What a fantastic day for sports fans in New England. The Boston Bruins have won Lord Stanley's Cup for the first time in 39 years. I wasn't alive the last time it was won with Bobby Orr's team. The Bruins were way out in Vancouver hoping to break the string of six consecutive games won by the home team in the Stanley Cup Finals. They had played three close games in Vancouver along the way, and had blown out the Canucks in three games in the Fleet Center in Boston. They needed to play their game on the road and force Vancouver's hand--and did they ever.
Vancouver hasn't won the Stanley Cup in 41 years of existence, and it had been nearly 40 years since Boston had drunk from the Cup. Apparently Boston wanted it more. We all know that both teams were very talented. Sure, I'd argue vociferously that Boston had the best goaltender in modern hockey history--and I've got stats to prove it; he surpassed Dominik Hasek's save percentage with .938 for the year. He has also almost single-handedly kept Boston alive during the season and during the playoffs. Boston had terrible trouble scoring throughout the year on power plays, and had even worse trouble during the playoffs. If Thomas hadn't been standing on his head throughout the playoffs, the Bruins clearly would not have been there this long. Without him, they wouldn't have made it to the playoffs. We remember what Tuka Rask was able to do last year for the Bruins, but Tim Thomas has reclaimed the reins and made this team his. And he carried them throughout the season and the playoffs.
All this defense from the hard-checking Bruins, and across the ice are the Canucks with their speedy skaters, and the two previous years' scoring leaders in the Sedin brothers. They skated with a finesse that Bruins fans sneer at--it's not hockey the way they are used to it. Hell, it's not even what they want to see on the basketball court. Boston likes their teams to be tough. Boston had no use for Sergei Federov back in the 1990's when I used to keep up with hockey a whole lot more than I do now. Sure, Federov was fast, had amazing skill with the puck, but how did he fare when he met someone from the other team in the corners? The Sedin brothers seemed to be scared to go into the corners against the Bruins. In fact, they seemed almost invisible this whole finals. I believe they scored three goals between them, and it was game six before one of them scored his first goal of the series. Soft players disappear in clutch situations--the Bruins proved that tonight and throughout this series.
This series certainly was entertaining. It was dramatic, and it had unique story lines to keep us rapt. Alex Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron in game one of the Finals. We expected a suspension, but the league couldn't see conclusively what everyone else in America could. One would think that they could have checked Bergeron's finger for conclusive evidence. Regardless, the Bruins tried to get him to bite some more fingers in game two; he must have found that he didn't like the taste of human flesh (no worries with him joining a cannibalistic tribe) because after one bite, he refused to open his mouth for another serving. The league office didn't take too kindly to this, and issued a warning about taunting players by putting fingers toward their faces. In steps the fun police. Game three brought the loss of Nathan Horton via concussion doled out by Aaron Rowe. Thankfully, the league took into consideration the ferocity of the hit, and the Bruins valuable loss along with the fact that Rowe had hit Norton too late. Rowe was suspended for the final four games, and that suspension would carry over to next year if there were not four games more of the finals. Roberto Luongo obviously has very little confidence in his own game, so he complimented Tim Thomas. When kind words were not reciprocated, he felt slighted. I think Thomas learned from his mom what I learned from my mom (and hopefully you learned from your mom too) that if you don't have something nice to say, you keep your mouth shut. Is he not a good teammate? Do his own teammates not appreciate him enough? I'm sure Timmy couldn't hear enough times from his own teammates how much they appreciated that he was keeping them in games they had no business being in with their anemic offense. As for Luongo's performance, I'm keeping my mouth shut.
Finally, Daniel Sedin guaranteed a victory tonight in Vancouver. I think he should have been required to pass a concussion test in order to play after those comments. Brad Marchand must have hit him in the head harder than it looked like in the third period of game six. If you are going to guarantee a victory after such a pathetic performance in all three Boston games, and eking out victories by one goal in each of your home games, you are either trying to grab headlines with words because you know your game isn't getting them for you, or you are concussed.
Rumor has it that Tim Thomas would have won the Conn Smythe Award even if the Bruins had lost tonight. I initially thought that this was ludicrous. How could a guy from a losing team be the most valuable? This must have been a Boston beat writer. Quite a paradox isn't it? Tim Thomas was clearly the most valuable player on the ice. He single-handedly kept Boston alive and in games against the leagues best scoring team of the year. When they lost, it was by one goal. Even in the losses, his performances were off the charts. He stopped more shots in the Stanley Cup Finals than any other goaltender in the history of the game. His save percentage was .967--even higher than his league high of .938 for the regular season. Tim Thomas allowed eight goals over seven games to the league's highest scoring offense of the season. He consistently stopped far more shots than Roberto Luongo in each game. Tim Thomas will be in Las Vegas next week to win the Vezzina Trophy commemorating the best goaltender of the season. That's his case for, as for the case against: whom can you think of on the Vancouver Canucks stands out as having a fantastic series? Luongo had two shutouts from the net, but he played so poorly in their losses that he got pulled from two of the games, and probably should have been pulled from a third. His save percentage was atrocious. The Sedin brothers were nearly non-existent for the series.
Kudos to the Boston Bruins for winning the Stanley Cup after 39 years. Here's to all those years in between with great players coming and going. Cam Neely, Adam Oates, and Ray Bourque never won in Boston. Here's to Mark Recchi, at 43 years old, still playing after all these years. When I was in college, he played for the Philadelphia Flyers, and I always enjoyed watching him play. He was great then, and he's still a fantastic hockey player. It's so nice to see a guy go out on top, especially a class act like Recchi. Here's to Boston Bruins management, who stayed the course with Claude Julien even though he had suffered through situations that would have gotten a lot of coaches fired (case in point, the Flyers series of 09-10). To the fans--whether you just jumped on the bandwagon, or whether you've bled black and gold for years--for being there in the lean years, and sticking around long enough to see the Cup come back to the hub of hockey.