But the 17,000-plus Bruins fans packed into the Causeway barn weren’t alone as the Black and Gold backstop was right there with them.
Just moments into overtime, the Capitals ended the B’s season after a small scrum piled up in front of netminder Tim Thomas. In the blink of an eye, Joel Ward managed to find the back of the net, beating one of the world’s top goalies to eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions from the postseason.
“I’m probably in shock,” Thomas told the media after the B’s series-ending defeat. “I really believed that we were going to win [Wednesday night]. I thought that, I really had a deep feeling that this wasn’t the end of the road for us tonight, that this wasn’t going to be the last game of the season.”
But instead of preparing for the next stage of their quest for the Cup, the B’s will wrap things up and head into the offseason. Instead of telling the crowd to be fired up for the next round, the B’s were stuck stick-saluting the faithful that stuck around following the handshake.
It was the 16th goal allowed by Thomas in the seven-game series (2.14 GAA). The Caps threw everything the had at Thomas (including 207 shots) — just as the B’s gave Braden Holtby everything no one knew he could handle.
Holtby allowed 15 goals on 248 shots against for a 2.00 GAA in the series. Like the goalie battle, this series featured four overtimes and was about as close as they come.
“I think both teams battled very hard. They stuck to their game plan. They made it very difficult for us to generate any offense or any momentum with the style that they played,” Thomas said. “What it says about our guys is that they’re battlers and they’re — well they’re still champions. And they gave everything they had to the bitter end. Unfortunately this is sports and [we] fell short this time.”
With the Penguins out of contention and the Rangers showing signs of weakness and heading into a Game 7 of their own, many pegged the B’s as Eastern Conference favorites if and when they could get past the Caps.
Repeating as Cup champions isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen often for a reason. But the B’s were right there, and Thomas had a very strong feeling that the Black and Gold wouldn’t be making offseason plans just yet.
“I thought we had a better chance than most,” Thomas explained. “I thought that if we could get past this first-round hurdle that we would pick up some energy and momentum.
“I had the picture in my head of holding the Cup again this year,” he added. “And I thought — I believed in — that this team still had what it took to get it done, even with that short summer and everything else.”
That short summer set the B’s back a week or two at the beginning of the season. The highly publicized Stanley Cup hangover really got things off on the wrong foot for the defending champs. But despite the slow start, the handful of big injuries and a few losing skids, the B’s managed to keep things together and find a way back into the second season.
“I’m very proud. It was a tough season. There was difficult periods at times,” Thomas said. “I looked around the locker room at many different points during this season and saw some very tired guys. And that’s no excuse, that’s just reality.”
But an even harsher reality was what happened in the opening minutes of overtime. Especially after 60-plus minutes of one of the Garden’s most rambunctious crowds of the season, Thomas and the B’s weren’t expecting it to end this way. Like most Boston sports teams, fans want to hear “Dirty Water” at the end of contests, not strangers celebrating or awkward silence.
“You just hear the crowd and you see [the Capitals] going crazy so you know something happened.”
That’s not the sound a goalie likes hearing, Game 7 in the playoffs or not.