Thomas delivers again as Bruins end Stanley Cup title drought
Shortly after the Bruins arrived at Rogers Arena Wednesday afternoon, injured Boston winger Nathan Horton walked out of the tunnel with a water bottle in hand. On the bench, he glanced to his left, to his right, and surreptitiously squeezed the contents of the bottle onto the Vancouver ice. Every last drop, because if there was something in the water in Boston, where the Bruins thumped the Canucks into submission and outscored them 17-3 in three games, then maybe they could use it on the road.
It's impossible to think the bit of hockey voodoo had any effect, but when it all comes down to a single game, why, no detail can be overlooked. The Bruins, who thrived on all the little things this spring, finally picked up one big thing, defeating the Canucks, 4-0, in Game 7 and lifting the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1972.
It was the first shutout in a do-or-die final since 2003, when Devils goalie Martin Brodeur blanked the Anaheim Ducks. And it belonged to Tim Thomas, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, who stared three Game 7 situations in the face this postseason and prevailed every time. He set an NHL record for saves in one playoffs, stopping 798 shots, and became just the second American MVP in Stanley Cup history.
From his humble start with the Birmingham Bulls of the ECHL almost two decades ago, to his days playing in Finland with the belief that his NHL dream would never be realized, the 37-year-old native of Flint, Mich., stood on the peak of the hockey world Wednesday.
"When I was in Finland, I didn't want to think about the NHL because it just seemed like it was so far away," he said after the game. "But it paid off in the long run."
In the end, there was nothing wrong with his aggressive and acrobatic style, which had come under fire at times in his career and in this series. His lunging stops on the Canucks throughout the series, jaw-dropping and perhaps frustration-inducing in Vancouver, will highlight a remarkable season.
But at least a fraction of the credit is due to Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara, who made a save with his knee midway through the second period, denying Canucks winger Alexandre Burrows of what looked like a sure goal with the Bruins holding a 1-0 lead. The captain, who along with partner Dennis Seidenberg averaged nearly 30 minutes a game this postseason, was a bruising and intimidating presence, but as he skated to the small table on the ice, where the Stanley Cup sat awaiting him, the 34-year-old Chara resembled a kid -- albeit, a 6-foot-9 kid -- finally getting the toy he's always wanted.
He lifted the 35-pound weight with ease before handing off the Cup to Mark Recchi, the 22-year NHL veteran, who with this win skated his final NHL strides as a champion. With an assist in Game 7, the 43-year-old winger finished the final series with seven points, tied with a player almost half his age for the lead.
The 23-year-old Brad Marchand, a self-proclaimed rat on the ice, proved to be much more, especially when the stakes were the highest. Nearly 15 minutes into the first period Wednesday night, the feisty winger beat Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin to the puck on an offensive zone face off. He skated with it up and down the wing, eluding defenseman Sami Salo, before backhanding a pass into the slot, where Patrice Bergeron outmuscled the Canucks and slipped it in past goalie Roberto Luongo. In the second, he gave the Bruins an insurance goal midway through the period, crashing the net, finding a rebound and taking it behind the Vancouver net for a wraparound goal that Luongo could not contain. Marchand finished the postseason with 11 goals (after an empty netter in the closing minutes), the most for a rookie since Jeremy Roenick scored as many in 1990. Only Dino Ciccarelli had more, with 14 in 1981.
The Canucks, the NHL's top offense during the regular season, could not find a way around Thomas all series. A power play unit that featured the Sedin twins and chugged along at a league-best 24.3 percent success rate this season, sputtered down the stretch, going 2-for-33 in the finals. When Bergeron scored a shorthanded goal late in the second to extend their lead to 3-0, the Bruins penalty kill had in fact outscored the Canucks power play.
"You've got to give credit where credit is due," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "Their goaltender was real tough to beat. The way they played in front of him was real tough to beat.... We gave it our best shot, but in this one game, they were the better team."
For the first time in the series, the visiting team had been the better team and taken the game. As the Bruins skated around, taking turns pressing the Stanley Cup up high above their heads in Rogers Arena, it didn't matter that they weren't home in Boston. After all, a piece of home -- or rather, a splash of home -- was with them all the way.