Charlie McAvoy put on a wallop 50 times during hockey’s long second season. The tough, quick skating defenseman knocked down 43 shots through 24 games of playoffs, scored twice and assisted on six more goals. Yet, one of the enduring images from last Thursday night at TD Garden was McAvoy, old enough to legally drink for just six months now, reduced to tears. In another frame he’s bent over his stick, consoled by a teammate.
McAvoy, who can formulate a thoughtful response worthy of any product of Commonwealth Avenue, and who’s still young and naive enough to express himself freely in most interviews, was hard pressed to assemble an audible, coherent sentence in the locker room. His head turned on a slow swivel as questions came from a scrum of reporters following the Bruins’ Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup Final. It was hardly the scene that little kids imagine for themselves as they dream of the National Hockey League’s biggest stage — a Q-and-A with an unforgiving Boston press intent on asking the question that can make the unflappable flap.
There was McAvoy, as tough as they come, now vulnerable. Asked what he might say to his teammates, also distraught, he suggested with sincerity: “I love you.”
“We all love each other,” he continued, “and we’re going to lean on each other to get through this. It’s tough. … It was really special to be part of something like this, and then to not win, felt really incomplete.”
Such was the raw emotion in the Bruins locker room as outside — in our rink, on our ice, in our town — the St. Louis Blues took turns hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. That should’ve been Charlie McAvoy out there celebrating with his teammates. It should’ve been Zdeno Chara, the image of true grit, skating with a jaw fractured in multiple places by a blocked puck in Game 4 of the Final, who still was the most effective of any skater in this year’s playoffs. (His plus-minus rating was plus-11.) It should’ve been Matt Grzelcyk of Charlestown, who waited out a concussion dealt him in Game 2 when Oskar Soundqvist drove his head into the Plexiglass. Grzelcyk returned for Game 7 and ended up scoring the Bruins’ only goal. Had it been enough for a win, surely his dad, a member of the Garden’s “bull gang” that installs floors for basketball games, would’ve been out there on the ice celebrating with him.
It all should have been, for those of us watching. Fans around here didn’t hope so much as expect the Bruins to win a seventh Stanley Cup. We’re far beyond the novelty of celebrating a championship in these parts; that’s for towns like St. Louis and Toronto. No, our sights were on Detroit circa 1935, the last and perhaps only city to ever wear the crowns of three big sports concurrently. Theirs were the Lions, Tigers and Red Wings. Ours remain the Red Sox and Patriots.
It’s difficult for privileged fans to turn from such exalted thoughts to those of consolation. But there was some of that to be had in the aftermath of a 4-1 loss in Game 7 — that is, if you could see it through the tears.
True enough, we’ve likely seen the last of this group of Bruins together; we’ll expect changes in the off-season. But there’s no reason to expect the folks on Causeway Street to let go of the essentials of this quick, tough team. The B’s will be back, most assuredly.
And while it may not be our nature to look across the ice and appreciate someone else’s victory, maybe you can make a small exception in the case of St. Louis. Her name is Laila Anderson, age 11. She has a life-threatening blood disorder, according to St. Louis media reports, but apparently made progress in her treatments earlier this year just as the last-place Blues were turning things around to make the unlikeliest of runs. And — we can relate to this — Laila very much loves her hockey team.
When the Bruins drubbed the Blues, 7-2, in Game 3 of the Final in St. Louis, Laila still believed. When the Bruins evened up the series in Game 6 with a 5-1 win in St. Louis, she still believed. Not only was she at the home games, she traveled with the team, which very much believed in her too. Laila was on the ice in the moments after the Blues won the first-ever championship in franchise history. As memorable as those images of our Bruins in defeat, more enduring were photos of Laila and her buddy, defenseman Colton Parayko, who dropped to his knee and passed the cup to her so that she could loft it over her head and plant a smooch on the side.
There’s now an online petition to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to add Laila’s name to the cup with the rest of the Blues players. As of yesterday afternoon, more than 9,500 people had added their names. We’ll put ours there too.
We could not be more disappointed for our Bruins and the sour end to a great season. But we could not be happier for a little Blues fan named Laila.