|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2011||[Print without images]|
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- They lacked star power. Their coach was constantly second-guessed. They carried significant baggage with them. And in the end, all the Boston Bruins did was forge through the adversity to win the team's first championship in a generation.
Imagine that. The Boston Bruins are Stanley Cup champions.
They joined hockey's most honored club by virtue of a 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
It was a victory that sparked a violent rampage in the streets of Vancouver and a frenzy of celebration in Boston.
Prototypical Stanley Cup champs? Hardly.
When you consider recent champions such as the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes, the Bruins seem to pale in comparison.
Heck, they paled in comparison to the Vancouver Canucks.
But it doesn't matter. It certainly didn't matter the past two months, as the Bruins somehow managed to win three Game 7s en route to their first Cup win since 1972. They are the only NHL team to have accomplished such a feat.
The Bruins may not have had the cachet of those other Cup winners, but inside that Bruins jersey beats the heart of a champion. No question there.
"It's been an amazing journey for these players right from team building in Vermont [during training camp]. You've got a close group of guys with a ton of character. This is a team. These guys are a team," said Boston team president and Hall of Famer Cam Neely.
Neely never won a Cup as a player. On this night, though, he held the trophy for the first time, a moment that was a long time coming.
"I thought it was going to be heavier, but I thought maybe because I've got so much adrenaline pumping through the body. It's hard to put into words how it feels," Neely said.
Even after the Canucks had surrendered the Rogers Arena ice to the Bruins and their families, the air of celebration was tempered by a feeling of restraint.
"At the end, I mean, I think if I had to sum up our team in one word, it's focus," Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said. "We have an unbelievable focus of doing the job and doing the little things and rebounding from losses and not being fazed. I think that's why you're not seeing a ton of emotion. I don't know how the other guys are, but I think we're still kind of focused. It's hard to break out of it."
It's amazing, really, to consider this team's journey.
A year ago, they were a laughingstock. The Bruins had done the unthinkable, building a 3-0 series lead against Philadelphia in the second round, then leading 3-0 in the first period of Game 7 and losing. It was the kind of collapse that could destroy a franchise, poison its belief in the coaching staff and personnel. Yet they embraced that monumental disappointment heading into this season. After falling behind to Montreal 2-0 in the first round, the Bruins defeated the Canadiens in overtime in Game 7, and then swept the Flyers.
"I think we had a real internal strength, and it carried over from the past couple of years," Ference said. "I know when we faced off against Philly, we didn't really want to talk about it too much, but we learned a lot from that series.
"And I think you saw it even in tonight's game when we were up 3-0, not taking anything for granted and not letting up and not sitting on our heels," he added. "There were a lot of lessons that were learned and there's a core group of guys here that kept pounding on those messages and kept pounding on those lessons, and we weren't afraid to confront our weaknesses and try to fix them."
Credit must go to head coach Claude Julien, who kept this team on course during all the skepticism, all the ups and downs, including losing the first two games of this series in Vancouver.
"We just played hard, stayed the course and, at the end, really felt like we deserved this," Julien said. "They played great as a group and there was no egos in our dressing room. As you saw, there was always different guys stepping up."
For most of the past two months, Julien made few missteps.
He kept Tyler Seguin out of the lineup until an injury to Patrice Bergeron forced his hand, and Seguin turned out to be a key contributor against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals. When Julien didn't like Seguin's game, he put veteran Shawn Thornton back in the lineup in Game 3 of the Cup finals, and the Bruins went 4-1 with Thornton in the lineup.
He moved Rich Peverley into Nathan Horton's spot on the top line when Horton was lost for the series in Game 3, while Seguin returned to the lineup and played his best game of the series in Game 7.
And on it went.
As for the questions about his coaching, Julien said, while sitting next to his 5-year-old daughter Katryna, that he understands criticism comes with the territory.
"As a coach, you're going to be subject to criticism, but the most important thing is what's going on inside that dressing room," he said. "There wasn't a guy that didn't believe in what we were doing. So it's easy to stay the course, and you got to stay the course. Today, you're rewarded for it. Had I worried about that other stuff, I probably wouldn't be standing here today."
On the ice, Julien patiently answered questions while looking for his family.
As he turned to leave, he smiled and wondered aloud about the next journey.
"I know it's early to say that, but you hope you get another shot at this, because it was a lot of fun."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.