BOSTON -- Andrew Ference stood in front of his stall, a "Boston Strong" T-shirt clinging to him. His skates, hanging from pegs overhead, leaked perspiration like the drip of a coffee machine.
"What can you say?"
The Bruins' one-goal, third-period lead in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals expired in a span of 17 seconds. Bryan Bickell's one-timer on the doorstep with an extra attacker tied the game at 2-2 with 1:16 left, and then Dave Bolland delivered the winner as a Bruins team that prided itself on playing defense-first hockey suffered another postseason breakdown for the ages.
"It's just a cruel way to finish a game, that's for sure," said Ference, who was on the ice for Bolland's Cup clincher with 58.3 seconds remaining in regulation.
On both late goals, the Bruins were either outmuscled or outworked below the faceoff dots.
With about 1:20 remaining, Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford vacated his net for the extra attacker. Then, with four forwards in the zone, eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews worked in tandem to win a loose puck. With the puck freed, Duncan Keith, pinching in along the left-wing wall, stepped up and hit Toews, who was wheeling off the boards below the goal line.
"It was Toews, he had the puck and I had to respect him if he was going to stuff it," Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask explained.
Holding onto his blocker-side post, Rask pushed off, but did so with pads separated, leaving the 5-hole open for Bickell's one-timer.
"They got their best players out there on the ice and then [Toews] made a great pass," Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. "We got caught a little on the wall with their D's pre-pinching."
On Bolland's series-clinching score, the Bruins defense was again slow to react.
After Johnny Oduya's slapshot from the point was deflected in front of Rask, Bolland was able to establish inside position on Johnny Boychuk, hanging out to the right of Rask. With no leverage, Boychuk attempted to slash the stick out of Bolland's hands.
"We were trying to figure out what it hit in the high slot," Boychuk said. "It hit something and went straight to the tape."
But with the puck on the doorstep, Bolland had an empty net ahead of him, with Rask out of position in an effort to play the initial shot.
The puck went in after the force of Boychuk's downward thrust undid Bolland's stick and gloves from his hands.
Bolland threw his bare knuckles into the air in celebration.
"It makes you want to throw up at the end because it's not for a lack of effort that guys put into it," Ference said.
He added, "They got themselves into the right positions and got the win."
Perhaps most frustrating for the Bruins' defensive corps was their inability to refocus. For a team that came back to win the Cup in 2011 after trailing three games to two and exhibited uncanny resolve in a Game 7 comeback against Toronto earlier in this postseason, Monday was an aberration.
"You're not happy to give up that tying goal for sure, but this team is as good as any in turning the page and getting on with it," Ference said.
And then, the bottom fell out.
"It's shocking," Rask said. "You think you have things under control. We killed a big penalty there. We're thinking, 'Oh, we're just going to keep it tight and score maybe an empty-netter.' And then, all of a sudden, they score a goal."
And then, there was another.