The sign from the Bruins fan summed it up well: "Horton Hears a Hoo." "Hoo-waw," "Hoo-boy," "Hoo-ray." However you want to say it, the Boston Bruins are going to the Stanley Cup finals.
Not since the movie
Thanks to Nathan Horton's lone goal in Friday night's Game 7 thriller, the Bruins now can say it. Horton's goal, with 7:33 left in regulation, gave Boston a pulse-pounding 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
They will play the Vancouver Canucks for the Stanley Cup, starting Wednesday night at Rogers Arena.
Cutting to the net, Horton guided a beautiful crossing pass from linemate David Krejci past Dwayne Roloson to break the scoreless deadlock, and Bruins goalie Tim Thomas preserved the shutout from there.
Horton, who was temporarily knocked out of the game following a big hit from Randy Jones earlier, has become Mr. Clutch for Boston. It was his second Game 7 game-winner in these playoffs, the other coming in overtime of the first round against Montreal.
"Both teams have worked extremely hard to get to this point," 43-year-old Bruins captain and British Columbia native Mark Recchi told Versus television, about the upcoming finals. "I think this is going to be a heck of a Stanley Cup final."
It was a heck of a Game 7 between the B's and Bolts. Tampa Bay came into the game 3-0 in Game 7s -- and Roloson 7-0 in closeout games -- but the Lightning never could get their offensive stars going. Tampa Bay got just 24 shots on Thomas -- to Boston's 38 on Roloson -- but the Lightning did come close a few times, especially early on. But starting at about the halfway mark of the first period, the Bruins started to clamp down defensively, especially through the neutral zone. Bruins coach Claude Julien elected to double-shift the defensive combo of Dennis Seidenberg (27:57 of ice time) and Zdeno Chara (26:44), and the results were sublime. Only one other Bruins defender (Andrew Ference) played more than 20 minutes.
There wasn't a single penalty called in the game, which gave it more of a gladiatorial feel. Both teams had players who played hurt, with Horton for the Bruins and Steven Stamkos for the Lightning.
How's this for hockey tough: Stamkos took a puck to the face from Bruins defender Johnny Boychuk in the second period, falling to the ice and dripping blood. But in a matter of minutes, Stamkos was back, his nose plugged with gauze and a full shield over his face.
Stamkos was on the ice for Horton's goal, but there was little to criticize about him or anybody else in this game. It was a tight, tense, well-played affair. The Lightning took the loss hard, but first-year coach Guy Boucher spoke with emotion about his team's mental stamina throughout the season.
"We had a year that was so full of adversity. You start the year and you have half the team that's new, an entire staff that's new, an administration that's new. GM and president, CEO and owner, and so many new people coming together, and I just think it's outstanding that the players and everybody else involved in the organization was able to get this team to be a team real fast," Boucher said at the postgame podium. "That's really difficult, even with a team that you had the previous year. So I have a lot of respect for the people that are playing and the people that are around us and working it and making this organization what it has become this year."
Who will be favored to win the Stanley Cup? No doubt that will be Vancouver, the NHL's best regular-season team, points-wise. Boston doesn't have the kind of double-barreled offensive threat of Vancouver's Sedin brothers, nor perhaps anyone with the two-way talent of Ryan Kesler.
But they have guts, this Boston team. Nobody exemplifies that better than goalie Thomas, who started the season as the backup to Tuukka Rask, after a season in which he was offered around in trade to no takers thanks to his age and whopping contract.
Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don't make. Boston's front-office staff, which includes former Canuck and Bruins Hall of Famer Cam Neely, can say that now with regard to Thomas.
The Canucks don't have any defenseman as good as Chara, and Thomas compares favorably with Roberto Luongo in goal. Vancouver may be the favorites nevertheless, but this Bruins team has shown they can battle with anyone. It should be a great Cup finals, in other words. The puck drops at around 8:10 p.m. ET Wednesday night.