VANCOUVER, British Columbia — For too long, hockey has been a punch line in Boston.
While the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics lifted their trophies and rode in their Duck Boats, the Bruins were the perpetual jokes — Charlie Brown, Larry Fine, and Bozo wrapped into one.
Hockey is cool again.
In Boston, it used to be that hockey was an afterthought even before the Harvard whizzes picked up their pencils for final exams. This time around, weeks after the last student piled his beanbag chair into the back of mom’s SUV, the Bruins played on.
Now, after a 4-0 throttling of the Canucks last night at Rogers Arena, it will be winter for a while. The boys of pucks and pluck kept the ice frozen until well after the tulips sprouted and the Swan Boats returned to the Public Garden. Only the air leaking from Roberto Luongo’s tires could melt the ice now.
“Just so much pride,’’ Daniel Paille said as he stood on the ice after the win. “I’m so proud of everybody. I guess proud is the word.’’
For the first time since 1972, players with spoked-B’s on their chests raised the Stanley Cup over their heads. And after seven games in the final, seven in the previous round, and seven in the first series, the Bruins felt every ounce of the Cup’s heft.
“It was actually pretty heavy,’’ said Dennis Seidenberg. “You get weak during the playoffs. It was pretty heavy.’’
There is nothing light about the Cup. It is Clarence Stanley’s greatest gift, a picture-perfect symbol of what hockey is all about. The Cup is not a dinky trophy like the ones baseball and basketball players lift with as much effort as it takes to palm a BlackBerry. Even a strongman like Zdeno Chara, after first hoisting the Cup, leaned back because of its weight.
The Cup takes work. For the Bruins, it was about 82 regular-season games. Then 25 more in the playoffs. And an effort from the first man on the roster — Tim Thomas, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, certainly counts as No. 1 — to the bottom rung.
Last night, the Canucks charged out of the starting blocks with the ferocity of Usain Bolt. They nearly bullied the Bruins out of the building with a ferocious forecheck, speed to the puck, and a wave-after-wave approach on Thomas.
When it came time for the Bruins to push back, they didn’t look to their star players. Instead, they leaned on their plumbers.
Paille, Gregory Campbell, and Shawn Thornton held the fort. They took three of the Bruins’ five first-period shots. They hemmed the Canucks in their own zone. They belted everything in sight.
And because of that, the Bruins found their game, grabbed a 1-0 lead — Patrice Bergeron one-timed a Brad Marchand dish from the slot at 14:37 — and ultimately fell into their rhythm.
“They were unbelievable,’’ Seidenberg said. “They battled hard to give us energy every time they were out there. They were getting hits. They were forechecking hard. For them to give us that breather and that extra energy, it was great.’’
There is not much pretty about Boston’s game. It relies on smart decisions with the puck. Accurate placements of dump-ins. Heavy wall work. Suffocating forecheck and a relentless cycle.
Last night, it was beautiful.
Marchand made it a 2-0 game at 12:13 of the second. On the penalty kill, Bergeron fought off a Christian Ehrhoff backcheck (there was a delayed penalty on the play) and muscled a shorthanded goal through Luongo to bump it to 3-0.
When the Canucks pushed in the second and third, the Great Wall of Thomas stood tall to respond. Thomas stopped 37 shots in yet another sparkler. Marchand added an empty-netter at 17:16 of the third. All that was left was the celebration.
After the win and before the Cup was wheeled onto the ice, the Bruins hugged everybody in their sights. Chara, one of the roster’s two building blocks (Thomas being the other), spotted general manager Peter Chiarelli, his former boss in Ottawa. Chara curled his 6-foot-9-inch frame around Chiarelli, the team’s architect, until the GM was engulfed in the captain’s hug.
Soon after, Chara found something better to put his hands on.
“I can’t describe it. I still don’t believe that we’re here,’’ Chiarelli said. “Maybe tomorrow at some point, I will. It was nice to hoist it. It was really nice to see the other guys hoist it. That was something special.’’
The Bruins reached into many wells for inspiration. They wanted to win the Cup for Nathan Horton, their go-to right wing who suffered a series-ending concussion in Game 3.
Horton didn’t play last night, but he touched the game even before it started. Approximately two hours before puck drop, Horton grabbed a bottle full of water from Boston, stood on the bench, and poured its contents onto the Rogers Arena ice.
After the win, Horton hit the ice in full gear to lift a trophy that belonged to him just as much as it did the rest of his teammates. It was no coincidence that, in a nice touch by the hosts, “Dirty Water’’ blared over the speakers as the Bruins celebrated on the ice.
The Bruins wanted to win it for 43-year-old Mark Recchi, who played in his final NHL game. They wanted to win it for Thomas, the former scrub who couldn’t find an NHL job. They wanted to win it for Bergeron, the career Bruin once believed to have suffered a life-threatening injury.
They won. They won all right.
They won it for themselves, their city, and their long-suffering fans. This is a franchise once defined by too many men, Petr Klima, and the 2010 gag job against Philadelphia. The eight-spoked B was a brand caked over with grime for 39 years.
But now the Bruins have a silver Cup. It comes with plenty of polish. The spoked-B now gleams bright.