The best of Boston's long, exciting, harrowing journey to the Cup through the eyes of this Bruins fan. I tried to avoid generalities in making this list (i.e. “Bruins sweep Flyers") and while I inevitably omitted certain things as a result, I thought it best to zero in on specific moments that struck me as particularly crucial or memorable. Feel free to re-order my list or post other pivotal moments that you would include--there are plenty of candidates.
10) Round 4, Game 3 vs. Vancouver: Tim Thomas decks Henrik Sedin
The Sedins more closely resembled twin pillows than pillars in the finals, shying away from bodily contact, standing pat during post-whistle scrums and flopping on a dime to draw penalties. They couldn’t back up their soft play on the scoresheet; thus, they quickly invited scorn from viewers and media on both sides. Bruins fans were exceptionally satisfied when Henrik incurred the wrath of Thomas in Game 3, reaching for a puck in midair near the crease and receiving a punishing check from Boston's plucky hero in the process. It was a defining moment for both players in the series: Thomas, the ultimate battler, lashing out to protect his cage, and Henrik, down on the ice looking for a call while play continued around him.
9) Round 1, Game 5 vs. Montreal: Michael Ryder’s "Glove" Save
Boston’s depth emerged in unexpected ways this postseason, from the fourth line’s grinding, gritty performance in Game 7 of the finals, to Rich Peverley’s stellar fill-in work after Nathan Horton went down, to Chris Kelly’s sudden penchant for clutch goals in the first round against Montreal. But Ryder--not exactly a Selke nominee--assumed perhaps the most unexpected role of all in Game 5 against Montreal: goaltender. Planting his body in front of an empty net after Mike Cammalleri lured Thomas out of the crease halfway through the first period, Ryder stonewalled a point-blank shot by Tomas Plekanec with an impressive hand save, keeping Montreal off the board in a tight game that the Bruins ultimately won in overtime.
8) Round 3, Game 2 vs. Tampa Bay: Tyler Seguin’s Breakout Performance
The youngster was banished to the press box through the first few rounds, forced to look on as his teammates waged war against two hated rivals. When he was finally thrown into action in place of the concussed Patrice Bergeron against Tampa Bay, he took the opportunity and bolted, almost singlehandedly lifting the Bruins to victory in a key Game 2 at home with four points, including a spectacular game-tying goal, in the second period. While Seguin cooled off over the next few games and was neutralized by Vancouver, his electric play out of the gate set the tone for a high-scoring Conference Finals and left Bruins fans drooling over what appears to be a limitless future.
7) Round 4, Game 6 vs. Vancouver: Four goals in 4:14
Reports of Roberto Luongo’s turnaround were greatly exaggerated after a 1-0 Game 5 victory in Vancouver that put the Canucks one win away from their first Cup. Luongo returned to Boston and delivered Meltdown 3.0 in Game 6, allowing three goals in a span of 3:04 in the first period and exiting to the cheers and jeers of a torturous Garden crowd that reveled in his misfortunes throughout the series. As he did so often in the playoffs, Brad Marchand ignited the fire, whipping a gorgeous wrist shot over Luongo’s left shoulder and opening the floodgates for subsequent goals by Milan Lucic and Andrew Ference. The Bruins threw in a fourth goal for good measure on Corey Schneider just 1:10 later--meanwhile, Luongo sat firmly on the pine, stewing in his own doubt. Fra-gi-le is Italian; fittingly, so is Luongo.
6) Round 2, Game 4 vs. Philadelphia: Milan Lucic buries the Flyers
Lucic, along with Tomas Kaberle, stands out as one of the more maligned Bruins from a mostly magical postseason. Injuries hindered his play in the early going and fans grew frustrated with his lack of physicality and loss of quickness; while he was clearly playing hurt, many still expected more than zero goals and three assists by the time Game 4 against Philadelphia rolled around. Luckily for those who feared a repeat of 2010, Lucic delivered two goals in the series-clinching game, thrusting the dagger in Philadelphia on a partial breakaway with 4:57 remaining to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead.
5a) Round 1, Game 5 vs. Montreal: Tim Thomas robs Brian Gionta
The Bruins’ three overtime victories against Montreal provided plenty of memorable saves, opportunities, and goals, but Thomas stood tallest with a dazzling stop on Gionta in double overtime of Game 5. Sliding laterally across the crease with cat-like agility, Thomas robbed Gionta on a 2-on-1 with his left pad and arguably saved Boston’s season in one fell swoop. Had Gionta scored and brought his team back home up 3-2, the Bruins may not have been able to recover.
5b) Round 3, Game 5 vs. Tampa Bay: Tim Thomas robs Steve Downie
Unorthodox is the name of Thomas’ game, and this save was anything but textbook, a miraculous flail at a puck that seemingly couldn’t not go in. Downie faced a gaping net on the left post halfway through the third period of Game 5, but Thomas never quit on the play, diving backwards and preserving a one-goal lead with a mere few inches of stick. The save was a microcosm of Thomas’ playoff performance--even when he was down and out, he never gave up, and always brought his team back to where it needed to be.
4) Round 4, Game 7 vs. Vancouver: Patrice Bergeron’s backbreaking shorty
Bergeron’s shorthanded tally late in the second period of Game 7 was the death knell for the Canucks, the play that really ignited the party back in Boston. As far as goals go, it was downright ugly: three players piling up in the crease while momentum somehow carries the puck across the line. But the resilience Bergeron showed in pushing to the net--out-hustling two Canucks in a shorthanded situation and finishing the play despite being pulled down from behind--encapsulated the very fiber of Boston’s character in the postseason. The Canucks may have been faster, more dangerous, and more skilled than the Bruins, but they lacked the grit, smarts and determination necessary to outlast Boston in a seven-game series.
3) Round 3, Game 7 vs. Tampa Bay: Nathan Horton’s series-winning goal
Arguably the tightest, most thrilling contest of the postseason from start to finish, Game 7 against the Lightning featured adrenaline-filled, back-and-forth action with few whistles--and no penalties. Thomas and Dwayne Roloson delivered virtuoso performances, hoisting their respective teams on their veteran shoulders with one spectacular save after another, forcing the pinkest of hats to the very edges of their seats as the game remained scoreless well into the third period. Horton's tiebreaking goal with less than eight minutes remaining was nothing short of cathartic; exuberant fans across New England collectively exhaled as the Bruins bottled up the Lightning and ran the clock down to their first Finals berth since 1990.
2) Round 1, Game 7 vs. Montreal: Nathan Horton’s series-clinching overtime goal
It’s amazing how one shot in the NHL playoffs can change the course of history--how a grueling seven-game series can boil down to one simple play. One bad bounce the other way, one break, and everything could have been different. The Bruins would have fallen in the first round, ensuring a third straight year of Game 7 devastation, and Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli would be lining up for the proverbial guillotine. But Horton, who already proved himself capable of clutch performance with a double-overtime goal in Game 5, took charge, forever entrenching his name in Boston sports lore with a low slapper from outside the circles that beat Carey Price just over five minutes into overtime. Jubilation erupted inside the Garden as the Bruins finally seized that elusive Game 7 victory--over their most hated rivals, no less. This was truly the game that the Bruins couldn’t afford to lose, and this time, they delivered. And they never looked back.
1) Round 4, Game 7 vs. Vancouver: Zdeno Chara raises the Cup
Finally, a symbolic moment of pure joy and release after a tense, thrilling and downright exhausting two months. Words can’t possibly describe how Chara must have felt as he lifted the chalice high into the air, simple awe and elation etched in his grizzled face. It was a moment for all Bruins fans to cherish and share together--especially the ones who suffered through years of frustration and bitter disappointment, always clinging to the hope that this franchise could one day put it all together again. Well, that time has finally come. The Boston Bruins are the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions, the cream of the crop, the very best of the best.