CHICAGO — Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko got plenty of inquiries about the impact of their short summers and how tough it will be to defend a Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin got prodded to give insight on what the St. Louis Blues are in for trying to defend their title.
But the NHL Player Media Tour also showcased the other side of Game 7 from that memorable Cup final in June. The Boston Bruins laid an egg that night, blowing a chance to win the Cup on home ice for the first time since Bobby Orr's overtime winner against the Blues in 1970, and not many pundits are picking the Bruins to get back to the final.
Remember, the first-round defeats of the 132-point Tampa Bay Lightning and defending champion Washington Capitals blew open the bracket while the Bruins rallied out of a 3-2 hole to beat Toronto in the first round for the second straight year. And then to get to the Cup final, Boston merely had to beat Columbus and Carolina. Hard to imagine something like that happens again.
In an emotional dressing room that night, Bruins super pest Brad Marchand stared ahead blankly and said of the Blues, "They just took our dream, our lifetime dream from us, and everything we’ve worked for our entire lives."
The lost opportunity has haunted the Bruins all summer and will likely be a narrative for this core for a long time.
"It's always going to be there," defenseman Torey Krug told reporters here on Thursday. "I was on the team that lost in '13 (in Game 6 to Chicago) and there were the whys, the what-ifs and everything about what could have been done differently. Same thing with Game 7.
"But it's a little different because you actually had a chance to win it. You're expected to win it in your own building. So the taste is still there and probably will always be there. It's how you manage it individually, use it as motivation. Are you caught in a little bit of a lull that won't allow you to move forward? These are questions that are asked on an individual basis. You just have to find a way to regroup and move on."
Goalie Tuukka Rask, who had a strong playoff but couldn't do much in the 4-1 defeat, knows the questions will be coming all training camp but tried to be more philosophical about it.
"You never get over it," agreed Rask. "But in a few days, you go home, start hanging with your kids and there was no hockey anymore. It's just a sport. Results are just what they are at the end of the day. You try to prepare yourself the best way you can, try to be the guy you think you can be. I feel like I accomplished that and our team played great teams and got one win short of winning the whole thing. ... Game 7 in any kind of series it can be a coin flip and it just didn't go our way."
The theory again going around hockey is you need to have a "heavy" team to survive in the playoffs because the Blues won the Cup. Of course, the margin is so razor-thin, teams might be loading up on speed even more than they already do had the Bruins simply won Game 7 on home ice.
"Gosh, yea. It's crazy how small it is," O'Reilly said of the margin. "There are multiple times it could have swung the other way on us. The specific play I remember is (overtime of the second round in) Game 7 against Dallas with Jamie Benn. That wraparound he had was inches -- inches -- away and we would have been sent home. It's crazy how tight it is and how hard it is to win. A lot of things have to line up."
The Bruins start the long grind all over again this week and they're certainly not getting any younger. Zdeno Chara is 42 years old, David Backes is 35, Patrice Bergeron and backup goalie Jaroslav Halak are 34, David Krejci is 33, Rask is 32, Marchand 31 and Krug 28. And while they're doing a great job of getting younger on defense with the likes of under-25s Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Connor Clifton, the Bruins don't have that kind of young depth up front.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is expected to be a juggernaut again. One of these years, Toronto will avoid meeting the Bruins and get past the first round while Joel Quenneville-led Florida and Montreal continue to take big steps forward.
The Atlantic Division is super tough. Forget about the issues of teams like the Sabres, Detroit and Ottawa making a jump to the next level. Just look at the dilemma the division poses to a team like Boston.
More than three months later, Krug wasn't able to hide his emotions about the Game 7 loss. Coach Bruce Cassidy and GM Don Sweeney are going to have to take the temperature of their dressing room on a daily basis during training camp — and probably long into the season as well.
Win or lose, the Cup hangover is real.
"We were one game away to maybe changing the narrative to how teams are structured and maybe following a different path," Krug said. "One game. It's tough. It's always going to be there. Even if we find a way to win the Stanley Cup next year, you'll be thinking how we lost Game 7 the year before and it could have been back to back."
Kane's 88 hitting rafters in London
South Buffalo native Patrick Kane is upbeat about his first full season in Chicago under new coach Jeremy Colliton but also has a nice distraction planned on a January off night.
Kane got a surprising phone call from former London Knights owner/GM Mark Hunter over the summer with some big news: Kane's Ontario Hockey League team is going to retire his No. 88 jersey prior to its Jan. 17 game. Kane only played one year for the Knights but it was a 145-point season in 2006-07 that led to him being the No. 1 overall pick at the 2007 draft in Columbus.
Mark Hunter and his brother Dale were the co-owners of the Knights in those days and Dale has returned to coach there after a stint with the Washington Capitals. Kane's jersey will be retired the night before the Blackhawks are in Toronto.
"It was amazing," Kane said of his time in London. "Just working with them, they pretty much gave me every opportunity to play. They really show you a fun style of hockey to play, especially at that age. Great people, great hockey minds and they run a great organization there. They've produced a lot of amazing players.
"I'm looking forward to that night. That was a pretty cool call from Mark. I wasn't expecting that but it should be a fun night."
Patrick Kane is thrilled by announcement OHL London Knights will retire his No. 88 on Jan. 17. He had 145 points in his one season there. (‘06-07). “A pretty cool call from Mark (London GM Mark Hunter). I wasn’t expecting that.” #Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/CdrJyL9kJO
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) September 5, 2019
Summer life of O'Reilly
O'Reilly said his Cup-winning summer has been a whirlwind after parades in his honor in both Seaforth and Goddard, Ont., on his day with the Cup.
"It still hasn't really sunk in," O'Reilly said. "You're so excited for that Cup day and different times throughout the summer and you see people celebrating. After the Cup day, you're like, 'OK, it's time to get back to work' and hit the ice hard and get ready for next season. You haven't really had a huge down time to let it sink it. Already the focus has shifted to next year. It's something cool and I think I'll have a lot more reflection later in life."
Heard around the Media Tour
• A smiling Derek Stepan on Arizona's acquisition of sniper Phil Kessel from Pittsburgh: "Someone said, 'He's an interesting cat.' I said, 'Well, we've got a lot of dogs on our team. We could use a cat.'"
• Kane on the Blackhawks' offseason addition of former Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner: "Shooting on him in practice, he's very competitive and not afraid to chirp the guys that are going against him. I think he'll be really good for us in a lot of different ways."
• Devils defenseman P.K. Subban on playing with No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes: "The focus needs to be on his development. He's got a lot of time and there will be a learning curve but he's a tremendous talent. You're going to see that when the puck drops I'm just excited to help someone like that. ... I'm excited to play with young talented players. That's what wins in the NHL."
• Los Angeles captain Anze Kopitar on Eden native Alex Iafallo, who improved to 15 goals and 33 points last year -- but also went from plus-10 as a rookie to minus-17: "The first year was a really good season and last year was down. Expectations are for him to bounce back again. A big thing in this league is consistency. We need that from him on a nightly basis."
• Stepan on Arizona's hiring of deposed Sabres coach Phil Housley as an assistant coach: "Both of the Phils can help. Phil Kessel is obviously going to be a big part of it but Phil Housley ran a pretty good power play and I had him for the World Cup with Team USA. He ran the power play and I really liked the things that he was talking about and his ideas. I think he's going to be a great add to our group. I know him a little bit from Minnesota so I want to get that mojo going."