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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- When their season reached its most critical juncture, when those hockey dreams nurtured on the frozen ponds of Flint, Mich., and Trencin, Czechoslovakia, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and L'Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec, were hanging in the balance, the Boston Bruins flew more than 2,500 miles to an arena jammed with rabid fans hollering for their demise and did what champions do: They delivered.
The team without Hart trophy studs or an Olympic gold-medal goalie or a slick regular-season résumé that would have clinched home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs stormed the normally impenetrable Rogers Arena and kicked the heavily favored Vancouver Canucks to the curb.
|The Bruins set a new standard in Boston for team play and unbreakable resolve, winning three Game 7s en route to the Stanley Cup.|
And when this often antagonistic series finally ended, the triumphant Boston team and its fiercely loyal fans earned the right to dismiss Vancouver with the same smugness with which the Canucks so often treated them.
Pump this up, Luongo. Take a bite of this, Burrows.
The Boston Bruins are Stanley Cup champions.
And it wasn't even close.
The final score in the clincher was 4-0, a brilliant collective effort that began and ended with Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas, the pride of Flint, Mich., who has cemented his legacy as one of the most endearing figures in Boston sports history.
Once again, Thomas kept his team in the game while his skaters worked through some early miscues. He turned back 37 shots and culminated the biggest performance of his life with a shutout. He thwarted an arsenal of snipers that included the highly touted Sedin twins, who once again left the arena without having solved the aura of Tim Thomas.
The goalie was not the only one who rose to the occasion when the stage was at its grandest. Halifax's own Brad Marchand, the rookie agitator whose imprint was all over this series, set up Patrice Bergeron for the first goal, then knocked in a wraparound goal from behind the net to make it 2-0 in the second period.
Marchand, who capped the scoring with an empty-netter, completed an electric postseason with 10 goals and eight assists. In games in which Marchand scored this postseason, the Bruins were 9-0.
"Call him a weasel, a rat, whatever you want," Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "He was the spark that got us going."
Bergeron also notched two goals, including a short-handed breakaway in the second period that officially broke Vancouver's spirit and left all of L'Ancienne-Lorette exalting its favorite son.
It was a particularly satisfying finish for the Bruins center, who stewed all last summer after his club blew a 3-0 Eastern Conference semifinal series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers, including a 3-0 lead in Game 7. Those are the kind of letdowns that can permanently damage a franchise, yet this was a team that provided new blood and a new outlook.
"From the beginning," Bergeron said, "I just had a good feeling about this group."
This could well go down as one of the most lopsided seven-game series in hockey history. The Bruins outscored the vaunted Canucks 23-8 and won four of the final five games.
The physical presence of captain Zdeno Chara, the Czech-born defenseman who was brought here to be the anchor of a title contender, was redoubtable throughout the finals. Chara proved to be a steady, imposing intimidator.
Team president Cam Neely said it was Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and the boys on the back line who set the Bruins apart.
"Our defense just kept pounding, pounding, pounding," Neely said. "Eventually, you are going to wear people down."
It doesn't hurt to have a specific purpose in mind to carry you through the inevitable lulls in a long, taxing series. Winger Nathan Horton, who was blindsided by a hit from Vancouver's Aaron Rome that knocked him out of the series, was never far from his teammates' thoughts. He became an emotional hot button, a motivating factor that added energy and resolve to an already focused team.
Horton made the trip to Vancouver and sprinkled some imported TD Garden ice (reduced to liquid, of course, by game time) on the Rogers Arena playing surface shortly before game time. Although he wasn't able to play, Horton dressed in his game uniform and skated into the team scrum once the Cup had finally been secured.
"When we played like ourselves, when we played hard and skated hard, we were hard to beat," Horton said. "I'm just so happy and thankful to be here to share this with the guys."
It has been a long, arduous road for this franchise, which captivated Boston in the late '60s and early '70s with the Big, Bad Bruins. The names Orr, Esposito, McKenzie and Cheevers became synonymous with hockey excellence and championship hijinks.
|Although he was knocked out of the series early in Game 3, Nathan Horton played a key role in bringing the Cup back to Boston.|
Yet the wait for the next Cup became interminable. As the Celtics added championships to their dossier, the Red Sox broke a curse for the ages and the Patriots evolved into the model NFL franchise, the Bruins kept spinning their wheels.
The drought reached 39 years. The puckheads were restless. And yet, there was something different about this group.
The Bruins were one game from being knocked out in the first round but rallied in Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens to advance. When they faced another winner-take-all Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference finals, they prevailed again. Their resiliency became their calling card.
They were underdogs when the Stanley Cup finals started, and they fell behind two games to none. Vancouver's public officials began openly planning their victory parade. Pundits declared the decorated Canucks lineup had too much firepower for the underdog Bruins.
"Nobody thought we could do it," said defenseman Johnny Boychuk, his eyes moist with emotion, "but we proved everybody wrong."
They did it with timely goals from multiple sources, with sound penalty killing and with exceptional goaltending. No superstars, just hard-working hockey guys. Thomas claimed afterward he "faked" his way to the Stanley Cup, but nobody was buying that.
"He was someone you could count on every night, and that's all you ask of a goalie," Seidenberg said.
So now the Bruins are Boston's freshest champion, the team that owns bragging rights in a city that has turned out title winners in all four major sports in a seven-year span. Think about that. What other market can match that prolific output?
This is how absurd it has gotten in our fair city. The Patriots and Tom Brady, who last won a Super Bowl in 2005, now account for the longest championship drought.
You better strap on your pads, you big boys in Foxborough.
The Bruins are the new poster boys for unselfish team play and unshakable resolve.
They lay claim to Boston's championship rights until further notice.
Jackie MacMullan is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.