June 15th 2011

Believe it or not, half  a decade has passed since Zdeno Chara hoisted Lord Stanley emphatically over his head, in doing so he launched sports greatest trophy to another stratosphere. The phrase “get the duck boats ready” reverberates through my ears promptly every June 15th.

Just look at the contrasts in emotion between the guys on the ice and the mix between grief stricken Canucks fans and that one Bruin fan smacking the glass.

Christ, I miss Mark Recchi.

On a realistic level it doesn’t seem like it was five years ago whatsoever. To me, it was just yesterday that an un-recallable amount of friends and I were jammed into my basement filled with nervous optimism.

For Bruins fans this unexpected victory was so much sweeter when you factor in the mud they had been involuntarily dragged through for years. History will tell you that Boston has appeared in 19 Stanley Cup finals, emerging victorious only 6 times.

Excluding the 2013 loss because, it obviously hadn’t happened prior to 2011.

Recent losses include the upstart Flyers in 74, back to back finals to the Canadians in 77 and 78 and twice to the Oilers in 88 and 90.

While to this day watching Ray Bourque lift the Cup with Colorado never fails to bring a tear to my eye. Seriously if you don’t get the chills watching this, I’m convinced you aren’t a human being or you’re incapable of basic emotions. Take your pick.

As fantastic as it was to witness it first hand, it should of happened in Boston. But no cigar, so watching his greatest triumph as a member of Colorado was like watching your best friend kiss you sister.

Hockey’s gods didn’t take pity on the Bruins after the Avalanche helped Ray win his one and only title. Entering the early 2000’s they were good, but not anywhere near good enough. In 2003-04 they lost to the underdog Canadians after establishing a 3-1 series lead and again losing to Montreal four years later in game 7. 2009 saw Boston sweep Montreal, then lose to Carolina in 7. 2010 ended on the opposite side of one of histories greatest comebacks as the Flyers rebounded after trailing 3 games to 0.

Changes were desperately needed.

Trading for Nathan Horton and Greg Campbell and drafting Tyler Seguin 2nd overall (TBT). Boston got their face lift, but needed a few more pieces. Chris Kelly, Tomas Kaberle and Rich Peverley were necessary trade deadline additions.

With the roster solidified it was now time to make use of the changes.

Staring you directly in the face was the organization whom for years took it upon themselves to ensure playoff success wasn’t the norm in Boston.

You guessed it, the Montreal Canadians.

Unfamiliar with how it typically goes? Allow history to tell its story. No other team in NHL history has played one another in the Cup finals than these two, which is bound to change eventually.

Initially they squared off on December 8th 1924 since that date they have exchanged “pleasantries” 910 times. Montreal holds the playoff edge with 106 victories to Boston’s 71, similar story in the regular season. Montreal comes on top with 358 victories to Boston’s 265.

2011 was just another footnote in the novel that is one of sports greatest rivalry. For a truly jaw dropping 33rd time two of hockey’s most historically rich teams would battle for bragging rights.

Boston, statistically was the favorite. They won more games, had more points, were the higher seed and owned home ice. Which, in return didn’t phase Montreal whatsoever. The Habs took games one and two in Boston forcing the Bruins to accomplish the near impossible. Go to Montreal and win.

Make no mistake next to the “Mad house on Madison” home of the Blackhawks, the Bell Centre is the hardest building for the opposition to win in. Unlike in games one and two, games three and four were rumpus affairs. Trading goal for goal, punch for punch, the type of hockey that makes your heart skip a beat.

Legendary performances from Nathan Horton, Michael Ryder and obviously Tim Thomas sent Boston back home for game five with the series knotted at two games a piece.

Boston would win the double overtime nail bitter that was game 5. A new objective had arose, win the series in Montreal. It didn’t happen, Montreal took the potential elimination opportunity away from Boston, winning the affair 2-1.

Game 7; its often echoed in sports, no series is worth while unless it goes seven games. What makes a game 7 so special is the fact that there truly is nothing left to play for in the series beyond it. So, in the hours that led to puck drop the unavoidable notion that it could all go horribly wrong for Boston was steadfast.

Behind goals from Johnny Boychuk and Mark Recchi, Boston opened the final chapter of the series with a 2-0 lead. Only to see it evaporate, Chris Kelly put Boston up 3-2 late in the third period only to have PK Subban re-tie the game in the dying moments. She would need extra time.

While certain retellings of the play as it materialized do little to send chills down particular fans spines, some men are masters of it. Milan Lucic wins a 50/50 puck battle against Subban, buys time and space, finds Horton in the high slot and his slap shot flies pas the glove of Price.

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Philadelphia anxiously awaited on the horizon. Had you fancied yourself to the notion of omens and if you were a reporter at the time, this series was gold for you. History tells its own rendition of the season prior, not that Boston had won the first three games. Quite the opposite indeed, the story was how Philadelphia battled back. Winning four games in a row and winning the series.

Three games later it was a similar story line. Boston held once again a commanding three games to none series lead.

Headlines littered with slogans like “Choking hazard, will Boston pull through”. Game four was an anxious time for Boston but just as they did in game 3, game four ended in a 5-1 victory for Boston.

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Until this particular point, Boston had not faced an opponent quite like Tampa Bay.

Offensively Tampa was one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs. In complete contrast to how Boston typically played their games. Speed was Tampa’s greatest weapon.

Defensively Tampa introduced the 1-3-1 trap style in the neutral zone. Basically one man would patrol the blue line, behind him three of his teammates stood guard at center ice, finally the last man positioned himself in the far blue line. It turned out to get the better of Boston, who lost game one at home 5-2.

Game one also featured the coming out party for Tyler Seguin who recorded a goal and an assist in his first playoff game.

The series reached its boiling point after game two. Various narratives such as Shawn Thornton being a healthy scratch by virtue of Tyler Seguin. The goal tending battle between Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson. Stars on both sides losing their cool repeatedly, often times engaging in fisticuffs. Steven Stamkos getting hit in the face with a slap shot in game 7 and of course Nathan Horton’s famous game 7 goal.

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However, the series will always be remembered for the now famous game 7 at the TD Garden. Many hockey savvy people will tell you its one of the best playoff games in recent history. Regardless of the fact that there wasn’t a single goal recorded until just under 8 minutes remaining in regulation.

Nathan Horton deflected Krejci’s beautiful saucer pass by a prone Roloson and that was all Boston needed to advance to the Cup Final.

For Milan Lucic being able to participate in the Stanley Cup Final was an opportunity he would cherish for life. Not simply because its every hockey players dream, but he was a die hard Canuck fan growing up in suburban Vancouver.

Quite the homecoming.

Games one and two of the series were pedestrian affairs. Now, that being said Alex Burrows was so hungry for a victory in game one he couldn’t help but chomp down on Patrice Bergerons hand. Promoting the league to institute a no bitting rule.

Vancouver took both games by differing scenarios. In game one Raffi Torres’ back door goal with 18 seconds remaining in the third sent the hometown crowd off with a smile.

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Game two needed extra time, but not a lot of it. Just 11 seconds into overtime Alex Burrows maneuvered his way around Zdeno Chara, wrapped around the net and tucked it by Tim Thomas.

Roberto Luongo criticized Thomas’ aggressive tendencies in net “when you play like that you have to expect those goals”.

The theoretical pot was boiling.

Boston was desperate for answers after under performing thus far in the Finals. Hopefully the change in scenery would do them good.

Unfortunately just five minutes into game three Aaron Rome’s shoulder side swiped Nathan Horton’s upper body. Hortons body slammed to the ice laying motionless for several minutes, it was quite obvious he had received a serious concussion. The injury would keep Horton from returning to the series at all.

Boos rained down from the Garden hopeful as Rome was escorted off the ice after receiving a 5 minute major penalty for his hit. Subsequently the league suspended Rome for the rest of the Finals.

In the minutes that followed Thomas stood tall, conquering a dangerous press from the Canucks. Boston appeared lost for a moment, the health and well being of their teammate weighing heavy on their conscious.

After the mourning period had passed, they used their teammates revenge as motivation. By the time the final buzzer sounded on game three Boston totaled 8 goals, two of them short handed. Thomas stopped 40 of 41 shots and remained perfect until the third period. The series complexion had completely shifted.

Roberto had no comments on Thomas’ ability to perform in net post game.

Similarly, Thomas allowed the numbers to do the talking.

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Before the first puck was dropped on game 4 a familiar figure made a significant impact on the game. Legendary Bruin, Bobby Orr emerged from the concourse waving a flag with Horton’s name and number. It proved to be a much needed shot in the arm for Boston. The atmosphere was set. Boston cruised to a 4-0 victory.

Boston felt confident with the series tied heading back to Vancouver for game 5.

An uneventful game 5 saw Vancouver down Boston 1-0, the only goal coming in the third period from Max Lapierre.

Back in Boston the trend remained in game 6, goals came in bunches from the Bruins, 5-2 was your final score.

June 15th 2011.

Game 7’s are as unique to the sporting world as anything else. Especially in the Stanley Cup Finals. A proverbial final act which culminates everything that has come before it. There’s a certain crispness in the air, such dramatic tension that, as eluded to earlier is unique to its situation. Unlike in theater nothing is scripted, there is no pre-planning, if there’s a plot twist it comes in the moment of the game. Simply put its pure spontanious bedlam. Men are made into heroes in game 7’s. More often than not its the 3rd or 4th line guys who make their mark here. Many have found themselves here in the past, even fewer have succeeded. Dreams are made and broken in game 7’s which is why its heralded as the pinnacle of sporting lore. Nothing is quite like game 7, besides itself.

Up until this point the home team had won every single game in the series. It goes without saying that the odds weren’t in Bostons favor.

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Prior to game time Nathan Horton did something most people don’t know about. With the home ice advantage stat fresh in his mind, he took ice shavings from the TD Garden, preserving them in a Gatorade bottle. When the ice was cleared following the conclusion of warm ups Horton uncapped the water bottle spilling the melted Garden ice onto Rogers Arena surface.

“Its our home ice now” Horton boasted.

Thomas yet again was rock solid for Boston as wave after wave after wave of calculated Vancouver attack came unrelentingly.

14:36 into the first period Patrice Bergeron took a face off in Vancouver’s zone flanked by Marchand and Recchi. Marchand jumped the snap and won the 50/50 puck off the draw, circled back to the half wall and backhanded a pass in the direction of Bergeron.

Bergeron slapped home the games first goal, the pass was so pretty from Marchand that Luongo didn’t even react to the shot.

Whoever scored the games first goal has won every game in the series, the fans in Vancouver realized such a stat and sat on egg shells for remained of the period.

Vancouver brought the pace to start the second, Thomas yet again was up to the task. Boston, fed on the momentum their veteran goaltender was giving them. Half way through the second period Vancouver’s best opportunity to break the tie came when Chara’s pass was deflected off Sedin’s skate right to Burrow’s stick. Thomas was caught drastically out of position, scrambling to recover himself Chara leaped in front of the wide open net, blocking Burrow’s shot.

Just a few minutes later Marchand gave his team some breathing room, his wrap around backhander was saved by Luongo, but trickled in regardless.

2-0 Boston.

Under four minutes remained in the second period as Vancouver found themselves on the power play. This was their opportunity to claw back into the game, the leagues best special teams unit was on the ice and smelled blood.

Not according to Bergeron, who intercepted a pass, split the defense at his blue line and streaked towards Luongo. In full stride Bergeron was yanked to the ice, colliding with the Vancouver goaltender. Within the mad scramble the puck found its way into the net, despite the backlash from fans and players alike the goal would stand.

3-0 Boston.

Despite the less than opportune circumstances to start the third and final period Vancouver remained vigilant. They wanted a goal.

However, they had to solve Tim Thomas which is no small task.

As the minutes bled away, that collective inevitability began to soak in on Vancouver’s bench ‘we’re going to lose’. For Boston the grip didn’t loosen for them the mindset was ‘we’re going to win the Stanley Cup’.

2:45 was all that remained in game 7, Marchand hustling after a puck deep into Vancouver’s zone. If he wins the race he negates the icing, he did just that. Regardless of is efforts the puck managed to clear the zone, just to be intercepted by Bergeron who gave it back to Marchand. He made no mistake firing home his second of the game into the empty net.

4-0 Boston.

Doc Emerick said it best when describing the Boston Bruins as the final seconds of the game clicked away “despite that adversity they followed their coach to the high road, and the high road is the road to the Cup. No icing, for the first time in 39 years the Bruins have won the Stanley Cup”.

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Confetti in the form of sticks, helmets and gloves fell from the sky. Rogers Arena was quiet aside from the cheers and screams from 23 grown men whose dreams were finally realized. Each and every single one of them were Stanley Cup Champions, nothing could take that away.

When the dust cleared both teams took part in what makes the sport so special. The hand shake line.

You can beat the ever living piss out of each other for seven straight games but when that final horn blows, its over. The game is over, but the respect prevails.

37 saves later and Tim Thomas was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner more than deservedly so. With all do respect he was far more interested in holding the next trophy to come out.

She gets the white glove treatment daily, over 100 years of history. The dynasty’s, legends, Cinderella stories, blood, sweat and tears were all accounted for. It weights 35 pounds but after what you go through to win it, that doesn’t matter. Men have separated shoulders and still lifted it well above their heads. Lord Stanley’s hardware has reduced men to tears.

And on June 15th 2011, the team that suffered the leagues most historic playoff defeat just one year prior had written their wrongs, exercised their demons against Montreal, weathered the storm against Tampa and capped it off with a game 7 nobody in Boston will ever forget.

Believe it or not, half  a decade has passed since Zdeno Chara hoisted Lord Stanley emphatically over his head, but it feels like yesterday.

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