The team beat the Vancouver Canucks on the road to win its first championship since 1972
The last time the Boston Bruins won the right to skate Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley's Cup around a hockey rink the date was May 11, 1972. To give you a sense of how long ago that was, the day after the Bruins' victory over the New York Rangers that year, the Rolling Stones released Exile on Main Street.
Thirty-nine years later, Mick and Keith— and more importantly Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito—are still around to bear witness to the Bruins' dominating Game 7 victory Wednesday night over the Vancouver Canucks. The Cup again belongs to Boston. The Bruins won the game, 4-0, and the memorable series, 4-3, and they are now, for the sixth time in their long history, champions of the National Hockey League. This means that every single one of Boston's four major sports teams have won a championship in just the past seven years. They don't call the place the Hub for nothing.
For a while, at least, for a half of a period anyway, the game itself was worthy of the circumstances. And then, just like that, Boston scored on the Canucks' beleaguered goalie Roberto Luongo and that was that. In many ways, as it often is, the story of the final round of the 2011 playoffs was goaltending. For Boston, it was Tim Thomas, whose remarkable play earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of hockey two-month, beard-inducing ordeal. For Vancouver, it was Luongo, the benighted goalie of Canada's last Olympic gold in hockey, who alternated between brilliance (at home) and incompetence (on the road). Poor Luongo. He wasn't awful Wednesday. But he wasn't remotely good enough. What a burden he now will bear; the crushing weight of a country's expectations and disappointments.
The game fell apart for Vancouver in the second period, when the Bruins added two more goals, both ugly ones, the ones that go in for a team which is about to win a Stanley Cup. The Canucks had no answer to Boston's forecheck, and to Thomas' goaltendending, and to the hulking presence on defense of Zdena Chara, at 6' 9" the tallest player ever to play in the NHL. The dazzling style that had earned Vancouver the most points of any team during the regular season simply was gone. Once the score was 3-0 the game seemed over. There wasn't a single moment in the third period when a reasonable person could have thought Boston's lead was in jeopardy.
Certainly Vancouver's raucous crowd—which rioted after the game in shockingly un-Canadian-like fashion—sensed by early in the third period that the game and the championship had ebbed from them. Until Game 7, the home team had won each game of the series. Vancouver had defended home-ice with three one-goal victories, one of which came just seconds into overtime. Boston had defended its own ice, with three straight romping victories. By Game 6, commentators on both sides of the border were comparing the series to the 1960 World Series, in which the Pittsburgh Pirates got outslugged by a wide margin by the New York Yankees only to beat the Bronx Bombers in Game 7. Well, so much for that comparison. There was no Bill Mazerowski to save the Canucks here.
Indeed, in the end, the Bruins won because they played like Canadians. Or at least how Canadians would like to think they play hockey when it really counts. Determined. Gritty. Consistent. Makes sense, since the team from Boston had more Canadians on it than the team from Canada. The Canucks have six American-born players on their roster (and 16 Canadians and nine Europeans, by my count). The Bruins have only two US-born players on their roster. And every single one of their forwards (save for David Krejci) are Canadian. It takes a village to finish a cross-check—but it's still Canada's game (Thomas, not for nothing, was born in Flint, Michigan—paging Michael Moore!).
In the United States, the playoffs were shown on NBC and Versus. Those broadcasts were chock full of denunciations about the dirty play of the Canucks early in the series. In the meantime, in Canada, on the CBC and RDS, the view was quite different. The Bruins didn't so much win the series as the Canucks, inexplicably, lost it. And Boston was just as dirty, or more so, than Vancouver. If you watched the two game broadcasts in quick succession, you might have gone stretches at times wondering if you were watching the same game. For the sake of comity, let's just say that both teams played dirty at times, and several players were severely injured as a result. Same as it ever was.
When most people think of the Bruins and the Stanley Cup they think of this iconic goal by Bobby Orr, the greatest Bruins player ever, maybe the greatest hockey player ever, to win the 1970 Stanley Cup. But the Bruins won two years later, too, in more workmanlike fashion, dismantling the New York Rangers in six games. The last time the Bruins won the Cup, the day before Exile on Main Street debuted, Gerry Geevers earned a shutout. The score was 3-0. The result was never in doubt. And thus one loop in the the Circle of Hockey Life closes forever. Even Milt Schmidt, the Johnny Pesky of the Bruins, stuck around to see it. Schmidt won two Cups with the Bruins as a player (in 1939 and 1941) and two as GM (in 1970 and 1972). Good for him.
Orr and Espo, too, no doubt are smiling. But this year's edition of the Bruins really won it for Terry O'Reilly, who played his heart out every time he was on the ice for the team. They won it for Gilles Gilbert, who allowed the worst goal in Bruins history in the 1979 semi-final series against Montreal. They won it for Mike Milbury, the ever-loyal Boston defenseman who is now a venal hockey analyst. They won it for Ray Bourque, the best Bruins player of the interregnum, even though he had to leave for the Colorado Avalanche before he could win his Cup. And they won it for Don Cherry, their most famous former coach and current big-hearted Canadian cretin.
And they won it for poor Francis Rosa, the beloved Boston Globe beat hockey writer for much of drought, who watched the Bruins lose over and over and over again in playoff hockey to the glorious Montreal Canadiens (and, to be fair, other teams as well). When the Bruins finally beat the Habs in a playoff series-- the year was 1988, in an early round—Rosa wrote this as his lead:
Hey, Gorbachev, guess what happened at the Forum last night. You, too, Stan Jonathan, wherever you are. And Don Cherry. Guess what happened. Those magnificent Bruins with their skates barely touching the ice, with a tunnel-vision purpose that wouldn't be deflected, and with their hearts bigger than the moon, took their fans to another planet last night. They defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 4-1, in the process telling everyone: "If there ever was a jinx, you can take it and."
Doesn't get any better than that, does it. The Bruins ended up getting swept out of the Stanley Cup final that year to Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. But Mr. Rosa, I know you are out there. I know you have a huge smile on your face today. I hope the folks who now run the Boston Globe's sports department give you one more byline to share with the rest of us now that this blessed day has come. Indeed, you don't have to like the Bruins—and Lord knows I don't—to herald them as worthy champions this year. They earned it, eh?