BOSTON — It was a celebration 17,928 days in the making.
But like a swarm of black flies invading an outdoor bridal shower, the pesky St. Louis Blues came into town and spoiled the party.
The Boston Bruins saw their dreams of a Stanley Cup celebration on home ice go by the wayside Wednesday night, falling in Game 7 to the opportunistic Blues, 4-1, before a hugely disappointed throng of fans at TD Garden.
An underdog in both the series and Game 7 itself, St. Louis scored twice on just four shots in the first period the latter of those coming with just 7.9 seconds to go until the first intermission — to stun both the Bruins and the capacity crowd. They essentially went into a defensive shell for the final 40 minutes, choking the offensive life out of the Bruins any time they tried to score.
In many ways, the contest was the polar opposite of the last Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final played by the Bruins, when they went up to Vancouver and blanked the Canucks, 4-0, to win the 2011 Cup crown.
This night, however, they were never close to replicating that. Only a goal from defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (back in the lineup for the first time since suffering a concussion in Game 2) with 130 seconds remaining prevented them from being shut out.
And so, after so optimistically believing they could hoist Lord Stanley’s mug on home ice for the first time since May 10, 1970 (beating these same St. Louis Blues, no less), this spectacular postseason run ended in ultimate disappointment.
The first period put even the most ardent Bruins fan’s faith to the test. Boston controlled the 20-minute frame territorially and on the shot clock (12-4), but found themselves trailing 2-0 as they troped off to their locker room.
How? As he was during his team’s Game 5 victory at the Garden, Blues rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington was on his game from the get-go. Using his plump white goalie pads as his greatest weapon, he turned aside premium scoring bids by David Krejci (2), Marcus Johansson, Patrice Bergeron (2) and Jake DeBrusk by moving adroitly in his crease with poise.
After Jaden Schwartz had the game’s first shot on net 27 seconds into the contest, the Blues didn’t have another on Tuukka Rask for the next 16-plus minutes. But they make their last two count, with Ryan O’Reilly tipping home Alex Pietrangelo’s shot from the point with a little over three minutes to go until the break, before Pietrangelo doubled his team’s lead.
The second goal allowed was particularly poorous for the Bruins, who saw Brad Marchand go for a line change with 10 seconds left in the period and allow Pietrangelo, the trailer on the play as St. Louis took off towards the offensive zone, uncovered. Following the play, Pietrangelo took a drop pass from Schwartz, skated in on Rask and beat him with a high backhand shot with just 7.9 ticks left on the scoreboard clock.
This was the perfect scenario for the Midwesterners, who went into a defensive shell in the middle period and turned that 20-minute frame into a tractor pull. They forced the Bruins into playing the style that they dictated, keeping four players back in the defensive zone every time Boston got ahold of the puck and began moving up ice with momentum.
This meant that the Bruins couldn’t get close to Binnington: only two of their shots on goal, by David Pastrnak and DeBrusk, came from closer than 34 feet in front of the net. By keeping the hosts cycling and circling on the offensive perimeter, the Blues had them frustrated while giving their own netminder plenty of space to stop any shots that were flung his way.
When Brayden Schenn scored on a one-timer out front with a little less than 10 minutes to play in the third period, some fans started leaving for the exits. Others, the clear minority in the crowd wearing royal blue St. Louis jerseys and T-shirts, started a small but vocal ‘Let’s Go Blues!’ chant. Zach Sanford -- who was born at Salem Hospital -- drove home the final nail in the Bruins’ coffin by scoring with 4:38 to go.
The Bruins’ foruitous postseason run, one that saw them defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games for the second straight season, dispatch of the Columbus Blue Jackets in six contests and sweep the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final, ended with a thud. The first line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak never got untracked against the Blues, and even the all-world goaltending turned in by Rask over the last two months couldn’t save them on the final evening of the season.
It was a playoff run where the Bruins both had and made a lot of their own luck.
But Wednesday night in Game 7, their luck finally ran out.
Phil Stacey, the Executive Sports Editor of The Salem News, covers the Boston Bruins for CNHI Sports Boston. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN