Once this season began, the Bruins did not want to dwell on how close they came to winning a second Stanley Cup in a three-year span. Boston wanted to focus on its next goal of returning to the finals again.
Now, more than six months after losing to the Blackhawks, it's time for a regular-season rematch. Both teams practiced Saturday afternoon in preparation for their first meeting since June 24. Puck drops Sunday morning at 12:30 ET (11:30 local) at the United Center.
"It's nice to be back," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "Last year, although when you don't win, it's a bittersweet situation. If anything when you take time to look back it was some really good hockey played, great games, overtime in a lot of them and everything else. I thought it was a well-played battle. Hopefully for the betterment of the game you hope it was appreciated."
Hockey fans were undoubtedly treated to a fantastic and thrilling Stanley Cup final, but for the Bruins, timing and health issues contributed to a disheartening loss.
In Game 6, the Bruins had a 2-1 lead and were on the verge of forcing a Game 7 back at the United Center in Chicago. But in a span of 17 seconds, the Blackhawks scored two goals at 18:44 and 19:01 of the third period en route to a 3-2 win as Chicago celebrated its Stanley Cup championship.
After Saturday's practice, Bruins forward Milan Lucic relived that moment as if it had just occurred.
"It hurts. The last minute, minute and 15 [seconds], I've replayed in my mind 100 times since that moment. Obviously there are a lot of questions. It goes right off the post and right back to [Dave] Bolland's stick. You always think, what could you have done? And it's not just Game 6. You look at Game 1, we're up 3-1 with eight minutes left and they were able to tie it and win it. Then we were up 2-1 in the series and we don't take care of business in Game 4. Those are the things that haunt you in the summertime and replay it over in your mind. It sucks thinking about it and you want to do everything you can to move past it. Obviously, we've done our best to play well this year and move past it."
Julien agreed, adding that the best way to move past it is to reach the finals and give yourself an opportunity to achieve the ultimate goal once again.
"There's no doubt it hurts but you've got to get over it," Julien said. "I think that's what you've got to do; you've got to get over it in order to focus on hopefully getting another opportunity to get there. If all you rely on is the hurt from the past then you can't move forward, so we've got to turn the page and remember what we are and what we have to do to get back there. I think that's the most important thing of it all."
Still, it took the Bruins most of the summer to file away the loss before arriving at training camp to begin a new chapter.
"Whether you want to use the word 'grieve' or whatever you want to do, it takes time, it stings less and less but it doesn't mean it ever goes away," Julien said. "Do I feel the same way I felt the next day? Absolutely not. You've got to turn the page. You always keep thinking that with a break here or there you could've been the team on the winning side and that's just the way the game is. You've got to respect the winners and you've got to walk away from these things saying, 'You know what? We know what we have to do and let's work on trying to get another opportunity here.' And that's what I'd like to see our team do."
There were so many things that went in Boston's favor during the Stanley Cup playoffs, but once the Bruins reached the finals their good fortunes changed.
Game 1 was thrilling. It was epic. It ended when Chicago's Andrew Shaw scored at 12:08 of the third overtime to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 win.
Game 2 was Boston's turn to win in overtime when Daniel Paille scored at 13:48, tying the series at a game apiece.
The Bruins gained a 2-1 series lead when goaltender Tuukka Rask posted a 28-save performance for a 2-0 shutout. Unfortunately for the Bruins, that was their last win of the series.
Chicago won Game 4 by beating Boston 6-5 in overtime.
In Game 5, Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron played only six minutes and six seconds and was taken to a Chicago hospital. After the series was over, it was announced that Bergeron had been playing with a broken rib, torn rib cartilage and separated shoulder.
In the moments following the Game 6 loss, the Bruins' medical staff was examining Bergeron because he was having trouble breathing. The Bruins knew Bergeron was playing with a slew of injuries, but they didn't know how or when his lung collapsed. Before leaving for Massachusetts General Hospital, Bergeron managed to address the media for two minutes and 10 seconds.
Bergeron was concerned for his health, but was also dealing with the loss.
"Yeah, it was obviously heartbreaking," Bergeron said. "The last thing you want to do is to go out there and to lose when you're that close to the goal that you set for yourself. It was hard and at that point I was just trying to figure out why I couldn't breathe, so that was all these thoughts that were going through my mind, but basically it was terrible and a bad night overall."
Two days later, general manager Peter Chiarelli announced the specifics of Bergeron's injuries.
During the entire postseason run, Rask felt that no matter how well he played, there would be critics questioning his ability to lead this team to a Stanley Cup championship, something former goalie Tim Thomas was able to accomplish in 2011. Rask played well in all four rounds, but in the end there were too many things not going in Boston's favor as Chicago hoisted the Cup. After the finals, Rask returned to his native Finland and it was during that time he and the Bruins finalized a new contract worth eight years and $56 million, making him the highest-paid Bruin in history.
"We just tried to get that taken care of and once that was done I started focusing on the [2013-14] season," Rask said. "It was a really quick summer for all of us. You just try to rest mentally and still be working out and be in good physical shape. That's pretty much all I did last summer."
He admits it took him almost the rest of the summer to come to terms with the loss.
"It took a few weeks, three, maybe four weeks," Rask said. "That's about it, and then it was almost training camp."
During the finals, players on both teams were dealing with injuries, but the Bruins were especially banged up.
"I don't want to use that as an excuse because the year we won it, you remember Vancouver was in the same position and that's just the way the game is," Julien said. "Breaks are part of the game. It's not about luck, it's just the way it goes, you move on and you've got to feel your team is still good enough to compete, which we did, but it wasn't enough. Had we been healthy, could it have been different? Maybe. But that didn't happen and that's just the way this game goes."
The Bruins don't dwell on the "what if" scenarios, but no doubt not having forward Gregory Campbell in the lineup for the Cup finals hurt Boston's chances of winning. He suffered a broken right fibula while blocking a shot during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The image of Campbell getting to his feet and remaining on the ice for more than a minute to kill a penalty became legendary.
It was difficult for him to accept that status because he wasn't able to help the Bruins in Game 4 of that series, or in the finals against the Blackhawks. Instead, he felt like an outsider.
"To be honest, it was the toughest stretch of my career," Campbell said. "It was pretty discouraging for me not being able to be out there and not be part of the team. I tried to in every way I could but it's still not the same. Coming back [to Chicago], even though I didn't play it still stings a little bit."
When he first suffered the injury, Campbell said he tried to put the situation into perspective, knowing how hard it was going to be not to play in the Cup finals.
"I felt like I gave everything I could up to that point," he said. "I did my job and sometimes that's going to happen. My job is to step in front of pucks and block shots and injuries are part of the game, especially when it's the playoffs and everybody is willing to do whatever they can. I did try to look at it from that point of view. The way I'm built, I'm very impatient so I don't think, looking back, I probably didn't give myself enough time to heal, not only physically but mentally."
Earning a chance to reach the Stanley Cup finals doesn't happen often and the fact the Bruins accomplished it twice in a three-year span was unique, something they did not take for granted. For Campbell, it was difficult to watch. While the Blackhawks celebrated a championship on the Bruins' home ice, Campbell said he was hiding in the locker room and did not watch the celebration.
"It was tough and I wasn't even on the ice when we lost, so I think that was probably the most challenging part for the guys, to be on the ice and watch [the Blackhawks] celebrate. I guess that was the only positive of not being out there -- as hard as that is to say."
While the players had plenty of time to dwell on the season and take the summer to rest and rehab, Chiarelli had already been working on improving the team for 2013-14 even before the Cup finals ended.
Thanks to the organization's all-access series "Behind the B," fans learned that Chiarelli was considering trading Tyler Seguin during the offseason as early as the start of June. Only a few weeks after the Bruins lost, Chiarelli pulled off a seven-player trade and acquired Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow from the Dallas Stars in exchange for Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button.
The new additions, including free agent Jarome Iginla, have paid dividends for the Bruins this season. Chiarelli's offseason moves strengthened an already solid core, making Boston a perennial Cup contender.
Both the Bruins and the Blackhawks have a legit chance of returning to the Cup finals this spring. If that were to happen, it would once again be an incredible series. For now, players and fans will have to settle for a regular-season matchup.
Players on both teams gave genuine answers on Saturday when talking about the finals. There was a mutual respect between the teams. From now on, any time the Bruins and Blackhawks play, it will be an intense game.
"I think there's always going to be intensity the first time teams play each other," Julien said. "Intensity, it depends what you mean by that, if you're talking about a lot of cheap shots and all that, I don't think that's the case here. I think it was a hard but well-played final and if anything I think there was a lot of respect that was gained between the two teams. It was one of those finals where both teams respected each other right till the end and it was decided on the game of hockey and nothing else."
After Saturday's practice, Bergeron stood just off the ice at the Blackhawks' practice facility and talked about being back in Chicago for the first time since the finals. Over his right shoulder, there was a wall with all the years the Blackhawks won the Cup, including 2013.
"Still right now it hurts just to see the 2013 on the wall right there," Bergeron said. "But it's in the past. You've got to move on and [Sunday] is a big challenge for us. They're a great team and we're excited for it."