- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Boston Bruins are the 2011 Stanley Cup champions. Behind another brilliant performance from Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas (38 saves), the Bruins won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1972 with a 4-0 shutout in Game 7. Heading into Game 7 in Vancouver, the home team had won every game. In the end, however, it was the goaltending of Thomas and resilience of the Bruins that overcame and broke the home-team streak.
Here are five takeaways from what was a classic series:
1. Tim Thomas is the best goalie in the world right now. With all due respect to Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy or Grant Fuhr -- who Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli compared Tim Thomas to at the beginning of the playoffs -- Tim Thomas is, in the words of ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose after Game 7, “the best goalie in the world right now.”
Thomas made 38 saves Wednesday night at Rogers Arena to lead his team to the Stanley Cup and win the Conn Smythe Trophy. He finished the playoffs at 16-9 with a 1.98 GAA and .940 save percentage. Thomas was really the one consistent throughout this series as he didn’t have one bad game.
When the playoffs started, many wondered how Thomas could follow up such a great regular season -- in which he went 35-11-9 with a 2.00 GAA with .938 save percentage. But, even coming off offseason hip surgery and a plethora of trade rumors, Thomas silenced the critics, especially in this series, and proved to be the difference.
2. No more doubting Claude Julien. After watching his team drop two one-goal games in Games 1 and 2, head coach Claude Julien decided it was time for an energy boost and a dose of physical punishment that his team just wasn’t giving to the Canucks as they headed home down 2-0 in the series. Insert veteran winger Shawn Thornton, who wasn’t a Stanley Cup champion for no reason. In his first shift, Thornton laid a thunderous hit on Public Enemy No. 1 Alexandre Burrows, who had earlier in the series bit Patrice Bergeron in a scrum. The crowd went nuts and the Bruins -- energized from Thornton’s play -- went on to thrash the Canucks 8-1, playing the physical style they thrive on. Julien made a gutsy call benching Tyler Seguin for that game, but it paid off and so did all his moves in this series.
3. Canucks awoke a sleeping bear. When Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome laid out Bruins winger Nathan Horton with an open-ice hit in the first period of Game 3, giving Horton a severe concussion and subsequently knocking him out for the series (and receiving a four-game suspension for his actions), he awoke a Bruins team that hadn't played their physical brand of hockey. After finding out that Horton was awake and aware, the Bruins decided to dedicate the rest of the series to him and proceeded to outscore the Canucks 22-1 since the hit. The Bruins could have folded after seeing their best clutch scorer of the playoffs go down, but instead they rallied around him.
4. Brad Marchand is more than a pest. Rookie winger Brad Marchand came into this season labeled a pesky forward and pest at best. But as if his 21 goals during the regular season weren't enough, Marchand made his name known to all the world on the grand stage as he scored 11 goals and had 19 points in the playoffs, finishing third in team scoring and leading all NHL rookies in the playoffs. He also scored two goals in Game 7, proving once again he is a big-game player.
5. Recchi says he's retiring, but he could play another season if he wanted. Prior to Game 7, a source close to ESPNBoston.com confirmed that Mark Recchi would retire win or lose after Game 7. And in postgame remarks, he confirmed that he plans to leave the game on the highest of notes. But after watching Recchi’s performance in Game 7, where he got his seventh point of the finals with an assist, the “Recching Ball” could play another season if he changes his mind. The veteran leader is surely headed for the Hall of Fame.