Could anyone have concocted a more perfect fan scenario?
En route to winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since Lou Grant was telling Mary Richards he hated her spunk, fans of the Boston Bruins watched their team ...
... break the hearts of their two most hated rivals - the Canadiens and Flyers - in completely different ways, the first by coming from an 0-2 deficit after losing the first two games at home, the second by dismissing the opponents in four a scant 12 months after they handed your team the most humiliating defeat in league history.
... outfight a gallant Tampa Bay team and its 40-something goaltender in a fasten-your-seat-belt series that culminated in one of the great hockey games any of us have ever been privileged to witness.
... spot the team with the league’s best record two games and then win four of the next five by squeezing the life and very will out of them, finishing the job by shutting them out in their own rink.
All Stanley Cup wins are satisfying, but few have ever been won while traveling such a treacherous path. It was almost - almost - worth waiting 39 years to enjoy it.
So much for all the “alwayses” and “nevers.” Did we all not tire of hearing how great the odds are against winning a series if you lose the first two games? Difficult is one thing. Impossible is quite another.
Yes, it’s harder if you don’t at least get a split of the first two. But it has been done; that’s all anyone needed to know. We in Boston should know better than anyone, having lived through both sides of an 0-3 comeback in a six-year span.
All these “alwayses” and “nevers” are true until they’re not true. End of story.
Now we have a new one. No NHL team had ever won three seven-game series in one postseason. Well, now one has. Oh, and no team had ever shut out a team on the road in a Game 7. True Wednesday morning, absolutely. Not true Thursday.
History, we so love our history here. Try this one. Consider the parallel between the NESN twins, the Red Sox and Bruins. Was there a lower feeling than the Aaron Boone home run, complete with the Pedro controversy? And what happened a year later? Euphoria! It was complete and utter revenge, accomplished in the most humiliating manner, correct?
OK, was there a lower feeling for Bruins fans than seeing the team blow both a 3-0 series lead and a 3-0 home-ice lead in Game 7 to the despicable team from Philadelphia? No way. A year later ... a sweep? Oh, there is a hockey god after all.
The 2004 Sox and 2011 Bruins win championships one year after suffering two of the toughest losses ever. We’re barely worthy.
What a tremendous ride this was, 25 games spanning 63 days. So much happened, it’s impossible to digest it all. Does anyone remember Zdeno Chara getting sick and missing a game? Didn’t think so. Wait a minute ... didn’t Patrice Bergeron suffer another concussion? Yes, yes, yes! Coming back to me now. And The Kid came in and got two goals, one of which reminded everyone why he was a No. 2 overall pick to begin with. Remember that?
Didn’t they spend a couple of days in Lake Placid? Whose idea was that? Worked out pretty well, though, didn’t it?
Mark Recchi went scoreless for 11 games and, c’mon, you know you said it; you, me, and half of New England moaned that he was too old and couldn’t skate anymore, and how can Claude Julien keep him on the power play? And who was one of the best players on the ice in the Final? Hint: We won’t be seeing him anymore.
Claude, how about Claude? It was a universal assumption, rightly or wrongly, that he was going to get sacked if they lost to Montreal. Remember that?
You have to feel good for Claude Julien, a truly decent man who has his hockey principles and who now has the satisfaction of seeing his vision of how the game should be played result in the ultimate prize.
Winning the Cup is so hard, you know? Well, I guess we do know, since this team hadn’t done it in 39 years. There were a lot of good players who couldn’t get it done here - e.g. O’Reilly, Ratelle, Middleton, Park, Pederson, Milbury, Oates, Janney, and, of course, the hallowed Bourque.
And one of the very best of anyone’s very best said what he has just seen makes him appreciate what it takes to get your hands on that precious Cup more now than when he was wearing a Bruins sweater.
“I’m drained,” said Cam Neely, once upon a time a stellar player and now a man with a key to the executive washroom. “I don’t recall it being that way when I played. Now I realize what it takes to do this.
“It’s so draining, physically for the players and mentally for us in suits. I’m mentally fried.”
Think of how much more respect and admiration we have for some of these players now than we may have had two months ago.
Start with Brad Marchand. Hard to imagine anyone had him down for 11 playoff goals. He was a scrappy pup who matured into an alpha dog before our very eyes.
I mean, yeah, there were the hits and the Pie-like taunting of the Sedins and the other things that will make him a villain throughout the league. But did you check out that fancy-schmancy stickhandling as he went over and under and around and through Kevin Bieksa, a pretty good player, for his wraparound goal Wednesday night? That’s a hockey player, right there.
We could go on and on, but how about this one? Gregory Campbell. Make no mistake, Gregory Campbell’s so-called “fourth line” turned around Game 7.
The Bruins were being outhit and generally outplayed in the first period when Campbell & Co. came on to play a dominating shift that monopolized the puck in the Vancouver end for about a day and a half and infused energy into the entire team. It was hardly a surprise when Marchand and Bergeron connected a short time later for the first goal.
Too bad they couldn’t have given Campbell, sitting on the bench, an assist. We’ll have to speak to Mr. Bettman.
That was no isolated incident. Campbell did things like that for the two months it took to win this Cup. He was the consummate “role player.” As such, he symbolized what was so endearing about this team.
They really were a true T-E-A-M, seeking, and getting, vital contributions from the likes of Campbell, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille, Rich Peverley, and Chris Kelly, to augment the more publicized achievements of Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Milan Lucic, Recchi, Michael Ryder, Nathan Horton, David Krejci, Bergeron, and Marchand.
As for Mr. Conn Smythe himself, perhaps the ultimate compliment came from one Mr. Glenn “Doc” Rivers, who was among the attendees at Game 6.
“Tim Thomas,” said the Celtics coach, “is like having Bill Russell sit in front of the hoop without an illegal defense.”
Sadly, far too much of what Bill Russell did to earn his reputation predated the videotape era. But every last second of what Tim Thomas has just done will be there for us all to savor. The Sedin twins will forever be stonewalled, and Steve Downie probably thinks he’s still going to score.