By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Bruins were never supposed to win the Stanley Cup. At least, that’s what decades of coming up short would have had you believe.
After winning it all in 1970 and 1972, the dynasty-that-should-have-been just never took off, sending the Bruins on a near-40-year quest of postseason futility. They made it back to the Cup Final five times, but lost 20 of their 25 games, twice getting swept. And though the 2011 postseason run through the first three rounds was a thrill and a half, the odds didn’t look to good for Boston in the Stanley Cup Final.
There, the Vancouver Canucks — who ranked first in the NHL in goals scored and first in the NHL in goals allowed — awaited. The Bruins were underdogs entering that series, and they didn’t look to be in great position to bring home Lord Stanley’s Cup when they dropped the first two games in Vancouver and then lost Nathan Horton on a dirty hit early in Game 3.
But then, as we now know, things took place that can only be explained with magic. The Bruins (and their home crowd, especially) climbed inside the head of Roberto Luongo and threw a week-long rave. Brad Marchand, who entered the season as an obscure fourth-liner, rapidly rose on the biggest stage to become a big-time player. Tim Thomas tapped into a zone that few goalies in the history of the sport have ever achieved. Everyone starting fake-biting Alex Burrows. It was great.
As a result, the Bruins won the three games on their home ice by a combined score of 17-3. That was not a typo. Seventeen-to-three. Still, Boston faced a stiff challenge in Game 7 in Vancouver, where the Canucks had won their three home games, albeit by just one-goal margins each time. Nobody knew what to expect heading in to that night on June 15, 2011 — seven years ago to the day. Who would win — the team with more talent, or the better hockey team?
We of course now know the answer, and to help commemorate the seventh birthday of the Bruins’ drought-busting Stanley Cup victory, here are the seven greatest moments from Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
BONUS: Nathan Horton’s Water Bottle
Of course, if the Bruins had lost Game 7, then this moment would have been completely forgotten. But the Bruins won. So everything that happened is magical. Deal with it.
7. The Merlot Line
Look, are there any highlights to accompany this one? No. There are no highlights. Because fourth lines don’t generate highlights. But they do help generate wins.
And frankly, we’d be remiss if we didn’t spotlight the work of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton in this Game 7. Statistically, the box score won’t tell you much; Campbell picked up a secondary assist for winning a faceoff prior to Patrice Bergeron’s short-handed goal, and Thornton tallied three shots on net. Thornton and Campbell were each credited with three hits on the official score sheet. But the impact of this fourth line was immediately obvious, to the point where head coach Claude Julien gave them five minutes of ice time in the first period.
They chipped pucks deep, they kept the puck in the Vancouver zone, and they prevented the Canucks from generating any sort of offense while Boston’s skilled players rested. You have to remember, too, that the insertion of Thornton into the lineup for Game 3 helped change the dynamic of the series. The Canucks were flat-out terrified of that man.
The fourth line was huge that year, and they held true in the biggest game of the season.
6. Zdeno Chara’s Shin Save
The defensive work of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg — known affectionately as ChardenBerg to those who matter — was immense throughout the postseason and the Final. But sometimes, great defense wasn’t enough. Sometimes, you gotta play goalie.
That’s what Chara did midway through the second period, with the Bruins holding a 1-0 lead. After he turned the puck over, Chara skated to the net to take away Burrows’ passing lane to Henrik Sedin. As Tim Thomas sprawled to the ice in desperation, Chara camped out behind the netminder, in the blue paint, facing Burrows. The shot of Burrows sailed just over Thomas’ outstretched glove, but Chara had dropped his 6-foot-9 frame in perfect position to make a shin save and keep the Canucks off the board.
It only goes down on the stat sheet as a blocked shot. But boy oh boy, that was a big one.
Chara entered that postseason having lost all five Game 7’s in which he had played. He and the Bruins went 3-0 in their Game 7’s in the 2011 postseason. That was after Chara had to be hospitalized for dehydration in the first round, which reportedly caused him to lose 10 pounds but only kept him off the ice for one single game.
5. Bergeron’s Opening Goal
Nobody knew it at the time, but when Bergeron scored from the slot late in the first period, it would provide the Bruins with all the offense they’d need on this night.
It was a rather unique goal. For one, it all came thanks to the hard work and skating ability of Marchand. The left winger pounced on a loose puck right off the faceoff, catching the Canucks napping. He then skated up the boards to get away from Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo, curled back toward the corner once he got to the top of the faceoff circle, and then quickly sent a backhand feed to the slot. Was it intended for Bergeron, or was it intended for Mark Recchi? It ultimately doesn’t matter, because Bergeron reached his stick blade just around Ehrhoff’s skate and sent a one-timer through traffic just inside the left post.
We’re all still waiting for Luongo to react to that shot. Maybe some day.
4. Marchand’s Wraparound Goal
The Bruins’ 22-year-old winger was able to make the brain of the three-time All-Star netminder do somersaults all series long. So it was only appropriate that it was Marchand who scored the goal that put this Game 7 out of reach for the Canucks.
This time, though, the goal didn’t involve Marchand beating Luongo with that patented short-side snap shot under the bar, and it didn’t involve Marchand patiently outwaiting Luongo on a rolling puck. This time it just involved Marchand … giving the puck to Luongo. The goalie took care of it from there.
Luongo actually made a great effort play to dive and make a paddle save on a Marchand wraparound attempt. But the momentum of Luongo’s lower body led to the goaltender accidentally shoving the puck right across the line.
Nearly 28 minutes remained in the game, but you could tell that the Canucks were toast after Marchand scored.
3. Bergeron’s Shorty
Marchand’s goal may have killed the Canucks’ belief, but Bergeron’s short-handed goal five minutes later really twisted the knife.
The goal was doubly huge, both for the obvious reason of putting another one on the board for Boston, but also for taking away the Canucks’ best chance to try to make the game competitive with a power-play goal. It’s largely been forgotten, but it was actually Zdeno Chara who was in the penalty box at the time. Considering he was arguably the Bruins’ most important penalty killer, the Canucks had to have felt pretty good about their chances to cut the Bruins’ lead in half. Heading into the third period trailing by just a goal? That wouldn’t be the worst position for Vancouver to be in.
Alas, Bergeron crushed those dreams rather swiftly on a play where he was simply the hardest-working player on the ice.
(Shoutout to the guy in the Lucic Winter Classic jersey celebrating behind the net. I bet that guy had a good time that night.)
How Ehrhoff could give what appears to be such little effort chasing down Bergeron in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final remains a great mystery. But that foot race is probably the best explanation why the Bruins have themselves a wonderful little banner hanging above their rink and the Canucks do not*.
*The Canucks do have a nice conference champions banner. We shouldn’t overlook that.
2. Thomas Winning The Conn Smythe
Despite becoming just the fourth goalie to ever record a shutout in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and the first to ever do it on the road, and despite making 37 saves against an offensively potent Canucks team, Thomas didn’t really have a signature save in Game 7. He was just a solid goaltender who did everything he needed to do (just once needing some backup from Chara).
But any sports observer had to have felt a twinge of happiness when the 37-year-old was given the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s postseason MVP. His story was too good to be true. The brief recap:
Thomas grew up in Flint, Michigan. His parents sold their wedding rings so he could play in a tournament. He played four years at the University of Vermont, spent five years bouncing around a Finnish league, the IHL, the ECHL, and the AHL. He finally made the NHL at age 28, playing just four games, before spending another year in the AHL and heading back to Finland. He could have carved out a nice career in Finland but decided in 2005 to give his NHL dream one more shot.
Finally in the 2005-06 season, he got regular NHL playing time. He struggled the following season but made an All-Star team. The following year — only his third as a full-time NHL starter — he won the Vezina, leading the league in goals-against average and save percentage. He played while hurt in 2009-10, losing his job to young up-and-comer Tuukka Rask, but after working to regain his health in the offseason, he quickly seized back his starting job early in the 2010-11 season and never let go. He’d also win the Vezina that season, once again leading the league with absurd numbers: a .938 save percentage and a 2.00 GAA. In the playoffs, he managed to up those numbers to .940 and 1.98.
It was an incredible run, and to say the Conn Smythe was a well-deserved ending to an incredible story would be the understatement of the century.
“The Conn Smythe is completely an honor,” Thomas said in his postgame glow. “I just sat down here and I started to read some of the names on it, and it’s an honor to be mentioned in the same maple leaf with Patrick Roy, Ron Hextall, Ken Dryden — those are the three goalies that I can see just on the side facing me. It’s amazing.”
He may not have had the one dazzling save in Game 7, but he had too many to count in that postseason run. Fortunately, YouTube never forgets:
1. The Final Minutes
This was a long time coming. The city of Boston waited 39 years for this moment, and it didn’t disappoint.
With a three-goal cushion, the Bruins never really had to fend against a ferocious push from Vancouver. The Canucks appeared largely resigned to losing the game, knowing they’d be able to complain about officiating and blame injuries for the loss after the fact.
But still, the Canucks went through the cursory motion of pulling the goaltender in hopes of getting on the board and perhaps sparking something.
The game may have been over, but the Bruins weren’t going to coast to victory. Mark Recchi missed an outlet pass to Marchand, sending the puck all the way down the ice. All Sami Salo had to do was win a race with Marchand to the goal line to get an icing called against Boston and set up a faceoff in the Bruins’ end.
But as had been the case all night, the Bruin won the race. Marchand lifted Salo’s stick while flying full-speed into the end boards, risking all sorts of injury just to get a piece of the puck to negate the icing. Henrik Sedin got the puck and sent an airborne backhand pass to the neutral zone, where Burrows sort of nonchalantly showed a little bit of interest in trying to receive it. Burrows then gave a half-effort to retrieve the puck that had bounced off his skates, only to be beaten to the spot by Bergeron.
Bergeron passed over to Marchand, who fired from the right dot past defenseman Kevin Bieksa for the empty-net goal that officially put the series away. It was all over.
The slow-mo replay of Marchand leaping in celebration against the glass was clearly the moment it sunk in, and it sent Boston into a frenzy.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, they haven’t been able to achieve that glory in the seven years since. They came awfully close two years later, when they stood toe-to-toe with the Chicago Blackhawks in the midst of their dynastic run of dominance atop the NHL. Alas, they fell just short.
But in a way, getting so close only to ultimately fall short does serve to highlight just how rare and special the 2011 accomplishment was for a truly unforgettable team.
Anyway, here’s probably the greatest CBC playoff montage ever created. Enjoy. If this doesn’t send your emotions into overdrive, then you might be dead on the inside.