- Jackie MacMullan, ESPNBoston.com columnist
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BOSTON -- Seventeen seconds.
About as long as it took for you to yank open the fridge to reach for that celebratory beer. As quickly as it took you to turn on your laptop to start perusing flights to Chicago for a winner-take-all Stanley Cup Game 7.
That's all the Chicago Blackhawks needed to knock the Boston Bruins to their collective knees, to spirit away the Stanley Cup right under the noses of an utterly stunned TD Garden crowd that moments earlier was basking in the giddy knowledge that their beloved hockey team was about to wrap up Game 6.
There is no shame in losing to a talented Blackhawks team. Chicago earned its turn with Lord Stanley's coveted chalice by demonstrating a resilient knack that produced one clutch goal after another throughout the entire postseason.
Remember how the Blackhawks were down 3-1 to the Bruins in Game 1 before coming roaring back to steal the win in triple overtime? Of course, that was nothing compared to the incredible comeback they staged against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals, when they were down 3-1 in the series before racheting it up and storming back to win in seven games.
Their offensive arsenal included the marvelous (and Conn Smythe Trophy-winning) Patrick Kane, that opportunistic ball of energy, Bryan Bickell, and indefatigable captain Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks' speed and skill enabled them to outpace the increasingly vulnerable Bruins defensive corps.
The Blackhawks deserve each and every accolade that will be bestowed on them in the days ahead.
But when you are leading 2-1 with a mere 77 seconds left in the game, on your own ice, with a chance to extend your season, having just killed off a penalty, it makes for a long, long, long, long offseason when you don't close the deal.
That is what these Bruins will be forced to gnaw on during an endless summer of what-might-have-beens.
"We had Game 7 in front of us," Bruins center David Krejci said. "It was right there. I felt we played a pretty good game, and we lost it.
"We just gave it to them, basically."
"This season we were known to lose a couple of leads," goaltender Tuukka Rask said in a silent, shocked Bruins dressing room. "Even in the regular season, we were up by goals and we lost the games. I guess that sums it up pretty good."
"It's tough to put into words how we are feeling right now," said Patrice Bergeron, who revealed following the game he played through a broken rib and torn cartilage during the series and suffered a separated shoulder in Game 6. "You work so hard to get to this point, for a chance at the Cup. You feel like you are right there, with a chance to force Game 7."
And it all falls apart.
Would-be Bruins hero Milan Lucic knocked in the puck with 7:49 left in the game to provide his team with a 2-1 cushion. A high-sticking call on Chris Kelly two minutes later sent him to the box and gave the Blackhawks a power play, but, as they did through most of this final, they came up empty. Once again, the Bruins' penalty-killers did their job.
The Bruins had the Blackhawks right where they wanted them.
"I felt like we had it, you know," Krejci said.
The tying Chicago goal came with just 1:16 left in the game. Toews retrieved the puck from behind the net, put it on Bickell's stick in front, and Bickell blasted it past Rask.
Just like that, a 2-1 Chicago deficit was an improbable 3-2 Chicago advantage.
Just like that, the Blackhawks were skating on the TD Garden ice, hoisting the Stanley Cup and celebrating their second championship in four years.
Just like that, the Bruins had lost control of a game that should have belonged to them.
"Shocking," Rask said. "You think you have things under control. We killed a big penalty there. We were thinking, 'Oh, we're just going to keep it tight and score maybe an empty-netter."'
Instead, the Bruins found themselves frantically pulling their own netminder, trying to regain their composure in time to submit one last, spirited stand.
It was too late. In a matter of 17 seconds, their entire season had collapsed in a heap.
Asked how long this loss would stay with him, a somber Boychuk admitted, "Forever."
A short time ago, the Bruins were anointed the team of destiny in this lockout-shortened season. They did, after all, erase a three-goal, third-period deficit in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They subsequently made quick work of the New York Rangers, then swept the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins. They looked, at times, simply unbeatable.
Their tough, physical, defensive-minded style also stymied the Blackhawks early in the finals. Boston carved out a 2-1 series lead, but in the final three games, Chicago's forwards found daylight, room to skate and ways to score. Coach Joel Quenneville reunited Toews, Kane and Bickell on the same line and never looked back.
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, the pillar of the Boston defense, finished his playoffs on the ice for seven of Chicago's final 12 goals. While there was mounting speculation that Chara played through this postseason with injuries of his own, the proud veteran refused to use that as an excuse.
"I'm not talking about my physical status," he said. "Sorry."
"I'd say 90 percent of us were banged up with something," said Tyler Seguin, who played a spirited season finale and recorded an assist for his efforts. "I'm sure you will hear more and more as time goes on over the next few days."
As most hockey pundits will tell you, if you're not hurt this time of year, you're not playing hard enough. The Blackhawks also had their share of dinged-up players, so injuries alone cannot explain away this inexplicable late-game implosion.
When the shock of what has just occurred subsides, the Bruins players will segue to the inevitable pain and frustration that is soon to follow.
Some of them will be able to look back at 2013 as a season in which they demonstrated their toughness, resiliency and camaraderie.
Yet too many of them will be left with the feeling that they let their city down during a time it needed a lift after being torn apart by terrorism and tragedy. The marthon bombings, their coach revealed, was never far from the Bruins' minds.
"I think that's what's hard right now for the players," Claude Julien conceded. "We had more reason than just ourselves to win a Cup."
The difference between elation and despair is pencil thin. It's what makes professional hockey so compelling and so heartbreaking, all at the same time.
Boston will have to learn to live with each and every one of them.
The Bruins' shot at Game 7 for the Cup slipped away in just 17 seconds.