Their hockey souls were lost and so was their hockey season. They were gone. They were history.
Their coach had summoned his best Robert Louis Stevenson the previous night, calling them Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And with only a few minutes remaining in this most improbable of sporting nights, mister, the Bruins' hides definitely were beaten.
Only, they weren't gone. They weren't beaten.
When coaches and broadcasters and sports writers rush to stretch the Jekyll and Hyde metaphor, they often forget the title of Stevenson's classic starts with "Strange Story of …" And, man, when this strange, classic night was over, when Milan Lucic was a hero, and Patrice Bergeron was an even bigger hero in this 5-4, Game 7 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, there was Bruins coach Claude Julien left smiling and telling everyone how right he was.
"I was saying we were a Jekyll and Hyde hockey club from game to game, and I told them after the game, they didn't disappoint me," Julien said after the Bruins had staged the most improbable of victories. "This time they showed that same thing in just one game.
"We saw the worst of our team. We saw the best of our team. At least we saved the best for last."
Somewhere there is a better sport than ice hockey, Game 7, overtime. Somewhere somebody invented a game more riveting, more capable of making hearts jump and stop and jump again. Somewhere somebody invented a game more intense, crazier, a game that can change the emotions of thousands of people with one hop.
Only I've never found it. And I've been looking for nearly four decades of my professional life.
"And this," Bergeron said, "was one of the crazy ones."
Where to start? Where to start?
The Leafs with a 4-1 third period lead probably is the best place. With everything on the line, the Bruins had looked bad, nearly lifeless with their season on the line. And when former Bruin Phil Kessel jammed in the rebound of a shot off the post by Nazem Kadri and then Kadri knocked in the rebound of Kessel's shot off a 2-on-1 break, it became almost laughingly ugly.
Bruins fans had spent a lot of time the past few years mocking Kessel and his trade to Toronto and now he seemed to be mocking them with his swift, dedicated play.
"It looked very bleak," Brad Marchand said. "It was tough being on the bench and being booed and looking at those seconds count down. But after [David] Krejci's line got that first one for us, you could see the emotion on the bench and guys were starting to believe."
Bergeron, Marchand, Tyler Seguin, any number of Bruins were getting lit up on talk radio the past few days after the team had frittered away a 3-1 series lead. No doubt, 2011 totally changed the narrative. The Bruins and their fans will always have 2011 and their first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
Still, they had become one of only four teams in the history of major league sports to blow a 3-0 series lead in 2010. And beyond that disaster against the Flyers, Julien's teams had lost seventh games in 2008 to Montreal, 2009 to Carolina and 2012 to the Caps.
As fascinating as the off-season will shake out in Boston with the Celtics and Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers, amid the booing and fans already filing out with five minutes to go, it sure looked as if the Bruins' offseason could be just as fascinating. The Bruins looked to be too loyal to too many players after the Stanley Cup and now, well, now it was getting ugly at TD Garden.
Lucic had other ideas. His coach may have been summoning Stevenson, but Lucic was summoning his inner Cam Neely. He refused to lose. With 10:42 left, Lucic wrapped the puck around the net to Nathan Horton and Horton beat James Reimer to the short side to make it 4-2.
"We stayed resilient," Bergeron said. "We didn't play the whole game the way we wanted, but we showed some character. We go the momentum. Our legs were back.
"Our guys stayed positive even when we were down three. That second goal was huge."
So now Julien had pulled goalie Tuukka Rask in favor of an extra attacker and there was Lucic again, this time stuffing in the rebound of a Zdeno Chara shot from the right point with 1:22 left in regulation.
"Milan told me before the game he felt good," Julien said. "We thought getting the early rest might have been a blessing in disguise. Bergy and Lucic are big heroes for us tonight."
The early rest was caused by a plane malfunction that stranded the Bruins in Toronto Sunday night after their Game 6 loss. The Leafs made it to Boston. The Bruins didn't arrive until late morning. In a situation like this, there are no excuses, of course, either you want it or you don't. And it didn't look as if the Bruins wanted it until they were down 4-1.
At that point, I already was sifting through the Internet for Jekyll and Hyde quotes to rip the Bruins for such a horrible Game 7 showing.
How about this line?
"I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse."
"I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side a little drowsed, promising subsequent penitence, but not yet moved to begin."
Or this one?
"If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also."
"There comes an end to all things; the most capacious measure is filled at last; and this brief condescension to evil finally destroyed the balance of my soul."
Yes, I had four lines for every one of the Bruins' four lines. Except for the Krecji line the Bruins' forwards had dissolved as the series went on. Certainly, Bergeron, who had only one point in the first six games, and his line were in for their share of his criticism.
"I'm probably my hardest critic," Bergeron, one of the strong leaders and best two-way forwards in the game. "Whatever pressure is outside of me, I don't worry about it, because I already have higher expectations than anyone else.
"Everyone has to step up in the playoffs. And tonight was my turn."
Bergeron made it sound so pedestrian. He made it sound so calm. It wasn't. It was nuts. With Rask out, Chara went in front of the net and caused some kind of solar, lunar, hockey eclipse. He blocked Reimer's view as Bergeron sent a hard 45-foot wrister past the Leafs goalie to tie with 50.2 seconds — only 31 seconds after Lucic's goal — left in regulation.
Bergeron dropped to one knee and gave it a double fist pump.
"It was a great feeling," Bergeron said. "Emotions were very high."
By this point, TD Garden was reaching an incredible decibel count. As the game headed to overtime, the crowd spent the intermission in a sort of group karaoke of "Don't Stop Believing," "Livin' On A Prayer" and "Shipping Up To Boston." I swear I thought Papelbon was going to come out and start dancing on the ice.
"We knew we had the momentum heading into overtime," Marchand said. "Giving up the lead like that can be a killer."
"We were confident," Julien said. The guys wanted to finish the job."
They did. At 6:05 into overtime, with Seguin and Marchand — who had been so criticized for their play the past week — working like crazy around the net, Bergeron knocked in the rebound of his own one-timer.
"It was a fun ending," Bergeron said.
That it was.