After losing Horton to vicious hit in Game 3, teammates carried on
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Bruins left here with the Stanley Cup last night, their first in 39 years, each of them shaking it emphatically over their heads, with purpose and panache, amid the customary bedlam that cascades over the ice on the NHL’s championship night.
Grown men in sweat-soaked Black-and-Gold uniforms bawled like infants, laughed like school kids, hugged like best buddies home for a 25th high school reunion, and danced around Rogers Arena with the game’s big silvery mug.
In the end, they won the closeout game, 4-0, just as they won the series, with exceptional goaltending from Tim Thomas (Conn Smythe winner as postseason MVP), and with a pair of deft, timely strikes each by Patrice Bergeron and Li’l Ball of Hate Brad Marchand and a pair of key assists from defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.
With three goals banked by the 17:35 mark of the second period, they proceeded to do what they did in the previous four games (three of them victories), which was to keep knocking down, turning around, tying in knots, and systematically torturing Vancouver until one almost could hear the tired, downtrodden voices of the Canucks yelp, “Enough!’’
Faced with the highest-scoring, fanciest-passing, quickest transition team in the NHL, the Bruins righted themselves after losing Games 1 and 2 here by applying an old-time hockey approach, pressing their noses (led by Marchand) deep into the chests of the Canucks. As a group, though they allowed 37 shots last night, the Bruins surrendered few solid scoring chances to the Canucks, who finished the series with only eight goals, seven in regulation.
At the opposite end, Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo again struggled, giving up those three goals on only 13 shots, which left the Canucks surely knowing their defeat was at hand, the season surrendered, after only 40 minutes. The worst of the three Bobby Lou allowed last night (No. 4 was a Marchand empty netter), had the puck slide past him as Bergeron careened into his crease when hauled down by Christian Ehrhoff. Overall, Luongo was as dull as Thomas was brilliant, especially on that Bergeron shorthander, the big butterfly goalie clearly forgetting the most important job of all, to look for the puck and try to stop it.
Following two periods, the Canucks were left to wonder, beat the impenetrable Thomas four times to reverse the inevitable, save the day, and win the Cup? Not likely. Not remotely possible. Not with no more games to play and especially not with the talented Sedin brothers, Henrik and Daniel, reduced to identical, wilting wallflowers.
“I think they got really cocky,’’ said Marchand, referring to the Canucks roster at large. “They thought they were going to roll over us. We hated them so much. We really did. Just so cocky. And we prevailed. We kept on working. It was just everything about them — the diving, hitting Horty [Nathan Horton], the whining in the papers. But you know, we took it, we went with it . . . stuck to our game, played our game, and won it.’’
Without question, the turning point came five minutes into Game 3 when journeyman Aaron Rome moved up from his left defensive spot and cudgeled Horton to the floor with a high, devastating shoulder check tucked up near Horton’s chin long after the right wing had dished the puck. The late, ugly smack, which left a concussed, convulsing Horton on his back, staring blankly at the Garden ceiling, changed the series. If it had been a Vegas stage act, a flash of light and a cloud of smoke might have preceded the Cup magically appearing on the ice right then and there.
From that point, the Bruins won four of the next five games, outscoring the Canucks, 21-4, and it was an out-of-the-lineup Horton, dressed in full uniform, who chugged out of the dressing room at game’s end here to join the party. With a smile as wide as the Florida Keys, the ex-Panther first came across Milan Lucic, who met his linemate with a longshoreman’s enveloping bear hug.
“Look, I didn’t like [the hit on Horton],’’ said Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli, the man who built the first Boston team to win the Cup in the post-Orr-Esposito-Cheevers Big, Bad Bruins era. “But I guess that’s just playoff hockey. That’s a good team, Vancouver. A very, very good team. So you get in dire straits like they were — and, hey, they probably think we did things, too — that stuff happens. But I’m not going to say that I hated them.’’
Amid the mayhem, fourth-line checker Danny Paille, among the club’s penalty killers that turned the game’s most feared power play punchless, felt the hit on Horton “woke us up.’’ And once with eyes opened and the adrenaline pumped, the momentum washed to the Boston side, the only interruption coming here in Game 5 when the Bruins lost, 1-0.
“It was that hit [by Rome] that made us believe that we had to be there for each other,’’ added Paille. “You could feel that hate throughout the series.’’
At another end of the ice after the game, with reporters and Bruins family members making their way gingerly around the ice, ever-stoic coach Claude Julien spoke of his players “staying the course’’ and “believing in the system,’’ muting all the noise — from fans and media — that surrounded the eight-week Cup run. Metronomic in approach and reserve, Julien won the day, and repeatedly said the players never wavered from believing in the system of the coaching staff.
“Hate’s one word, but you have to respect [the Canucks],’’ said Julien. “They dominated the league all year. As far as I’m concerned, I just think it was our time and we took advantage.’’
The party will continue soon after the Cup champs return to the Hub of Hockey. Tentatively, a parade is planned for tomorrow, but as of late last night neither the team nor the city had announced details.
Here on downtown streets, where early estimates had more than 100,000 fans gathering to take in the action at outdoor venues, rioting broke out in the minutes following game’s end at 10:45 p.m.
CBC TV cameras showed one car tipped over and burning, a police cruiser in flames, and countless examples of ugly mob fights, with riot cops straining to quell the fighting. It promised to rage into the early morning hours. It happened here in 1994 when the Canucks lost Game 7 to the Rangers.
Before departing the building, Thomas made one last visit to the media room, where he was asked if he had a message to the folks at home.
“Well,’’ said the man they call Tank, “you’ve been waiting for it for a long time — you got it! We are bringing it home.’’