The Boston Bruins may not have had as much pure talent as some of their playoff opponents, but by playing together and not as a collection of individuals, they won the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1972.
Those subscribing to the theory that top-end talent will always win in the end might want to think again.
To those whose belief lies more in a team concept, in players accepting and embracing roles instead of chasing numbers and having their egos fed, in adherence to a system in good times and bad, we present the 2011 Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
That’s what just happened here – not just in the finals against the Vancouver Canucks, but throughout a two-month, 25-game playoff grind.
Sure, the Bruins had that one big, bright star in goalie Tim Thomas, who set a slew of playoff records on the way to his slam-dunk selection as Conn Smythe Trophy winner/playoffs MVP.
Remember the cheesy goal or two Thomas gave up in the first two games of Round 1 against Montreal, though? Remember that his goals-against average for parts of the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay was in the 3.00 range?
There were times in the playoffs when Thomas needed teammates to pick him up, just as there were times in the playoffs when he covered for teammates.
Anybody see the Vancouver Canucks do that for Roberto Luongo in Game 7 last night?
Didn’t think so.
Anybody seen Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, the two most talented skaters in the finals? No?
The Canucks had just a few eggs in their basket, and they cracked under the Bruins’ top-to-bottom, start-to-finish pressure. Vancouver wasn’t necessarily lucky to win Games 1, 2 and 5, but Boston could have won any of those one-goal decisions. The Canucks, it’s safe to say, were deluding themselves if they left TD Garden after losses of 8-1, 4-0 and 5-2 thinking “Hey, that game could have gone either way.”
It’s easy enough to look at Game 7, see two goals apiece from linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand and Thomas’s 37-save shutout, and designate them as the best players in the biggest Bruins victory in 39 years.
There’s no doubt they had great games against the best Canucks (Bergeron, Marchand and now-retired three-time Cup champ Mark Recchi left the Sedin-Sedin-Alex Burrows trio a collective minus-11) in the most important game of the season.
Take a harder look at the game summary, though. Notice how Boston’s fourth line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton played almost as much as the third line, and what they did with that ice time? Seven shots – one-third of the Bruins’ total – and seven hits.
See any points from the top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Rich Peverley? No, but you see six hits for Lucic, a strong night for Krejci in the faceoff circle (9 wins, 5 losses), and a mistake-free game from Peverley. Compare that to what the Canucks got from their first line, and it’s a clear win for the Bruins.
It’s easy to keep going, but there’s one more worthwhile example: Tomas Kaberle. Big, big name in Toronto before the Bruins finally landed him after years of courting the Maple Leafs. Didn’t come quite as advertised, and had to be sent all the way back to the No. 3 defense pair two games into the playoffs. Kaberle was never great, but he never made excuses, never complained, and by the time his post-season ended with a nine-minute, 14-second Game 7, he had 11 points (all assists), was plus-8, and his first Cup. Suffice it to say, he’s not stewing over his ice time today.
Every so often, a small group of great players brings a team back from the brink of defeat. Over the long haul, though, it’s much less likely – and this was a long, tough haul.
The Bruins, who in their history had never won a best-of-seven series after falling behind 0-2, did it twice this post-season – against Montreal in Round 1, and Vancouver in the finals. No team in NHL history had ever won three Game 7s until the Bruins pulled it off.
The Bruins did all this without a point-per-game player (Krejci came close, leading the playoffs with 23 in 25 games), without as much as expected from Lucic (5 goals, 12 points), with Nathan Horton unable to score big goals for them after sustaining a concussion in Game 3 of the finals. The B’s had Thomas, though, plus Dennis Seidenberg supporting captain Zdeno Chara on defense for almost 28 minutes per game, plus Chris Kelly (13 points) and Michael Ryder (17) picking them up when the bigger scorers were down, all the way to rookie Tyler Seguin’s 4-point Game 2 against the Lightning, which Boston so badly needed to win.
It took every Bruin to win this Cup. It took a team.
Mike Loftus may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.