NEW JERSEY, 2003
Nine months of labour had boiled down to one deciding game for the Stanley Cup. And Burns, the softie, pulled out one last trick: he reinserted Daneyko into the lineup. “The most important game and Dano came back,” says Brodeur. Informed at a team dinner that he’d be playing—but cautioned by Burns to keep that under his hat until game time—Daneyko had to leave the room so he could burst into tears privately.
Game seven was New Jersey’s exclamation point to the playoffs, an imperious 3–0 triumph, Friesen contributing two goals and twenty-three- year-old rookie Michael Rupp, filling the void left by injured Nieuwendyk, scoring the first, which was the winner, a kid’s hockey dream come true. Before the opening faceoff, Burns had gazed up at the crowd and then taken his own emotional pulse. “I thought I would be a lot more nervous than I was. I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck, and I wasn’t.” It was his ninth game seven in a thirteen-year coaching career, pulling Burns into a tie with Scotty Bowman and Mike Keenan.
He came in from day one and was a no-nonsense guy, did some things that sometimes you don’t understand. I guess that’s why he coaches and we play. Probably one of the toughest coaches I’ve played for, but well worth it. - Ken Daneyko
Yet even in the greatest moment of his professional life, Burns didn’t shake his signature scowl. Someone asked him about the “beauty” of a game seven. “You call it a beauty? I don’t know how pretty it is. I don’t know if I’d go out on a date with it very often.”
Brodeur’s third finals shutout notwithstanding, the Conn Smythe Trophy for most valuable player went to Giguère, who didn’t smile upon accepting it. Nor was Burns even nominated for a fourth Jack Adams. But, at last, he’d won the only silver hardware that mattered. Off to the side during the on-ice hoopla, hands stuffed in his pockets, Burns wondered why he didn’t feel a surge of elation. “Gee, it doesn’t look like this on TV.”
He watched Gary Bettman present the Stanley Cup to Devils captain Scott Stevens, who hoisted it overhead and began the traditional handoff, player to player, including Nieuwendyk, who’d changed into full uniform. This was the embodiment of all their toil, the hardest trophy to capture in professional sports. Finally, the jug reached Burns. He planted one tender smooch on the Cup, then lifted it in the direction of his family in the stands.
“I was glad to see them up there,” he said later. “My son Jason and my daughter Maureen came in from Montreal, drove all the way down. My wife was there, friends and family from Quebec. I pointed the Cup at them because sometimes you forget the people who are behind you, who were there when things don’t go so good. The last couple of minutes, it was really exciting, not for myself, but because I was afraid to disappoint people, disappoint my family, disappoint the fans. I owe a lot to Lou.”
In the dressing room, drenched by champagne, amidst the hoots and hollers, Daneyko gave full credit to the coach. “He just kept the pedal to the metal all year long and didn’t let us get complacent. That was probably what was missing from the club the last few years. He came in from day one and was a no-nonsense guy, did some things that sometimes you don’t understand. I guess that’s why he coaches and we play. Probably one of the toughest coaches I’ve played for, but well worth it.”