BOSTON — His entire uniform still completely draping his 6-foot-5 frame, Boston Bruins rookie Blake Wheeler faced the music after his club blew a two-goal lead to the St. Louis Blues with less than 90 seconds to play at TD Banknorth Garden and fell, 5-4, today.
The left winger, who started his first game on Marc Savard’s line on a high note with an assist on a Chuck Kobasew goal just 4:26 into the contest, was still beating himself up over two mistakes he felt cost the Bruins the game.
With less than a minute to play in the third, the Bruins were protecting a one-goal lead when Wheeler missed the Blues’ empty net from just across the red line. David Krejci then had his second-chance attempt blocked by Blues blueliner Barrett Jackman.
In the shootout, which the Bruins lost, 2-0, Wheeler made a dazzling move to drag the puck from his backhand to his forehand and get goaltender Chris Mason of position. But Wheeler then rattled the right post with his shot attempt.
“The open net because they came down and scored the goal to tie the game about 10 seconds later. It was any hockey player’s worst nightmare come true,” said Wheeler about which play was eating him the most. “It definitely hurts just to know how hard these guys fought all game to get back and pretty much get the win. To have it fall on my shoulders, to blow it, hurts pretty bad.”
For those who don’t know, by the time the locker room opens the players are usually in different stats of undress. So for Wheeler to still look as though he was ready to play to play a fifth period was an oddity. Even after the first wave of media was done with him, Wheeler sat at his locker looking disgusted. And then came a second wave of media, and Wheeler didn’t waver from his opinions nor did he shy away from the questions.
Head coach Claude Julien, however, didn’t want to hang any goat horns on his prized first-year forward.
“I think there were some mistakes that were made before regulation ever ended that got them back in the game,” Julien said. “That’s more the story, to me anyway, than him missing an open net and missing in the shootout. It never should’ve come to that.”
Wheeler said he’ll do his best to move on from his disappointment, especially with a game looming in Toronto Wednesday. But this low point of his first NHL seasons will stick with him awhile.
“It’s great to contribute to your team’s success all year, but to feel the other side of it, it definitely hurts just to know how hard these guys fought all game. … To have it fall on my shoulders and to blow it, it hurts pretty bad,” he said.