Zdeno Chara grabbed hold of the Cup, reverently brought it to his lips, then raised it above his head, repeating a ritual performed by all previous Cup-winning captains. The only difference was that it had not been done by someone wearing the spoked-B since Nixon was President. The events of this night surely sent Bruins fans everywhere into a delirium. For the entire time that the Bruins celebrated on the ice, I had a stupidly wide grin on my face. I am quite sure I wasn’t the only one.
When the playoffs started back in April, not many fans would have thought this outcome to be possible. The Bruins certainly did not make things easy on themselves. They started the playoffs with two disheartening home losses to the Montréal Canadiens that had even the most optimistic fans staring into the abyss. They had struggled mightily against the Canadiens during the regular season, dropping all road games against them, even though they came up with two huge wins at home. Now they faced the prospect of having to win at the Bell Centre, an arena notoriously hard for opposing teams to play in. But just when people counted them out, the team shone. They dug deep and silenced the raucous Bell Centre crowd with two wins of their own, one of which in overtime. They eked out a win in Game 5 in double-overtime before losing a hard-fought Game 6 thanks to not one but two five-on-three power-play goals for the Canadiens. Game 7 was a nail-biter. They scored two early goals, but the dangerous Canadiens evened the score. The teams traded goals in the 3rd period, with the Canadiens scoring on a now predictable late-game power play, sending the game to yet another overtime. This time, it was Nathan Horton’s turn to be the hero. With just 5 ½ minutes gone, he sent a blistering one-timer off a pass from Milan Lucic past Carey Price, putting the home crowd into a frenzy and propelling the Bruins past their their toughest test of this playoffs. Three overtime games, including Game 7—it couldn’t have gotten any tighter than this.
Fast-forward to the Stanley Cup Finals. Before the series began, the Canucks were the overwhelming favorite as the best team in the NHL. Things got even bleaker as the Canucks took the first two games in thrilling fashion (or deflating if you’re a Bruins fan). Then just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, early in Game 3 Bruins playoffs hero Horton was knocked senseless by a vicious hit from Aaron Rome and had to be carried off the ice on a stretcher. A lesser team would have been cowed and beaten. But true to the form of a champion, the Bruins rallied around their fallen teammate. They humiliated the Canucks with an 8-1 victory in Game 3 and twice more at home, pushing the series to Game 7. Despite the hype leading up to it, the climactic game turned out not to be as tense as previous must-win games against the Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Canucks starter Roberto Luongo had been stellar in previous three home games but downright horrible in the three games played in Boston. Sensing vulnerability, the Bruins pushed hard. Near the end of a back-and-forth first period, Patrice Bergeron broke through with a brilliant goal—made possible by an excellent cycling effort from Brad Marchand—that Luongo only saw after the puck had already gone past him. Marchand got the job done himself mid-way through the 2nd period with a wrap-around goal that Luongo failed to keep out of his net. Five minutes later, Bergeron put a nail in the coffin of the Canucks’ much vaunted power-play with a short-handed goal. Even with more than a period left in the game, by this time the Bruins were firmly in control. With Tim Thomas stopping everything the Canucks put on the Bruins’ net, the game was merely a formality when Marchand punctuated the victory with an empty-net goal.
Before the series began, the Canucks forwards had been deemed too fast and too strong. They scored exactly 8 goals over 7 games and their best stars were largely invisible. The Canucks defense were deemed too mobile and too deep. They looked like a beaten and battered bunch by the end. The Canucks power-play was deemed the most potent in decades; it was a deadly weapon in their easy series victories over the Predators and Sharks. Against the Bruins it yielded just 2 goals but gave up 3 short-handed goals. Luongo was considered a more solid and reliable goalie than Tim Thomas given the latter’s unconventional style. Yet the Bruins shellacked him in Boston, putting 8 pucks past him in one game and forcing him to be pulled in the others, a feat unheard of in the Stanley Cup Finals. All the while Thomas was matching or outplaying his counterpart in nearly every facet.
There are many things to be proud of this year’s team. Overcoming a 0-2 deficit, twice, to win a series. Beating their hated and most dangerous rival. Sweeping the team that had dealt them such an ignominious end in the previous playoffs. Scoring the fastest four goals in a Finals game to set the stage for an epic upset of the Cup favorite. And finally, bringing home the Stanley Cup after a 39-year absence.