VANCOUVER – For Beantown, the long wait is finally over. The Boston Bruins blanked the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 in Game Seven at Rogers Arena on June 15 to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972 and sixth all-time.
With his first Cup, Boston forward Patrice Bergeron joined the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club in first-class style. He scored two goals, including the first-period winner, to spark the determined Bruins, who became the first Cup champs to prevail in three seven-game series.
The 25-year-old centre from L’Ancienne Lorette, Quebec won World Championship gold with Canada in 2004 and did the same at the 2010 Olympics. Bergeron, who notched 20 points in Boston’s Cup run, becomes the 25th player to earn Triple Gold Club membership.
"The future looks bright with all the guys that we have," Bergeron said of his teammates. "But to be honest, I'm looking forward to the celebration right now."
The final was in many ways defined by the two starting netminders, both Vezina Trophy nominees. Boston’s Tim Thomas, the 2010 U.S. Olympian who took the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, shone all series long with his acrobatic, gutsy style. His 16 wins, four shutouts, 1.98 GAA and 94.0 save percentage were all playoff bests, and his 798 saves were a new playoff record. It was an amazing story for the 37-year-old, who honed his skills with five seasons in Finland and Sweden.
“I had nerves yesterday and today,” said the modest and quotable Thomas. “I faked it as well as I could, and I faked my way all the way to the Stanley Cup.” It was a classic understatement.
Vancouver starter Roberto Luongo, who backstopped Canada to Olympic gold in 2010, was often as brilliant on home ice as he was abysmal in Boston, where he posted three losses with an 8.03 GAA and 77.3 save percentage. For Game Seven, Canuck fans were hoping Luongo could come up with a record-tying third shutout during these finals. Yet all three goals Luongo surrendered before being pulled for an extra attacker in the dying stages were iffy at best. The 32-year-old Montrealer, who made $10 million this year, will continue to face questions about his fragile psyche.
Brad Marchand, the Bruins’ agitator par excellence, also played a huge role in this shutout victory, potting two goals and an assist. At age 23, the Halifax native’s résumé now includes a Cup to go with his two World Junior golds (2007, 2008). Only Minnesota’s Dino Ciccarelli scored more goals as a playoff rookie (14, 1981) than Marchand (11).
The Bruins had a tough road to the ultimate showdown. They beat the Montreal Canadiens three times in overtime in the seven-game first round. Next, they swept Philadelphia to secure revenge for blowing a 3-0 series lead versus the Flyers last year. And Boston needed a 1-0, penalty-free Game Seven win over the Tampa Bay Lightning to make it through the conference finals.
They learned their lessons well, spoiling Vancouver’s party plans. They were clearly the better team.
Thousands of Vancouverites flooded sunny downtown streets to watch Game Seven on big TV screens, hoping to celebrate a short walk from Stanley Park, named after the 19th-century Governor-General of Canada who originally donated the championship trophy. And to get into the arena? Tickets reportedly went for up to $12,000 apiece.
But there would be no joyous street party reminiscent of last year’s Olympics after the home team’s lackluster finale: instead there were boos, tears, and most regrettably, riot police, tear gas, and fires. Along with the jeers and bottle-throwing during the Cup presentation, it was not Vancouver’s proudest moment.
In their closing loss, the 2011 Canucks looked physically and mentally beaten, especially on the blueline, and couldn’t convert their chances. After taking a 3-2 series lead in Game Five, they failed to capitalize. The franchise’s 40-year Cup drought will be extended. And no Canadian team has won the title since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.
The only previous time Vancouver scored a Stanley Cup title was in 1915, when the Vancouver Millionaires swept the Ottawa Senators 3-0 in a five-game series. Boston’s victory simply augments the heartache that Canada’s biggest West Coast city experienced while losing the Cup to the New York Islanders in 1982 and the New York Rangers in 1994.
It’s been an exceptional run for hockey in Vancouver recently. Canada captured World Junior gold here in 2006. In 2007, the WHL’s Vancouver Giants won their first Memorial Cup, and Canada’s national junior team trounced the Russians with seven wins and one tie in the exhibition Super Series, which concluded in Vancouver. In 2010, Sidney Crosby’s 3-2 overtime goal versus the United States at Vancouver’s Canada Hockey Place gave the host nation men’s Olympic gold at the biggest Winter Games ever, while Canada’s women beat the Americans in the final too.
But sadly for Vancouverites, the good times are over. The Stanley Cup will be heading to the East Coast instead.
"Our players gave it their best shot," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "At the end of the day you've got to give credit where credit is due. Boston played a real strong game."
On the international level, plenty of history was made. Hulking Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara became the second European captain ever to hoist the Cup, following in the footsteps of fellow Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidström of the Detroit Red Wings (2008). It’s something for Slovak fans to cheer about after their national team finished tenth on home ice at last month’s Worlds.
Meanwhile, Chara’s blueline partner, Dennis Seidenberg, became just the second German ever to capture the Cup after Uwe Krupp (Colorado, 1996). He added two assists in Game Seven.
Although some will point to Boston’s Cup as a triumph of Canadian grit over the more skill-based, European-laced roster of Vancouver, it’s also worth noting that Czech centre David Krejci led the playoffs with 12 goals and 23 points, edging out Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin (22).
In many ways, it was arguably the craziest Stanley Cup final in recent memory – the 16th in history to go seven games.
It was marred by serious injuries to key players on both teams: Boston’s Nathan Horton left the series with a serious concussion after a suspension-worthy blueline hit by Vancouver’s Aaron Rome in Game Three, and that was arguably the ultimate turning point, as Boston won 8-1 that night and outplayed the Canucks the rest of the way. For the Canucks, Mason Raymond suffered a vertebra compression on a Johnny Boychuk check at the start of Game Six.
Bruins fans taunted the Canucks as gutless fakers, from Alex Burrows’ biting incident with Patrice Bergeron to Maxim Lapierre’s embellishment on a Zdeno Chara spear. Canuck fans, in turn, deplored the amount of physical abuse that the bully-boy Bruins were allowed to dish out to Vancouver stars like Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The Canucks, the league’s best all-around team with 262 regular season goals, tallied just eight goals in the finals to Boston’s 23.
Although the Sedins finished second and fourth respectively in playoff scoring (Daniel had 20 points), they were rendered largely ineffective for long stretches while facing shutdown pairings versus the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. That pattern continued against Chara and Seidenberg. Like Luongo, the two most recent Art Ross Trophy winners will face questions over the summer, especially considering the way their team went out in Game Seven. The Sedins were on for all four Bruins goals. Second-line centre Ryan Kesler was limited to a single assist in this final while playing hurt, which left the pressure squarely on the Swedish twins.
“It's up to us to score and we didn't do it,” Henrik said. “We're the offensive players, and we have to get the job done. Their goalie was unbelievable, but it's our job to score, and we take the blame for that.”
Meanwhile, Boston veteran Mark Recchi retired as a champion. The 43-year-old right wing from Kamloops, BC – a 1997 World Championship gold medalist and 1998 Olympian – sits twelfth in all-time NHL scoring with 1,533 points and now owns three Stanley Cup rings. He previously won with Pittsburgh (1991) and Carolina (2006).
It was a great moment for other BC-born Bruins. Winger Milan Lucic and team president Cam Neely both hail from the Vancouver area. But that was scant consolation for fans of the blue-and-green jersey.
For Bruins supporters, this Stanley Cup has been a long time coming. The last time the Bruins sipped champagne, the 1972 Summit Series hadn’t yet been played, Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev were still in office, and Canadian rocker Neil Young had just released his classic album Harvest.
Now the Bruins have all summer to celebrate and rock out, while the Canucks will ponder their unfortunate legacy, wondering what they could have done differently.