BOSTON — It was obvious that Brad Marchand had been crying.
That made him no different than most of his brothers who also wore Black-and-Gold sweaters late Wednesday night.
Speaking in front of his locker in the funereal atmosphere that was the Boston Bruins locker room, Marchand paused several times to collect himself and find the right words to try and describe what had just happened.
At the same moment Marchand was trying to fathom where it went awry, the St. Louis Blues and their families were joyously celebrating with the Stanley Cup on the TD Garden ice following their 4-1 Game 7 triumph.
“Just in disbelief that it didn’t come together. That’s not how you plan it out. It’s heartbreak,” said the Bruins left wing.
Winning 15 playoff games in one season is remarkable, but it takes 16 to lift the Cup. The resilient Blues bounced back from a tepid Game 6 effort at home and played a near-perfect game to hoist the Cup for the first time.
“It’s a heartbreaker. It’s tough to describe,” Marchand said quietly. “You know, they just took our dream, our lifetime dream from us, everything we’ve worked for our entire lives, and it’s 60 minutes away from that. You can’t describe it.”
Was this the most painful loss of his nine-year NHL career?
“Yup. By far,” said Marchand.
He was not alone.
“You work so hard to get to this point and, you know, it’s tough,” Marchand’s centerman, Patrice Bergeron, remarked. “There are guys that this could have been our last shot. That stings even more.”
“It just hurts and it’s going to hurt for a while,” another veteran, David Krejci, said in a near-whisper. “Been there before (referring to Boston’s 2013 Cup loss to the Chicago Blackhawks) and haven’t gotten over it yet. So I don’t think I’ll ever get over this one, either.
“Definitely the hardest loss in my career for sure.”
It hurt in a myriad of ways for the Bruins, who to a man believed they had all the tools necessary to complete sport’s most difficult journey.
They wanted to win the Cup itself, naturally, but their reasons for doing so were manifold.
Start with their 42-year-old captain, Zdeno Chara, playing the last three games in immeasurable pain courtesy of a broken jaw suffered in Game 4.
There were some veterans — forward David Backes, defenseman Torey Krug, to name two — that wanted to have their names engraved on the silver chalice. Add head coach Bruce Cassidy to that mix, too.
They wanted their young corps of guys like David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk forever linked in hockey immortality. They wanted to do it for their playoff MVP, goaltender Tuukka Rask, knowing full well they wouldn’t have gotten within sniffing distance of the Final without his spectacular play throughout the postseason.
And of course they wanted to do it for their fans, to give them a chance to celebrate an NHL title at home for the first time in 49 years.
But McAvoy put it best when he said, “It wasn’t meant to be.”
In what had been a rough-and-tumble series over the half dozen contests that preceded Wednesda, just one penalty — a delay of game call when the Blues’ Colton Parayko — was called in this penultimate Game 7. For Boston, which had feasted on the power play the entire postseason, this wasn’t a good omen.
The first line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak continued to struggle and bounces of the puck that had fortuitously gone Boston’s way so frequently in their 15 previous wins disappeared inside Binnington’s big glove or got swallowed up by one of his pads.
“They deserved it tonight, as hard as that is to say,” said Bruins center Charlie Coyle, one of three Massachusetts natives who were attempting to win a Cup with their boyhood team. “It’s the way they play; they play hard and they made it tough on us.”
The Blues had just 20 shots on net, but valued quality over quantity.
“There’s not a whole lot there, (but) they capitalized on every shot,” said Rask. “They just wanted to dump it in and wait for mistakes. Which they did.”
Down two goals after 20 minutes — with the second goal a direct result of an inopportune line change by Marchand with 10 seconds left in the first, the Bruins had to play catch up the rest of the way — never a winning formula.
The Blues were not about to let a championship 52 years in the making slip by the way it did three nights earlier on their home ice. They doubled their score in the third period on tallies from Brayden Schenn and Zach Sanford.
“It’s hard to find words,” said Chara, after playing in his NHL record 14th Game 7. “I’m sure everyone pictured it differently.”
This is the last time this particular group of Boston Bruins will ever play together again. Offseason changes are on the near horizon, with certain players going and others coming in.
The magical journey that was the 2018-19 Bruins season had plenty of thrills. But the last ride of the season came off the rails.
“You never know when you’ll get that chance again,” said Marchand. “It could be the last one for all of us.
“You know, when you’re that close and it doesn’t happen, it hurts.”
Phil Stacey covers the Boston Bruins for CNHI Sports Boston. Contact him at email@example.com or @PhilStacey_SN