When the Bruins and Canucks take the ice at TD Garden on Saturday afternoon, it will be one game out of 82, and the only thing on the line will be a pair of points in the standings.
But for both teams and their fan bases, it will undeniably be so much more.
No, a Canucks victory won’t change the outcome of last season’s series, but if the memories of last June aren’t immediately on the mind at the moment, as soon as you see the players make their way down the tunnel and onto the ice, they should come rushing back.
That Stanley Cup Final, however, was a long time ago at this point. With six months and dozens of hockey games standing between then and now, and a three-month, celebratory hangover clouding some folks’ recollection in Boston, it’s important to remember every single detail about that 15-day stretch that rejuvenated a historic franchise and built an unlikely rivalry between two teams separated by more than 3,000 miles.
The series got off to an ominous start, with Vancouver Province writer Tony Gallagher complaining about officiating before the Bruins even arrived in British Columbia. Gallagher believed officials would favor the Bruins in the series because Gregory Campbell‘s father, Colin Campbell, is an NHL executive. The writer’s “evidence” for this was that no penalties were called in the Bruins’ Game 7 victory over the highly skilled Tampa Bay Lightning. That there were no actual incidents in that game that warranted a penalty call were omissions never corrected by the newspaper.
“The [Stanley Cup Final] is going to be the same situation,” Gallagher wrote. “The Canucks’ special teams are great. Will the officials swallow their whistles as they did in Game 7? Just asking.”
As it turned out, not even 15 Bruins penalties could have saved the Canucks from losing Game 7, but we’ll get to that later.
The officiating wasn’t the only question heading into the series, as all-world goaltender Roberto Luongo had struggled throughout the playoffs, losing starts to the much less-heralded Cory Schneider.
“Me and Schneids are the best goaltending duo in the NHL this year, so he’s just as good as I am and it doesn’t matter who’s in net,” Luongo said during Vancouver’s opening-round series against Chicago.
Luongo would go on to win that series and Luongo played well enough the next two rounds to get the Canucks to the Final, but the seed of doubt had certainly been planted.
It didn’t look that way, though, once the games got under way, as Luongo posted a shutout in Game 1, turning aside all 36 shots he faced. He was nearly matched by counterpart Tim Thomas, but as everyone in the world was gearing up for overtime, Raffi Torres took a pass on the doorstep and got it behind Thomas.
That wasn’t even the biggest story coming out of Game 1 though. That distinguishable honor went to Alex Burrows, who seized his opportunity on the biggest stage in hockey by biting the finger of Patrice Bergeron.
While Burrows opened himself up to some ridicule for his biting antics, it might have been a prescient move. Perhaps the winger knew that despite being on a line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, he’d finish with just three points and a minus-4 rating in the seven games, so he wanted to be remembered for something. You couldn’t argue against that logic.
Game 2 was equally as thrilling. For one, it featured Maxim Lapierre baiting Bergeron with an outstretched finger.
And the ending was just as surprising as Game 1. Burrows, who wasn’t suspended for his bite, rushed through the offensive zone off the opening faceoff of overtime, took advantage of an overly aggressive Thomas and buried the game-winner on a wraparound.
Standing 190 feet away, Luongo no doubt took notice of Thomas’ aggressive style of goaltending and may have even chuckled to himself as he stood within the confines of his blue paint.
Facing an 0-2 hole that only 8.6 percent of teams in Stanley Cup Final history had ever rallied from wasn’t comfortable for the Bruins, but their performance in Game 3 didn’t show it. Yet before the Bruins could begin their roll, Aaron Rome made his mark on the series by knocking Nathan Horton out of it.
The hit would eventually lead to Rome being suspended for the remainder of the series, but its short-term effect left the 17,565 folks at the Garden in a bit of shock. After the excitement they had for attending the first Stanley Cup game in Boston since 1990, they had to watch an unresponsive No. 18 taken off the ice in a stretcher. Hockey all of a sudden seemed a lot less important.
But that haze only lasted through the remainder of the first period, as the Bruins came out firing with four second-period goals. They added four more in the third, and there were some finger taunts from Mark Recchi:
and from Milan Lucic:
It quickly turned into a raucous night at the Garden.
The game was also memorable for the return of Shawn Thornton to the B’s lineup, as the enforcer’s presence was felt immediately. A total of 145 combined penalty minutes were dished out that night, and the Bruins sent the message that they wouldn’t go quietly.
The next day, Rome’s suspension was announced, and the news was met with great disagreement within the Canucks’ dressing room.
The next night, the Bruins scored four goals, chased Luongo from the net and evened the series at two games apiece.
Before that game, there was this emotional scene:
Aside from the satisfaction that comes with scoring 12 goals in two games, the Bruins had more to be proud of after Game 4. Thomas was unwilling to let Burrows decide to mess with his goalie stick, so he took matters into his own hands.
Brad Marchand also sent his first declaration of war upon Daniel Sedin, and Adam McQuaid induced one of the most embarrassing turtles in the history of turtling from Christian Ehrhoff.
The tone for the remainder of the series had been set.
It didn’t necessarily carry over though, as the pivotal Game 5 (is there any other kind?) saw a stalemate through two periods, as Luongo returned to form. With the game in the balance early in the third, Thomas stood at the top of his crease as a puck bounced wildly to Lapierre. Goal.
The loss pushed the Bruins’ backs up against the wall, but it also brought a little bit of cockiness out of the Canucks.
For one, there was defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who mocked the Bruins for their old-school jacket, which was a symbol of the team’s unity. The jacket was purchased by Andrew Ference on eBay, and the player of the game each night was given the jacket to wear. After Horton was knocked out of Game 3, the jacket was placed in his locker, adding an emotional level to what had previously been more of a joke than anything else. And when Horton returned to the Garden unannounced to hand it to Rich Peverley after Game 4? You’d have had to have been heartless to not get an idea of how special this inanimate object had become.
Bieksa? Well … .
“Don’t peewee teams have that? We don’t have one. We don’t need little awards like that,” Bieksa said between Games 5 and 6. “There’s enough at stake, enough motivation, for us. So whatever works for them.”
The funny part came when The Canadian Press learned of a motivational tool within the Canucks’ room, as the team used a photo of a mountain with the Stanley Cup at its peak as a symbol of their goal. After each round, the team attached a new carabiner, symbolizing one step closer to the ultimate prize.
With egg sufficiently splattered on his face, Bieksa felt shame.
“That’s something we don’t talk about, that’s our own personal thing,” he said. “That’s our jacket.”
That wasn’t the most egregious mistake made by a Canuck while speaking publicly, though. Not even close. That honor belonged to Mr. Luongo, who stated as plain fact that he would’ve saved Lapierre’s game-winning goal had he been in Thomas’ skates.
His mistake came in six words: “It’s an easy save for me.”
And with that one quote, Luongo kicked off two days’ worth of chaos.
Luongo somehow took a bad situation and made it worse with his next comments to the media.
“I’ve been pumping his tires ever since the series started and I haven’t heard one nice thing he had to say about me, so that’s the way it is,” Luongo lamented.
When informed of Luongo’s assertion, Thomas said he was unaware that offering compliments to his counterpart were part of the job description.
“I guess I didn’t realize it was my job to pump his tires,” Thomas said. “I guess I have to apologize for that.”
That he did not. What he did have to do was win Game 6, or else and he his teammates would be in for a long summer. When the puck dropped on June 13, Luongo could have walked the walk. Instead, he fell flat on his face.
Luongo made a grand total of one save (on Tomas Kaberle, who scored just once in 49 games for Boston) before allowing Marchand to pick a corner.
He then turned aside shots from fourth-liners Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. Then Lucic scored.
And then Ference.
And after just 8:35 in net, Luongo’s night was over — as were the hopes of the Canucks reaching the top of their mountain that night. Lord Stanley’s Cup was in the building that night, but the Bruins’ early dominance allowed it to catch the first flight to Vancouver.
The other unforgettable part of that night was Act II in the war between Marchand and Daniel Sedin.
Marchand emerged victorious.
From that night, through the following day and leading up to the drop of the puck on June 15, for the first time all series there was no funny business. The players had their hockey lives at stake, and the time for talking was over. After what seemed like a months-long battle, the final and most important chapter had yet to be written.
Before that game could begin, Horton once again became a part of it, dumping water he brought from the TD Garden ice and spraying it on the Vancouver ice from the Bruins’ bench.
As with the jacket, a seemingly meaningless water bottle became much, much more.
When the hype finally died down and the game began, it took a while for either team to get going. Then, 14 minutes into the first period, Bergeron fired a one-timer from close range. Luongo never saw it coming, and the Canucks never had another chance.
Luongo would allow three more, making just 17 saves on the evening. On the other side, Thomas stopped all 37 shots he faced, becoming the first goaltender to ever post a shutout in Game 7 of a Final.
The Bruins, after a long wait of nearly four decades, were champions.
The B’s were celebrating around town, Stanley Cup in tow everywhere they went. Meanwhile, the Canucks were complaining. About everything.
After arguing that Johnny Boychuk should have been suspended for his hit that left Mason Raymond injured, and after complaining that the ice was too soft in Boston, the Canucks needed to share more grievances.
“I think in that series — and you guys watched it — there were points where it may have reflected a different era in hockey,” Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis said. “We designed our team around the current rule book, around the current method of playing games.”
It was the perfect lesson on how to lose with excuses and without class.
The Bruins weren’t exactly done, either. Recchi, who retired after the victory, felt the need to express his feelings toward Vancouver’s club.
“Twenty-two years, they are the most arrogant team I played against and the most hated team I’ve ever played against,” Recchi told 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. “I couldn’t believe their antics, their falling and diving. It was very frustrating, but as the series wore on, we knew our physical play and skating caught them off guard.”
Bieksa, the hypocritical hater of jackets, responded.
“Isn’t he retired?” Bieksa said. “What’s he doing? Tell him to go play a round of golf or take a nap.”
And with that, the final verbal bomb from the Final was lobbed. Both teams focused on their own business, but on Saturday afternoon, their seasons will once again collide.
The Canucks will no doubt head into Boston looking to exact at least a little bit of revenge, while the Bruins would be more than happy to assert their dominance. The seven games played last June were as many games as the two teams had played against each other in seven years, but the violence and emotion seen on the ice in that two-week span will never be forgotten. Not by the players, not by the fans and not by anyone.
Now let’s drop that hockey puck.