BOSTON -- Jay Bouwmeester had one thought go through his mind when he was the first to receive the Stanley Cup from St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo after their 4-1 win against the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on Wednesday.
"Thank God it's over," Bouwmeester said.
The 35-year-old defenseman played 1,184 NHL games during 16 seasons before winning the Cup for the first time. The No. 3 pick in the 2002 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers, Bouwmeester played 764 NHL games before getting his first experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with St. Louis in 2013.
[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]
"It's crazy," Bouwmeester said. "You go through times where you have ups and downs throughout your career and you always see lots of guys and hear guys that end up winning, [talking] that you know it's so hard. To finally do it is, I don't know. I'm kind of dumbfounded."
After Pietrangelo received the trophy from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, he skated briefly with it, kissed it a few times and handed it Bouwmeester, his teammate since the 2012-13 season.
"I can't even describe how much respect I have for that guy," Pietrangelo said of Bouwmeester. "I wouldn't be the player I am without him. I learned a lot from him. He deserves it."
Bouwmeester appreciated the gesture.
Video: Bouwmeester on Blues persevering, Stanley Cup victory
"I've been through a lot with him with different teams in the Olympics and things like that," he said. "It doesn't matter who gets it. Everybody gets it. It's just a team effort."
After Bouwmeester had his brief skate with the Cup, he handed it to forward Alexander Steen, who played 14 seasons and 963 regular-season games before winning his first NHL championship.
"[Steen is] my next-door neighbor, so I had to give it to him," Bouwmeester said. "He's been through a lot too. He's played 14 years. When people talked we didn't have anybody that won the Cup, it doesn't matter. You play the games and now we all have."
Steen passed the Cup to Chris Thorburn, who was followed by David Perron, Ryan O'Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Tyler Bozak, Jaden Schwartz, Pat Maroon, Carl Gunnarsson, Brayden Schenn, Robert Bortuzzo, Colton Parayko, Jordan Binnington, Joel Edmundson, Jake Allen, Robby Fabbri, Chris Butler, Vince Dunn, Oskar Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais, Robert Thomas, Mackenzie MacEachern, Michael Del Zotto, Jordan Nolan, Mitch Reinke, Ville Husso, coach Craig Berube and general manager Doug Armstrong.
Like the Blues, Bouwmeester struggled in the first half of the season while he tried to find his game following hip surgery. The Edmonton native was a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career on Oct. 20 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and three other times by Nov. 14. But after being dropped to the third defense pair, Bouwmeester slowly worked his way back into a prominent role while the Blues climbed from last place in the NHL on Jan. 3 to third place in Central Division by the end of the regular season.
Video: STL@BOS, Gm7: Blues win Stanley Cup for first time
Throughout the playoffs, Bouwmeester played alongside Parayko. Together, they helped limit the Bruins' top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak to one 5-on-5 goal in the Cup Final. Bouwmeester played a game-high 28:34 in Game 7 and assisted on O'Reilly's deflection goal that opened the scoring with 3:13 left in the first period.
He finished the playoffs with seven assists and a plus-9 rating in 26 games.
"Everyone needs to play different roles, and that was kind of the role we were given and I'm just so glad for him because people get to see what an outstanding player [Parayko] is," Bouwmeester said. "I'm an old fart and I've been doing this for a long time; he's a guy that he's got such a bright future and this experience for a young guy like that, it's invaluable."
Parayko credited Bouwmeester for being a steadying presence with his leadership and experience.
"When Jay talks in the room, everyone listens and you know he means it and that's what he's been doing throughout this Final," Parayko said. "He was an absolute force for us, and it's so special because he's a quiet guy. But when he speaks up, he means it and he was doing that. I'm so proud of him. He's such a great player and he's been through a lot."