Goalie Thomas leads Boston Bruins to Stanley Cup

June 16, 2011 - 4:13 AM
APTOPIX Stanley Cup Bruins Canucks Hockey

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas hoists the cup with the help of teammate Patrice Bergeron following the Bruins' 4-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday, June 15, 2011, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Zdeno Chara thrust the Stanley Cup high above his 6-foot-9 frame, knocking off his own championship hat and nearly falling down. The Boston Bruins' captain passed it to 43-year-old Mark Recchi, who raised the shiny silver trophy for a third and final time.

Patrice Bergeron eventually gave the Cup to Tim Thomas, who had already lifted the Conn Smythe Trophy moments earlier.

When their goalie took the Cup on a promenade around the Vancouver ice, the Bruins knew it was in the safest of hands. Thomas hasn't dropped anything important for two full weeks while guiding Boston past Vancouver in a grueling Stanley Cup finals that ended in the Bruins' first championship in 39 years.

"If they got any chances, Timmy was there," Recchi said. "It was just scary how good he was."

Thomas made 37 saves in the second shutout of his landmark finals performance, Bergeron and rookie Brad Marchand scored two goals apiece, and the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 Wednesday night to win the Stanley Cup for the sixth time — the first since 1972.

Thomas limited the NHL's highest-scoring team to eight goals in the seven-game finals, blanking Vancouver in two of the last four — including Game 7, the only win by a road team in the series. He was an incredibly easy choice as the playoffs MVP, becoming the oldest Conn Smythe winner at 37.

"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."

But while Thomas and the Bruins celebrated, a riot raged in downtown Vancouver. After the Canucks' attempt to win their franchise's first championship in 41 years of existence ended in dismal fashion, frustrated fans set cars on fire, threw bottles, trashed cars and staged bonfires while riot police dispersed them with truncheons and shields. The unrest lingered for hours after the Bruins raised the Cup.

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. The third-seeded Bruins' postgame celebration centered on Thomas, who carried them through long stretches of a perilous postseason that began with two home losses to Montreal.

Thomas stopped a jaw-dropping 238 of the Canucks' 246 shots in the finals for a .967 save percentage. That's even better than his .940 mark and 1.98 goals-against average for the entire postseason.

"I think I went even further than I thought," Thomas said. "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."

The Stanley Cup 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 after its 0-2 start in Vancouver. The Bruins outscored the Canucks 21-4 after Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome's hit galvanized them, becoming the third team since 1966 to rally from that 0-2 deficit in the finals.

Horton traveled to Vancouver for Game 7 and put on his jersey and skates for the postgame celebration.

"I don't think anybody would have passed this up," Horton said. "Even if I wasn't cleared to fly, I would have been here. To be here and share this with my teammates and for us to be here together, it's hard to describe the feeling."

He even 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.

"I've had some good ones, Marty Brodeur and others, but Tim Thomas, in these playoffs, just totally dominated," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "That's the sign of a great goaltender. He was in the zone, he was focused, never let anything rattle him. ... What's happened to him now, so deserving."

Thomas thoroughly outplayed and outclassed his Vancouver counterpart: Star goalie Roberto Luongo gave up 18 goals in the last five games of the finals, capping a brutally inconsistent series for the enigmatic netminder.

Luongo led Canada to Olympic gold on this same ice sheet last year, but he was pulled from the Canucks' last two games in Boston after giving up 15 goals on the road — and he couldn't match Thomas in the finale.

"We're devastated as a team," said Luongo, who made 16 saves. "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 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, and the unruly crowds outside overshadowed the anguish of thousands of lifelong faithful who watched their favorite franchise fall one game short of a transformative win.

"Anybody in our situation right now would feel real disappointed, whether you're the favorite or not," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "We battled real hard. We gave it our best shot. This one game, they were the better team. It's that simple."

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, and Daniel Sedin had two goals and two assists, scoring in just two of the seven games.

"Our line is there to score, and we couldn't score," Henrik Sedin said. "We take a lot of the blame for that."

Vancouver center Ryan Kesler, who had just one assist in the finals while struggling with an obvious injury, had already shaved his playoff beard before the Canucks' locker room opened.

"It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, and to lose made it even harder," said Kesler, a 41-goal scorer in the regular season and a playoff standout in the first three rounds.

Boston overcame more than the Vancouver crowd and the Presidents' Trophy-winning team to claim this Cup. The Bruins have shown a resilience and tenacity that hasn't been much in evidence in the self-professed Hub of Hockey in four decades.

Bergeron hadn't scored a goal in Boston's last nine playoff games, but he 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.

"We got the first goal, and we knew that would be important coming here," said Recchi, who plans to retire after winning the Stanley Cup with his third franchise.

The Bruins failed in their five previous trips to the finals since Bobby Orr led them to championships in 1970 and 1972. 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.

"You've been waiting a long time, but you got it," Thomas said. "You wanted it, you got it. We're bringing it home."