The Stanley Cup Final is, after all, going seven games.
And it’s going seven thanks to a night where the hockey gods met together at centre-ice in their celestial rink (which I imagine to look something like a combination of the Montreal Forum, Boston Garden, Detroit’s Olympia, and Maple Leaf Gardens) and they looked down upon TD Garden ice, and they listened to the fervent prayers of the city of Boston, and they were much moved, and said "Tonight, some long-time debts get paid. Tonight, we’re wearing black and gold."
For ten glorious minutes at the start of game six, the Bruins shared the rink with the hockey-spirits of Eddie Shore, Bobby Orr, and Johnny Bucyk. Milan Lucic didn’t just play like a young Cam Neely…for a few golden minutes, he was the young Cam Neely. Brad Marchand skated with the snarling fury, raging inner fire and sheer downright hatred of his opposite number that fuelled Terry O’Reilly on his best nights. And Tim Thomas…Tim Thomas was just Tim Thomas, only possessed with the spirit of Terry Sawchuk.
Does that seem fantastical to you in this modern age of TV timeouts, naming-rights for arenas, high-price tickets and cynicism? Perhaps. But let’s just look at those ten minutes that have given Boston one hand on the Stanley Cup.
05:31: A harmless dump chip off the boards on the right side is chased by Marchand, who covers nearly seventy feet of open ice in maybe two seconds to get behind a Canucks defenceman and into the zone, before snapping a shot that flies hard and true past a flailing Luongo glove and into the net. The resulting scream of joy from 17,565 Bostonian throats is something primal…raw human emotion distilled into a soundwave. And up on their heights, the gods smile.
06:06: Rich Peverley picks up the puck in the neutral zone and arrows to centre. As Kevin Bieksa reaches to poke the puck off his stick, the gods whisper "drop pass". And he throws one without looking, somehow knowing Milan Lucic will be going across behind him. Lucic picks up the perfectly-left puck, takes two strides and buries it into the top corner. The Vancouver native wheels away and roars with Boston pride, and once again his adopted city screams with joy…while the demons of doubt begin to whisper sweet nothings into Roberto Luongo’s head.
"Thomas would have stopped that one".
08:35: The Boston Bear has its tail up and scents blood. Andrew Ference feeds Michael Ryder along the boards. Ryder plays it straight back. Ference looks up and sees he has Zdeno Chara to his right, stick in the air, screaming for the puck and primed and ready to unleash a cannon of a shot. In front of him is a whirling mass of colour.
Black-and-gold and white-and-blue jerseys are locked in combat for an inch of space in front of the net on a canvas of blinding white ice and a mass of black as a background, everywhere Ference looks, as the puck comes hissing towards him and the TD Garden noise begins to rise in anticipation. As he controls the pass and takes a breath, the roar dies away, time stops.
And in his ear, the gods whisper two words.
Ference winds up, fires and the carbon blade of his Bauer Vapor XXXX propels the puck on its journey towards the net with a contact as sweet as any shot Bobby Orr ever hit. Somehow, it misses every hazard on the way and a half-second later hits the twine. Eight minutes gone and Boston rejoices for a third time, and Roberto Luongo’s night is over.
09:31: The TD Garden is humming with the sound of power. It’s not so much any definable chant as one long burst of noise…a low, white-noise like blend of every individual shout from the crowd, every skate hissing on the ice, players shouting to each other, the slap of puck on blade and flesh on plexi.
It’s the sound of magic happening and spells being woven…the wonderful music of playoff hockey.
The puck is in the Vancouver zone and makes its way round via several sticks to Tomas Kaberle on the left point, stood almost exactly where Ference was a minute earlier. As it travels toward Kaberle, Michael Ryder darts across the ice in front of him , preparing to turn and provide a passing option. Kaberle waits for the right moment as the puck comes to him and adds his own contribution to the music-a low, hollow, bassline thump as he fires a one-timer. Blending almost as one with Kaberle’s shot are the crack of the fast-moving puck meeting Ryder’s stick on its journey to the net and the high, musical "ting!" of rubber on metal as the deflected puck hits the inside of the crossbar and down into Cory Schneider’s net.
Then this symphony swells with the part every player wants to hear…the bass of a goal-horn and the treble of 17,000 people screaming for joy for the fourth time in five minutes. As this music ascends to our watching hockey gods, they smile, and look down, and decree.
"For tonight, Boston, our debt is paid".
From this point, the Canucks were all but done. They tried to fight the inevitable, as humans always will…Ryan Kesler went for a wraparound late in the first period, Jannik Hansen was denied on a breakaway by a sprawling Thomas, as was Alex Burrows. Hansen even fired one low off the inside of a goalpost and the Canucks celebrated, desperate to find something, anything to cling to. In the third, Henrik Sedin scored his first point of the series with a nice backhand and Maxim Lapierre, too, found the net to give the score some respectability.
But this game was Boston’s. Whatever the result of game seven, the Bruins said farewell to their home ice for the season with a truly special performance. One that will live long in the memory not just of the Bruins who watched it, but for anyone who has ever dreamed of time with a puck, a stick, and a sheet of open ice.
In short, this game, particularly the ten minutes that started it, was playoff hockey at its (almost) most beautiful.
And because of it, we now have the chance to savour one of the greatest gifts the hockey gods can give…a Stanley Cup Finals Game Seven.
If you’re even the slightest fan of hockey, it just does not get much better.
All the hockey gods need to decide now, just like the rest of us, is "whose side are we on?"
I have a nagging feeling it’ll be Boston’s. But we will see come Wednesday night.