A Lifetime of Seconds

There’s an old adage in hockey, “it only takes a second to score a goal.”  As long as there are more ticks on the clock than goals you trail by, hope is not lost.  Last night, the Chicago Blackhawks captured Lord Stanley’s Cup in perhaps the wildest 17 seconds the Final has ever seen.  With the net empty Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews, who sat out the entire third period of Game 5 in Chicago, due to fears of a possible concussion, deftly found Bryan Bickell open on the back post.  He delivered a perfect pass from behind the goal line, and Bickell buried the puck to tie the score at 2 with 1:16 remaining in regulation.   The goal was the product of excellent hard work by Chicago’s top line of Toews-Bickell-and Patrick Kane.  As so often happens at this time of year, “big players made big plays,” and overtime, for the 4th time in 6 games seemed all but certain.

Then, inexplicably, the Bruins stopped playing hockey.  Already I’ve heard Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask mentioned with the likes of Bill Buckner, Aaron Boone, and David Tyree as demons in Boston sports lore.   My hope is that this feeling is simply the emotional reaction to a devastating defeat, because Rask played too well for too much of both this series and the entire playoffs to warrant blame for last night’s collapse.  The blame, at least equally if not more, rests with the five men on the ice in front of Rask.  Obviously, at this point in the season everyone’s bruised, battered, and exhausted.  Yet, five Bruins: Johnny Boychuck, Andrew Ference, Nathan Horton, David Krejci, and Milan Lucic clearly looked like they were coasting to overtime.  One couldn’t blame them for being tired after 6 games and nearly 23 periods of hockey over the last week and half, but whether it was fatigue or a near catatonic shock from giving up the tying goal at this point is irrelevant.  The fact is, they hardly skated and barely played the ensuing shift, seeming content to take it to OT.  Chicago had a different idea, and made the Bruins pay dearly for their acquiescence.

17 seconds after the tying goal, Dave Bolland silenced the Boston faithful.

17 seconds after the tying goal, Dave Bolland silenced the Boston faithful.

I don’t single these players out to kill them guys for what happened, I’m merely defending Rask.  Blame for this should, and will, be shared up and down the Bruins roster.  Further, there’s nothing I or anyone else can say that will change the fact that these guys will live with that forever.  It’s foolish to think that every guy on every professional team gives every ounce of himself to every play in every game.  Sure, that’s the fan ideal but anyone who honestly believes that to be the case is blind at best and idiotic at worst.  Do you put that same effort into your daily job?  Do I?  Who are we to expect professional athletes to do the same?

As fans, we always complain about the pro athlete.  Fans constantly attack pro athletes saying, “They make millions playing a kid’s game, can’t they just shut up and go to camp instead of holding out?” or “If I had his talent, I’d be such a better teammate I’d never take plays off;” among other iterations along the same lines.  Let he who analyzes his spreadsheets with the same determination and effort every day for 10 years cast the first stone in this situation.  The fact is players on every team, throughout the NHL, and across all sports relax, perhaps sometimes only subconsciously, at various times throughout a contest; this was simply a case of awful timing.  The Bruins fought valiantly, but stumbled at the worst possible moment and paid the price for it.  Rask knows it, Boychuck knows it, Ference knows it, Horton, Krejci and Lucic all know it, as does everyone on the bench (they were yelling from the moment the puck dropped on that center ice faceoff before the winning goal “On your toes boys!  On your toes!”).  They know it, they’ll live with it, and they’ll remember it; without the help of any fans and observers reminding them.

 

Jonathan Toews scored 1 goal and assisted on the equalizer in Game 6.  He's now a two-time Cup winning Captain, and only 25.

Jonathan Toews scored 1 goal and assisted on the equalizer in Game 6. He’s now a two-time Cup winning Captain, and only 25.

 

The real shame of it is, this was just a shitty way for Boston to go down.  The only people that would disagree with that statement likely reside in and around Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  Hawks fans, jubilant at winning the Cup for the 2nd time in 4 years are likely glad it’s over and in their city, but even they would have to admit this series deserved a more fitting end than their admirable opponent kind of mailing it in with under a minute to go.  They may not admit it right away, but the hockey fan in them will look back and wonder how one of the best Finals since the 04 lockout ended with such a whimper from a worthy adversary on their own ice.  Just thinking about how the Bruins got there, they had to scratch and claw their way past those Maple Leafs of Toronto against similar odds the Blackhawks faced, to triumph and steam roll the Rangers and Penguins, the same mighty Penguins few hockey “experts” did not pick to hoist the Cup as the playoffs started.  The same team that brutalized the Penguins and held their vaunted offense to only two goals across four games suddenly fell asleep at the most crucial moment of the season. 

This, of course, is not to take anything away from the Chicago Blackhawks.  Deserving champions in every sense of the word.  They opened this abbreviated season recording at least a point in more consecutive games than any team in NHL history.  In the end, the best team throughout the season finished on top, something that appears to happen less and less in modern professional sports.  The Hawks looked vulnerable only once, when trailing longtime divisional foes the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 before rounding into form and winning 3 straight.   Chicago’s stars played like stars.  Jonthan Toews, is 25 years old and now a 2-time Stanley Cup winning Captain.  Patrick Kane became the 3rd straight and 4th overall American born Conn Smythe winner.  Along with solid performances from the likes of Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Corey Crawford, among others all showed Chicago to be the best team in hockey this year.

Patrick Kane is the third straight U.S. born Conn Smythe winner, and 4th overall.

Patrick Kane is the third straight U.S. born Conn Smythe winner, and 4th overall.

For Boston, the sting of this one will last quite a while.  Sure, there is no guarantee that had they won game six they would have prevailed in game seven.  However, a mere 17 second mental and physical lapse will stay with each and every Bruin on the roster, as well as their fans, likely until the next time the franchise gets its name on the Cup once again.  It’s impossible for every man to give his all through every tick of the clock throughout the season, but that won’t stop the question, why then?  Why that moment? 

“It only takes a second to score a goal.”

Turns out the Blackhawks actually needed 17.

The same 17 that 25 men with gold B’s on black sweaters will never forget.  And never have back.