By Howard Ulman
---- — BOSTON — Don’t tell David Krejci that adversity makes you stronger.
Certainly not the shocking kind that left the Boston Bruins wondering how a night of hope became, in a mere 17 seconds, a long summer of disappointment.
That’s all the time the Chicago Blackhawks needed to score two goals in the last 76 seconds and win the Stanley Cup with a 3-2 victory on Monday night. For the Bruins, Sunday’s NHL draft, not a seventh and deciding game in Chicago, is the next big event.
“It’s not even a point to say that it’s going to make us stronger in the future,” said Krejci, the top scorer in this year’s playoffs. “It’s going to hurt for a while.”
What went wrong?
“I don’t know what happened,” the Bruins center said. “It just did, you know?”
Management, though, must push on through the pain.
The Bruins have no first-round draft pick. They sent that to the Dallas Stars on April 2 for Jaromir Jagr, who had no goals in the playoffs. He did have 10 assists but was limited in Game 6 by injury.
They do have key players who could become free agents — goalie Tuukka Rask, right wing Nathan Horton, defenseman Andrew Ference — plus Jagr and backup goalie Anton Khudobin.
Rask emerged as one of the NHL’s top goalies with a strong postseason. Horton had seven goals and 12 assists in the playoffs, but no goals and two assists against Chicago. Ference is a 13-year veteran and could be supplanted by Torey Krug or Matt Bartkowski. Both showed promise as rookies.
Rask is the most important member of that group. He played 36 of 48 games in the lockout-shortened season and all 22 playoff games. He was a worthy successor to Tim Thomas, the MVP of the 2011 postseason who took this season off rather than try for a second championship in three years.
“It was kind of a rollercoaster,” Rask said. “It was a difficult season even to start with because you know you’re going to have a real tight schedule, play almost every other night. We played some good hockey and some not-so-good hockey.
“Going to the playoffs we made a miracle in the first round going through Toronto after that deficit. We made a good run.”
The Bruins slumped to a 2-5-2 regular-season finish then were all but eliminated in the first round. They led Toronto 3-1 but lost the next two games and trailed 4-1 with less than 11 minutes left in Game 7. But they rallied for a 5-4 overtime victory on Patrice Bergeron’s goal.
They needed only five games to knock off the New York Rangers and just four against the high-scoring Pittsburgh Penguins. Rask held them to two goals in that stunning sweep.
Bring on the Blackhawks.
Sure, they lost just seven games during the regular season, but they had to rally from a 3-1 deficit against the Detroit Red Wings, winning the last game in overtime, to reach the finals.
The Bruins won two of the first three games against them but dropped the next two. In Game 6, they dominated the first period but led just 1-0.
“It’s a bad feeling” to lose after such a strong start, defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “As a player, it’s probably one of the worst feelings you can get when you are up by one goal with a minute and twenty left and somehow you lose the game. It’s just like a total shock.”
Coach Claude Julien said he wasn’t shocked, just disappointed — and proud of his players.
“It was tough walking in that dressing room and seeing how disappointed everybody was, and to try and tell them, as I often say, there’s a lot of teams that would have loved to have been in our position,” he said. “It’s my job to do that and to let them know that it’s been a great year.”
Boston had 17 players from the team that won the Cup in 2011. There shouldn’t be much turnover this offseason, either.
Horton could leave after playing on the first line with Krejci and Milan Lucic. Jagr also could be gone, leaving Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the second line. But most of the remaining top six forwards could be back along with the majority of a defensive corps led by Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
And suggestions that Julien be fired that seem to come up whenever the Bruins lose a playoff series should be silenced.
The Bruins have reached the playoffs in each of his six seasons. In this year’s finals he had to cope with injuries. Defensive center Gregory Campbell missed the series with a broken leg, Bergeron had a broken rib, torn cartilage and muscles and a separated shoulder. Horton had a shoulder injury.
Those were just the injuries that were known.
“The biggest challenge for me was probably these last few games starting with a full roster but not being able to end with it,” Julien said. “Somewhere along the way, you have to shorten your bench because you don’t have four lines and players were getting hurt either at the beginning or middle of the game.
“But playing hurt is part of it, and our guys did that.”
The Bruins are still waiting for Tyler Seguin to live up to his status as the second pick in the 2010 draft. He had 13 goals in the regular season but one in the playoffs.
“I’ve never felt anything like this. I’ve never cried for as long as I’ve known until tonight,” he said after the loss. “I love the guys in this locker room and I’m going to miss them this offseason, but I’m going to make sure I’m working even harder for next year.”
But this year’s setback will linger.
“You work so hard just to get to this point and give yourself a chance to get the Cup,” Bergeron said. “You feel like you’re right there and you have a chance to force Game 7, and, definitely, it hurts.”