(Photo: Alan Sullivan)
Thursday night’s game between the Boston Bruins and the Edmonton Oilers was not just another game for the Bruins. Their biggest champion, Milt Schmidt passed away on Wednesday. During a speech he once gave, he said “The Spoked-B is practically my family crest and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The Bruins honored Schmidt in many ways with the lowering of his number partially from the rafters before the game; the addition of his number 15 behind each net; and the number 15 patches now seen on the Bruins jerseys. Before the game began there was a “moment of celebration” in his honor—which I’m sure he much preferred over a moment of silence. This was followed by a wonderful video tribute accompanied by the most applicable song one could attribute to this amazing man—Young at Heart.
There were some tears shed by many in the stands through the tribute, but as the puck dropped it was all about the game. Schmidt wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, although he would have preferred that the Black and Gold scored first and held the lead through to the final buzzer. Such was not the outcome. After twenty years of denying the Oilers a win in Boston, and with so many thinking about the “Ultimate Bruin,” the players with the Spoked-B on their chests are left again disappointing themselves, their fans, and unfortunately this time someone they all truly admired.
“For sure a tough game to lose; especially on a night like this,” Captain Zdeno Chara told assembled media after the game. “It was a night where it was dedicated to Milt [Schmidt] and what he has done and I felt that we let him down and obviously his family, including the fans down.”
Perhaps what made Thursday’s game all the harder to accept, was the fact that overall the Bruins were the stronger team. They outshot the Oilers and were at 59% in the face off circle. But 1:08 into the first period it was the Oilers’ Patrick Maroon who was smiling and being congratulated as Edmonton scored their first of four goals. Maroon would ultimately score his first career hat trick, though Ryan Nugent-Hopkins perhaps put the dagger in the Bruins’ hearts when he put the Oilers up 3-2 a mere 14 seconds into the third period.
There was a moment during the second period where the Bruins were up 2-1, off a beautiful pass from David Pastrnak right on the stick of Patrice Bergeron. But the Oilers, or perhaps more specifically, Maroon was not to be denied, and less than three minutes later the score was again tied.
That early goal in the first period had some wondering if the emotions of the evening were too much for the team. The Bruins had apparently addressed this concern before the game though.
“You know [Schmidt]’s one of the best players obviously that played in this organization and we realize that. We are thankful for everything that he has done for this organization but it’s a game and we have to be focused right from the start. I think that was one of the big things that we focused on,” Austin Czarnik explained.
But despite that focus and the stronger play, those “gift goals,” as head coach Claude Julien called the two early period goals, hurt and the Bruins once again found themselves lacking.
“I just think that they were able to finish their chances,” continued Czarnik. “We got a couple goals but we didn’t finish enough and they capitalized on theirs I think overall. Pretty good game for us but we just need to find ways to win. If we can do that, then we will be successful. But as of right now we aren’t doing it.”
Czarnik was correct that it was a pretty strong game for them, and though they wouldn’t ever use it as an excuse, there were some unlucky bounces along with a couple of posts that kept the puck out of the net behind Oilers Cam Talbot. However, this lack of finish is becoming an unsettling trend with the Bruins, especially when they are playing on home ice—which is supposed to give them an advantage. Perhaps more disquieting is the fact that the players cannot look to anyone but themselves for where their season stands right now.
“I think we’re the only ones that can really find the answer and turn this around, I guess,” a somber Patrice Bergeron shared. “It’s up to this dressing room to do it and to all look at ourselves in the mirror—I said that before—and be better. You can’t wait for anyone to do it. It’s up to us. We’re the ones that are playing on the ice and we have to be better.”
The Bruins walk a tight line between emotion and chaos, and perhaps the loss of someone so many of them held dear was harder on them than they expected. Unfortunately, the hockey season will not wait while they grieve, nor will it forgive mistakes or give them a game. They must dig deep inside and find their inner Milt Schmidt to turn this season around. Perhaps it is time for them to embrace the Spoked-B as their family crest as Schmidt once did. It could be a game changer.