VANCOUVER – "Let's go!" he yelled. With that, Zdeno Chara(notes) pulled down the Stanley Cup, stepped over a red carpet, headed off the ice and ducked into a tunnel. But the captain was too tall. He's a giant of a man, 6-foot-9, 255 pounds, and fans of the Canucks and Bruins reached down and tapped him on the head and shoulders, desperately trying to touch the Cup before it headed out of sight.
The Cup is coming back to Boston. Both teams and towns wanted it so badly, the Canucks never having won it since joining the NHL in 1970, the Bruins having gone without it since 1972. The final series went seven games – seven bitter, bizarre, brutal and brilliant games – but in the end Wednesday night, it was the Bruins who won Game 7, 4-0. It was the Bruins who ended their drought.
"We still have fans that remember – barely – '72," said team president Cam Neely, a British Columbia native who played three seasons for the Canucks before going to the Bruins in 1986 and becoming a Boston legend. "And then from '72 on, they've been waiting for this moment to happen."
How did this happen? How did the Bruins go from chokers to, finally, champions? Two years in a row, they lost a Game 7 in the playoffs. Last year, they lost after blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 7 – after blowing a 3-0 lead in a second-round series with the Philadelphia Flyers. They became only the third NHL team ever to have a 3-0 series lead and lose.
And now? Now they have become the first team ever to win three Game 7s in one playoff run. Not only that, they came from behind in each of those series to do it. They faced a 2-0 deficit in the first round against the Montreal Canadiens; won in seven. They redeemed themselves by sweeping the Flyers in the second round. They faced a 1-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning; won in seven. They faced 2-0 and 3-2 deficits against the Canucks; won in seven.
Won it all.
"We lost in Game 7 two years in a row, and they learned from it. As simple as it is, they learned from it," general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "If you've got a strong group, they're going to get stronger, and I've always felt we had a strong group."
Chiarelli sighed and smiled. The Patriots, the Red Sox, the Celtics, all recent champions. Now the Bruins, too.
"I can't describe it," Chiarelli said. "I mean, I still don't believe that we're here."
The TV cameras caught Nathan Horton(notes) at 3:17 p.m. PT, less than two hours before faceoff. He walked up the tunnel and onto the bench. He pulled out a water bottle and discreetly sprayed water onto the Rogers Arena ice.
"I don't remember," Horton said, smiling.
Very funny. Horton is recovering from a concussion he suffered in Game 3, leaving him to serve only as inspiration for the rest of the series, but he remembered just fine.
The guys on the ice crew back in Boston came up with the idea. The Bruins had dominated the Canucks on home ice, but they had lost three one-goal squeakers in Vancouver. If they were going to break through on the road when it mattered most – against the winners of the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team – they needed to make the ice their own.
So they gathered some Garden water and gave it to Horton.
"I was trying to be sneaky about it, but everyone caught me," Horton said.
"It worked," Horton said.
This was not the Canucks' night, and so, still, this was not the Canucks' year. Once, Ryan Kesler(notes) fired a shot that hit a linesman. Another time, Alex Burrows gathered the puck in the slot and waited, waited, waited until goaltender Tim Thomas(notes) ended up out of position, only to see Chara make a save in front of a gaping net.
Not that Thomas needed much help. He made more saves in the playoffs and in the final than any goaltender ever had before, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player, hands down. In seven games against the Canucks – the highest-scoring team in the regular season, a team that has the NHL's last two scoring champions – he allowed only eight goals. He posted two shutouts.
When Patrice Bergeron(notes) scored the first goal in the first period Wednesday night, the Canucks were in trouble. When Brad Marchand(notes) scored the second goal in the second period, it was virtually over. How were the Canucks going to score three goals against Thomas, when they had scored just three against him in the past three games combined?
When Bergeron scored shorthanded later in the second – a fluky goal, sliding into Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo(notes), who didn't put down his paddle and watched the puck slide by – it was academic.
"I can't imagine how somebody could play as well as Tim did this seven-game series," Neely said. "He was amazing, and so calm and cool and collected. Just an amazing, amazing seven-game series."
"Then it really sunk in," Recchi said. "I knew this was going to be it."
At 43, Recchi was going to retire on top. Bruins coach Claude Julien told him to shake it off, that he would be out for the final shift. So Recchi gathered himself, and there he was as the seconds counted down, skating in his native province, about to win the third Cup of his proud career.
With about 10 seconds left, he looked up at the scoreboard as he skated under it. With about five seconds left, he lifted his arms in the air in the Vancouver zone. That was it, and it was perfect.
"I'm done. I won't be able to train hard enough to get ready for September," said Recchi, who hopes to stay in the game in a management role somewhere, someday. "Just to be on the ice my last shift and to win a Stanley Cup, doing it is unbelievable."
The Stanley Cup came out, and commissioner Gary Bettman handed it to Chara, and Chara almost couldn't handle it. As he raised it over his head, he knocked off his championship cap. As he started to skate with it, he almost fell backward.
But he gathered himself and held it high – maybe higher than it has ever been held before. He and partner Dennis Seidenberg(notes) had been such a big part of this run, a shutdown pair on a defensive team. Chara handed the Cup to Recchi, who handed it to Bergeron, one of the game's top two-way players. Bergeron handed it to Thomas, and from hand to hand it went.
So many other Bruins played important roles – scorers David Krejci(notes), Milan Lucic(notes) and Michael Ryder(notes); rookies Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin(notes); defensemen Andrew Ference(notes), Johnny Boychuk(notes) and Adam McQuaid(notes); grinders Gregory Campbell(notes), Shawn Thornton(notes) and Daniel Paille(notes); trade-deadline acquisitions Tomas Kaberle(notes), Chris Kelly(notes) and Rich Peverley(notes).
"We had a great game," Marchand said. "We pulled it off, and we're so proud of ourselves. It's such a relief. Some guys go their whole career without winning it. To win it the first year, it's unbelievable. It just doesn't kick in. I don't know if it will ever kick in."
As the Bruins gathered for their team picture, Colin Campbell walked through the bowels of the arena. The NHL's senior executive vice-president of hockey operations had to recuse himself as the league's disciplinarian for this series because his son Gregory plays for the Bruins, and he's stepping down from that role next season.
Now, he wasn't a controversial figure. He was just a hockey dad, and when he spotted a TV showing the team picture, he stopped and found his son on the screen. He smiled. He walked away biting his lower lip.
"Particularly for what he's gone through, being my son, it hasn't been pleasant at times," Colin said. "He's gotten lots of criticism, and this just is the icing on the cake. It feels so good for him and his mom and his sisters. They've had to go through a lot of crap."
"It's helpful that I am who I am in some ways," Colin said. "He got free ice when he was a kid. But after that, it was all downhill."
Colin walked into the ice, and right away, father and son hugged. Colin had won the Cup as an assistant coach with the New York Rangers in 1994. Gregory was only 10 then. But he remembered how much of a commitment it had been for those players, how much had to go right – to win the Cup in seven games over the Canucks.
Taking crap for being the son of Colin Campbell? Fine.
"It comes with the territory," Gregory said. "It's something that I've had to deal with, but I don't feel sorry for myself. I gained a lot of experiences from living hockey day in and day out and being around hockey, so I'm not apologizing for it. But it certainly is satisfying to do something that you can call your own."
There were family reunions all over the ice.
"Awesome," Lucic said while giving an interview, surrounded by revelers in his native Vancouver. "It was awesome. It was better than awesome. We did exactly what we needed to do. My parents are here now, so I'm out of here. Woo!"
Lucic hugged his mother, Snezana.
"Every emotion is going through me right now – from happiness and excitement and tears of joy," his mother said. "Just everything, because your son won the Stanley Cup – in Vancouver of all places."
Recchi did interviews with one kid hugging his leg and another in his arms. Thomas cut one interview short when a little girl ran up.
"There she is! Woo!"
Thomas scooped her up and skated away. The Cup is coming back to Boston, reuniting with everyone in the Bruins family.
"I'm so happy for you," Neely addressed the fans into a New England TV camera. "You guys deserve this. You've deserved it for a long time. The support that you've given this organization and the players for all these years, enjoy it. Savor it. It's the best."