BOSTON -- The small crowd waits to enter the Boston Bruins dressing room. There are maybe 100 of us, maybe a few more than that, notebooks and cameras and stunned expressions. We are bunched together on the fringe of a media work area, everybody pretty quiet, as the seismic events of the past, oh, 20 minutes continue to rock other parts of the Boston Garden last night.
Roar we hear from the ice surface, located on the other side of cinderblock walls and a few storage closets. Roar and roar again.
Did we see what we saw?
Yes, I guess we did.
Televisions are spaced throughout the media area to remind us, the NBC feed on some of the screens, the Canadian feed, the CBC, on the rest. They all show the invading Chicago Blackhawks skating around the home ice of the Bruins with the Stanley Cup. (The reason for the roars.) An amazing number of Blackhawks fans had found tickets, red and white jerseys spread among the dominant black and gold for the entire night, and now they were also here for the payoff, the celebration of their team's startling 3-2 win in Game Six to capture the Cup.
"Coming through," a security man says.
Here comes Bruins team president Cam Neely. Shell-shocked. Here comes Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs. Not happy. Here comes Gregory Campbell, the Bruin who played that shift with his broken leg. How long ago was that? A week? A month? Hard to remember. He wears a cast now. Also not happy.
Here comes a big pallet filled with cases of soda. The deconstruction of the scene already has begun. Here comes a stretcher, pushed by an EMT, defibrillators and emergency stuff piled on top, not necessary now.
Everything happens slow and fast at the same time. One moment, we were on the ninth floor in the press box. The Bruins were ahead, 2-1, two minutes to play, golden, halfway to Chicago to play a deciding seventh game on Wednesday night. ("It's like killing a two-minute penalty to get to Game 7," a woman next to me said.) With a minute and 16 seconds left, whoa, the game was tied, 2-2, Bryan Bickell dancing after he converted a sweet pass from Jonathan Toews. Shock? Of course.
About 18 seconds later -- 18 seconds, I was still writing down the details of the tying goal, thinking about overtime -- Blackhawks center Dave Bolland was doing the dancing after he stuffed a rebound of a deflected shot off the post past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. The score was 3-2. No overtime. 59 seconds later the game was done.
The experience was like watching a heavyweight championship fight, haymakers all night from both sides, then a one-two knockout combination to beat the fighter who was ahead on points. Eight…nine…ten. We were on an elevator. Fast as that. We were on the third floor, ice level in the small crowd.
"The Bruins locker room is open," some National Hockey League official finally says.
For eight weeks, the local story had built, bigger and bigger, from the miracle last-minute win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the first round, through the wins over the New York Rangers and then the Pittsburgh Penguins. If you had followed it all -- day after day, week after week, no doubt the same way in Chicago -- you had watched as beards grew longer and injuries were accumulated, as heroes stepped forward, as neighbors, who couldn't care less about hockey, now wore team T-shirts to take out the garbage.
This loss at the end, the way it happened, was a communal jolt in Boston. The players had become characters in the local dialogue, funny or earnest or shaky or smart or not-so-smart as the games and anecdotes accumulated. Now the dialogue was done, finished? This was the downbeat ending to the whole thing.
"I've never felt anything like this," young winger Tyler Seguin says, cameras staring into his face. "I've never cried for as long as I did tonight. It sucks."
"It's a bad feeling," flashy defenseman Johnny Boychuk says. "Bad, like an awful feeling. You really can't describe it. As a player, it's probably one of the worst feelings you can get when you are up by one goal with a minute twenty left and somehow lose the game. It's just like total shock. I mean you are going to remember this forever. Forever."
Patrice Bergeron, best player on the team, face of the team, is surrounded against one wall. He describes coming back to action, obviously still injured -- broken rib, torn rib cartilege, separated shoulder, you name it -- taped back together after finishing the fifth game of the series in a Chicago hospital. Rask, the goalie, surrounded on the other wall, describes the chaos of those last two goals.
"Yeah, for sure, shocking," he says. "You think you have things under control …We're thinking, 'Oh, we're just going to keep it tight and maybe score an empty-netter.' And then, all of a sudden, they score a goal. You have to go out there and keep playing. Many times it goes like that before a goal, lose the momentum, and that's what happened. They got another shot, a deflection, a rebound, and a goal."
I gravitate toward a far corner where Zdeno Chara, the Bruins captain, sits at his locker. He is still in his full uniform, pads and all. Only his skates have been removed and he has put them at the top of his locker stall, almost hanging over his head.
There has been something wrong with Chara -- an injury, probably more than one -- for at least the second half of the series. He has been unable to shoot that 100 miles per hour slapshot from the point. He has been unable to move with the strange grace he usually possesses for a 6-foot-9 human being. He has resembled a normal 6-foot-9 human being, if there is such a thing. He has skated as if his feet were tired. He has fallen down at inopportune times. He was on the ice for 10 of 11 goals leading up to the clincher.
"Are you injured?" a reporter asks.
"I'm not talking about my physical status," the captain says. "Sorry."
I listen for the rest of his interview. He does not say much, locked into the usual sportspeak of everyone trying hard and everyone being physical and all of that. He does talk about how close all of the games were, most of them one-goal differences, three of them overtimes. He does wrap up the night in one sentence.
"It's a tough way to lose," he says, "a tough way to lose a game, a tough way to lose a series."
Outside, on the ice, the Blackhawks continue to celebrate. The families of the players have come down and are having their pictures taken with the Cup. The Blackhawks fans are still gathered around the lower bowl of the arena. This is their communal jolt. They shout some Chicago cheers and single out players for applause and a woman holds a sign that reads "We're Bringing Home the Cup Again, Chicago."
And she is absolutely right.