
June 13, 2019 - 10:55 am

When a city’s professional teams win 12 championships in 18 years it can skew a person’s view. Welcome to Boston, where the championship blessings have been plentiful in these parts for nearly two decades.

Though the championship journey is never easy, the feeling of civic expectation after so much collective success can be hard to ignore. This time, the city felt it coming. Game 7 at home on the heels of two recent championships from the Red Sox and Patriots got the wheels of expectation in motion. Even more recently and relevant, the Bruins determined, gritty and dominating performance on the road in Game 6 Sunday night just added more weight to that expectation. The stage was set.

Then the game happened…

The 2019 Bruins most certainly had the medal to win it all. I still firmly believe that. They have the required talent, goaltending, grit and the resilience to win the big one but it just didn’t happen this time. There are tangible reasons for that and I’ll get into several but at the end of it all, the biggest culprit is the grind itself. The Stanley Cup playoffs has long been the ultimate reminder of how difficult this journey truly can and should be.

Winning championships is hard. No matter how many of our teams have won, or how clear the path or open the opportunity appears to be, what happened last night is not rare in the realm of sports. What has happened in this city over these last two decades is the true bizarro world stuff.

If you seek examples of how fleeting it all can be then look no further than the defending World Series champion Red Sox. Just seven and a half months removed from a season where quite literally everything fell their way, the exact opposite is happening. 119 wins and smooth sailing from April through October in 2018, to a startlingly mediocre 35-34 won-loss record right now.

Ying meet yang.

In 2018 when the Sox needed a clutch hit they got it. In 2019 it’s the same group and the thought of that continues to feel more than daunting game after game. When the timely hits actually do come this season it has become a surprise. When Chris Sale dominates, the bullpen fails. Rick Porcello pitches to win yesterday and one untimely defensive mistake nearly erases the opportunity to win. Same team, totally different results. Championship runs are fleeting and fragile indeed.

Last night I was struck by Zdeno Chara’s expression during the pregame announcements. While others stared down at their skates or into the abyss like a predator focused only on the task ahead, the wise and grizzled Chara looked around and seemed to drink in the moment. Watch the tape if you missed this. His expression and reaction was telling. Just hours away from finishing his 21st season and his third Stanley Cup championship opportunity, the realization that this could be it was on display all over his surgically repaired face.

That expression tells the real story here.

Brad Marchand had a tough night. His postgame demeanor was one of the worst after a loss that I’ve ever seen and it was merited. I felt bad for him. I feel bad for all of them. However, though his completely pedestrian first period shot on a half open net found its way into Jordan Binnington’s midsection (a terrible target) it’s not the ultimate cause for the loss. Neither was his horribly timed indecision just outside the Blues offensive zone that led to their second and soul crushing goal at the close of the period. Though those isolated plays certainly had a significant impact on the outcome, those moments and more are going to happen in do or die situations. They always do.

The Bruins lost the war of attrition last night but that war started and was felt long before last night in this series. As painfully difficult as it is, credit Blues coach Craig Berube for deploying a strategy that slowly but effectively chipped away at the Bruins armor. If you take a longer view of the series as a whole this outcome isn’t as surprising.

Don’t get me wrong, the moments within the moment like Marchand’s indecision and poor finishing by the forwards across the board last night matter to the highest degree. However, the reason those moments were so magnified was because of the slow and steady approach St. Louis took from the outset of the series. The physically punishing approach deployed took the necessary toll on their opponent and it put them in the best position to win this series. That position was a Game 7 situation, where the stage itself is the third team on the ice. It balances the playing surface allowing anything to happen. Including a championship loss for the hardworking and more talented Bruins.

With a collection of 12 championships in 18 years expectations across this great city were rightfully high. Leave it to the Stanley Cup playoffs and a Game 7 no matter the address, to bring balance to the championship universe.

Remember, winning championships is hard. It’s a grind. No matter how many any of our teams have won.

Related: Brad Marchand's mistake on Blues' second goal is the defining moment of Bruins' Game 7 loss