Bruins left to ponder what could have been

The media crunch around his locker room stall was huge, although after several rounds of questions, it began to thin out.

There really wasn’t a lot for a glum Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask to say late Wednesday night after the team’s devastating 4-1 loss to St. Louis in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

But it was just too familiar territory for Rask, talking about coming up short while an opposing goaltender – in this case, the Blues’ Jordan Binnington – played out of his mind.

“You’re playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, and there’s always pressure,” Rask said. “It mattered to us that we were home. … When you’re down 2-0, you try and try and try and nothing goes through. … That’s the way it goes sometimes.

“It was a nightmare for me, obviously. I barely didn’t make a save in the first. … (Biddington) made the saves when he needed. That’s what you want to do when you’re on the road.”

Rask was beaten by a Ryan O’Reilly blast from long range, and then an Alex Pietrangelo short range shot – thanks, Brad Marchand, for leaving the ice too soon – in the final 10 seconds of the first, it was 2-0 Blues and essentially the Bruins Cup hopes were evaporating from the ice into the TD Garden air. Done.

Then the Blues were able to play their shutdown game, as they had in their other wins in the series – force the Bruins forwards wide and take away the middle of the ice. The Bruins were really praying for that one goal.

“They’re a tough team to beat when they have the lead,” Rask said.

One goal. The Bruins were dying for just one goal to turn the building into their favor.

“We thought we were going to do it,” Marchand said. “It takes one goal to get going, starting momentum. We couldn’t get that one early enough.”

And the focus will be on many things. It will be on the Bruins top line that didn’t produce the entire series, allowing the Blues to win most 5 on 5 situations. Marchand had two goals in the series – an empty netter and 5-on-3. The Blues defensive blanket was obvious. They physically controled things, and when they could get an opportunity, they did their best to take advantage of it.

It worked. The Blues are great with a lead, lousy without it.

“We wanted to get on the forecheck, we wanted to be physical, we wanted to be hard to play against,” Blues coach Craig Berube said.

They were just that.

“They were very opportunistic, I think,” Rask said. “It seemed their game plan was not to shoot, just dump it in, and then capitalize on mistakes. Which they did.”

And there will be more heat on Rask, simply because in the game that mattered most, he wasn’t Tim Thomas. Or Jordan Binnington, for that matter.

“There really shouldn’t be,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We’re a team. … They outplayed us at certain moments in the game … (Rask) was terrific the whole playoffs. He’s our best player. I don’t think anybody’s leaving the locker room saying they put their best foot forward. … We didn’t get it done.”

It was obviously emotional in the Bruins dressing room. Warrior Zdeno Chara hugged a team employee in tears. Players look dazed.

Yet the grind will begin anew in September with training camp, then comes a long regular season, and then likely the playoffs again. Can even Bruins fans envisionin putting themselves through this again? They played 24 Stanley Cup playoff games, and that’s nearly a third of a regular schedule right there.

This isn’t like football, when the Patriots would need to win two playoff games (at least one usually against a vastly inferior team) to make it to the Super Bowl. You’ve got to battle your way through three playoff series just to get to the Cup Finals, and they were even more grueling for the Blues than the Bruins, if you can believe that. Things worked out so well for the Bruins with other top Eastern Conference teams being eliminated, it would be hard to picture the same thing happening again.

Conversely, the Blues were the worst team in terms of points in the league heading into the New Year. Don’t be fooled by the regular season. In the playoffs, a physical, defensive style team is likely going to shut down a skilled one. Just ask Patrice Bergeron, Marchand, David Pastrnak, etc.

We doubt either team will be back in the Finals next year, but you never know.

“It’s a great season, we battled hard, we’re proud of everybody here,” Rask said. “But 15 minutes after the game ends, I don’t think anything is going to make us feel better.”

Or months after the game, either.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251, or@Telegraph_TomK, or tking@nashuatelegraph.com