VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — While the Boston Bruins beelined across the ice to mob him at the buzzer, Tim Thomas tapped both goalposts, sank to his knees and rubbed the ice in front of his empty goal.
Thomas drew a virtual line in his crease throughout these crazy, contentious Stanley Cup finals, and Boston’s brilliant goalie just wouldn’t allow the Vancouver Canucks to cross it whenever it really mattered.
After 39 years without a championship, the Bruins ripped the Cup — and several thousand hearts — out of a Canadian city that has waited four decades itself for one sip.
Thomas was just too good, and the Bruins are the NHL’s best.
The Cup is headed back to the Hub of Hockey.
The 37-year-old Thomas made 37 saves in the second shutout of his landmark finals performance, Patrice Bergeron and rookie Brad Marchand scored two goals apiece, and the Bruins beat the Canucks 4-0 Wednesday night to win their first NHL championship since 1972.
“I think I went even further than I thought,” Thomas said. “I never envisioned three Game 7s in one playoff season and still being able to come out on top. … I was scared, I won’t lie. I had nerves yesterday and today, and I faked it as best as I could, and I faked it all the way to the Stanley Cup.”
Nice try, Tim. There’s nothing fake about Thomas, who limited the NHL’s highest-scoring team to eight goals in the seven-game finals, blanking Vancouver in two of the last four.
The oldest Conn Smythe Trophy winner in NHL history stopped 201 of the Canucks’ 209 shots in the finals.
“If I was going to do it any way, it would have to be the hardest way possible,” said Thomas, who played overseas and in the minors before finally getting his NHL break in 2005. “Three Game 7s in the playoffs, and to have to win it on the road in the final.”
The Bruins’ postgame celebration centered around Thomas, who carried them through long stretches of a perilous postseason that began with two home losses to Montreal. The Bruins are the first team in NHL history to win a Game 7 three times in the same postseason, and Thomas posted shutouts in the decisive game of the Eastern Conference finals and the Stanley Cup finals.
Bergeron quieted the crowd with the first goal, scoring the eventual game-winner in the first period. He added a short-handed score in the second to keep the Cup away from the Canucks, who have never won it in nearly 41 years of existence.
“We got the first goal, and we knew that would be important coming here,” said 43-year-old Mark Recchi, who plans to retire after winning the Stanley Cup with his third franchise. “If they got any chances, Timmy was there, and it was just scary how good he was.”
Zdeno Chara, the Bruins’ 6-foot-9 captain, nearly slipped under the Stanley Cup’s weight when he skated away from Commissioner Gary Bettman. And the shiny silver trophy eventually got a lift from Nathan Horton, the injured Boston forward whose Game 3 concussion on a late hit irrevocably swung the series’ momentum to Boston.
Horton traveled to Vancouver for Game 7 and worked to give the Bruins a home-ice advantage, pouring a bottle of Boston water onto the ice in front of the Bruins’ bench 90 minutes before warmups.
“I was just trying to get some Garden ice here and make it our ice,” Horton said. “I was trying to be sneaky about it.”
Luckily for the Bruins, their goalie is cooler than ice. Boston dropped the first two games in Vancouver, but became just the third team since 1966 to overcome that finals deficit.
“Their goaltender was real tough to beat,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “The way they played in front of him was real tough to beat. We had some Grade A chances, and we were unable to score.”
Thomas thoroughly outplayed and outclassed his Vancouver counterpart: Star goalie Roberto Luongo gave up 18 goals in the last five games of the finals. Despite a pregame walk on the Vancouver seawall in his special mind-clearing ritual, the enigmatic netminder capped a brutally inconsistent series by allowing Bergeron’s crushing short-handed goal to slip underneath him late in the second period.
“We’re devastated as a team,” Luongo said. “We worked all year to get to this point. To fall short like that is a tough one to take … but we’re a good team, and we’ll be back.”
Game 7 was another heartbreak for the Canucks, who still have never raised the Cup, and their stunned fans, who stayed by the thousands just to get a glimpse of the trophy. A Canadian club still hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993.
Mark Messier and the New York Rangers won Game 7 in Vancouver’s last finals appearance in 1994. This time, Thomas silenced the Canucks’ high-octane offense, erased nearly four decades of Bruins playoff blunders and crushed an entire Canadian city desperate to take the Stanley Cup across town to Stanley Park.
“Anybody in our situation right now would feel real disappointed, whether you’re the favorite or not,” Vigneault said. “We battled real hard. We gave it our best shot. This one game, they were the better team. It’s that simple.”
Bergeron added a Stanley Cup ring to his gold medals from the Olympics and the world championships with his biggest game of a quiet series. He scored his first goal of the finals late in the first period on a shot Luongo saw too late, and Marchand added his 10th goal of the postseason in the second before Bergeron’s short-handed goal.
“What a feeling this is,” Recchi said. “What a great group of guys. No matter what happened tonight, this is one of the best groups of guys I’ve played with.”
During a two-week Stanley Cup finals that ranks among the NHL’s weirdest in recent years, the only predictable aspect had been the home teams’ dominance. Vancouver eked out three one-goal victories at home, while the Bruins won three blowouts in Boston.
“All the physical work we’d done throughout the whole series added up,” Thomas said. “Being the last series, we didn’t save anything, and we used that physicality again and that was the difference.”
Game 7 capped a spectacular collapse by Luongo, who backstopped Canada to Olympic gold medals on this same ice sheet a year ago. Luongo was pulled from the Canucks’ last two games in Boston after giving up 15 goals on the road, and he was fatally shaky in Game 7.
Luongo praised his own positional game earlier in the series, but he didn’t recover in time to stop Marchand’s second-period goal. Five minutes later, he couldn’t close his legs on a slowly sliding puck on Bergeron’s goal — the seventh allowed by Luongo on the last 21 shots he faced dating back to Game 4.
But Luongo wasn’t alone in deserving Vancouver’s blame: The Sedin twins are the NHL’s last two scoring champions, but they capped a disastrous finals by being on the ice for all four of Boston’s goals. Captain Henrik Sedin, last season’s MVP, scored just one goal in the series, while Daniel Sedin had two goals and two assists, scoring in just two of the seven games.
Boston overcame more than the Vancouver crowd and the Presidents’ Trophy-winning team to claim this Cup. Starting in the first round, when the Bruins rallied past Montreal after losing the series’ first two games at home, this team has showed a resilience and tenacity that hasn’t been seen much in the self-professed Hub of Hockey in four decades.
The Bruins failed in their five previous trips to the finals since Bobby Orr led them to championships in 1970 and 1972, losing every time. Remarkable players such as Cam Neely came and went without a Cup, while Ray Bourque had to go to Colorado to get his only ring 10 years ago.
Boston declined to schedule a viewing party for the game at TD Garden, worried about logistics and crowd control.
More than 100,000 Canucks fans packed downtown during Game 5, and even more were expected for the clincher. After the game, the crowd grew unruly. Parked cars were set on fire, others were tipped over, people threw beer bottles at giant television screens and bonfires raged.
Both teams opened Game 7 at a fantastic pace. After both teams’ top lines missed decent early scoring chances, Bergeron put the Bruins ahead with a one-timer in the slot on a sharp pass from Marchand, the rookie who has emerged remarkably in the finals. Luongo couldn’t be blamed for his teammates’ soft checking when Bergeron’s shot caught the goalpost and ricocheted home.
Bergeron, who won a gold medal with Canada on this same rink last year, hadn’t scored a goal in Boston’s last nine playoff games, including the entire finals.
Marchand hit Luongo’s crossbar early in the second period, and he scored from behind the net several minutes later with ample help from the diving Luongo, who knocked the puck into the net after getting pushed by his scrambling teammate, Daniel Sedin.
Rogers Arena deflated with that score, and the Canucks’ suddenly problematic power play allowed Bergeron essentially to finish them off. He got a loose puck at his blue line and outskated two Canucks toward Luongo, and the puck skittered underneath the goalie while Bergeron went to the ice.
Thomas was unflappable in the third period, and Marchand added an empty-net goal with 2:44 to play.
NOTES: The Rogers Arena crowd vociferously booed Bettman when he stepped on the ice, but the fans cheered wildly for Vancouver native Milan Lucic. … Chara is the second European born-and-trained captain to raise the Stanley Cup, joining Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom. … Bruins D Dennis Seidenberg had two assists. He is the second German to earn a spot on the Stanley Cup, joining Uwe Krupp. … The NBA finals ended before the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 2002, when the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Detroit Red Wings to their respective titles.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)