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NHL Playoffs: Stanley Stands Alone

by Bruce LeVine / Dallas Stars

When it comes to the greatest trophy in all of sports, there really cannot be any argument, the Stanley Cup stands alone. The Cup carries an aura so powerful that some people refuse to look at it or have their picture taken for fear they may never earn the right to carry it through a championship. The Stanley Cup has the immense power to shut down large metropolitan areas, create impromptu “company holidays” and cause Last Call to be forgotten when “Stanley” is in the room.

Zdeno Chara hoists the Stanley Cup, (AP Photo)
When was the last time you heard a NBA player say “Our goal is to win the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy”? Baseball doesn’t even bother to name their ultimate team award it’s simply called “The Commissioner’s Trophy”.  Way to go out on a limb Bid Selig and give some personality to the hunk of metal.  Despite all the great baseball players to ever play the game, the symbol of the highest team award is generic. My guess is naming rights will be up for grabs within the next five years once certain owners whine about needing a new source of revenue since the $2,000 per game seats at Yankee Stadium are not selling out. Football is the only sport that comes closest in award name recognition with the Vince Lombardi Trophy but there are three reasons the Stanley Cup is better:

1) You can’t drink out of the Vince Lombardi Trophy

2)  There are numerous versions of the award as each Super Bowl Champion gets to keep the trophy and a new one is made for the next year’s champion. Go to the Steelers Office there are 6 Vince Lombardi Trophies the Cowboys and 49ers have 5 in their showcase. There are 3 versions of the Cup and only one is handed to the NHL champion. Players and staff are lucky to have one day with hockey’s Holy Grail. A tradition that has led to many wild one day events, one ending with the Cup up at the bottom of Mario Lemieux’s pool or allowing Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s dog to eat out of the bowl at the top.

3) There is only one name on Vince Lombardi trophy (Vince Lombardi). While a player may spend only one day with the Stanley Cup his name gets immortalized in hockey history when it gets engraved in the Cup. It is the immortality of a name engraved forever that has the uniqueness to bind generations. It has the power to connect a lifelong minor leaguer named Jason Bermingham to the glory days of his grandfather. When the cup arrived for in Little Rock for the 2001 ECHL mid-winter event, Bermingham immediately went to find the great Montreal Canadiens teams of the 1950’s. His grandfather, Ken Mosdell was the roommate of the legendary Rocket Richard and his name engraved as a part four Canadien championships. More than 50 years later the Cup created a special moment for a grandson to fully understand what a great player his grandfather was, even if he had never seen him skate.

For Mike Zanier his moment with the Cup was a highlight completely unexpected but links him to one of the greatest teams of all time. In 1984, the rookie netminder from Trail, British Columbia, had just finished his rookie season playing in the AHL when his parent team, the Edmonton Oilers called him to be a practice goalie during the playoffs. When Grant Fuhr was injured during the finals, Zanier was called out of the press box and became the Oiler’s #2 goaltender. On the night that Wayne Gretzky’s team reached the pinnacle of hockey success, it was Zanier, not Fuhr, in the locker room, watching from the bench and eventually skating with the Stanley Cup. Because he didn’t play in a game his name is not on the cup but he did receive a Stanley Cup ring. When you look at the 1984 Edmonton Championship picture he is there forever linked to Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Kurri and Edmonton’s first champions.  Zanier played a total of three games in the NHL before Edmonton brought in a new crop of young goalies including a youngster from Kamloops, Daryl “Razor” Reaugh. Zanier went on to have a stellar career in Europe interrupted by one year with the Dallas Freeze. Now living in Sweden, he got up every night at 2AM to watch the finals live and hope for a championship for his hometown Vancouver Canucks.  Hoping the province of BC could experience a thrill similar to the one he had 27 years ago.

Aside from the 1993 finals between Montreal and Los Angeles has there ever been a championship decided by two more diverse locations? “A Tale of Two Cities” sums up the atmosphere and the play on the ice. It was the best of times and the worst of times just depending on what coast the game was played. It was fitting that the greatest playoff from beginning to end culminated in a winner take all Game 7.

Tim Thomas makes a save (AP Photo)
Let’s break this series down game by game

Game One: Vancouver 1 Boston 0 -
Despite the overwhelming atmosphere at Rogers Arena the game set the tone for games played in Vancouver. low scoring, physical and decided by the most determined team. Two story lines were Vancouver’s defense taking a major hit when Dan Hamhuis was lost for the series while throwing a 2nd period hip check and was Ryan Kesler offsides when he started the play leading to Raffi Tores game winning goal with under 19 seconds to play. The late game heroics were overshadowed by the BIG story of dental work and denial.  The Canucks Alexandre Burrows attempted to create a new stat in hockey, the Hannibal Lecter hat trick (a goal and assist and a bite) when he chomped down on Patrice Bergeron’s finger during a scrum at the end of the 1st period.  In the game of hockey there are two actions that are universally scorned, kicking and biting. Burrows immediately raised the level of hate in this series to DEFCON 2 with use of his incisors.

Unbelievably, no punishment was handed down as the NHL office ruled there was not enough sufficient evidence to convict Burrows. Later that day the NHL office looked at the Zapruder Film and announced they had not seen any proof that JFK had been shot.

Game Two: Vancouver 3 Boston 2 OT -
Fresh off his non-suspension, Burrows is the #1 star of the game.  The most hated man in New England provided a goal and an assist in regulation and the game winning goal just 11 seconds into overtime. I have seen teams lose back to back games in OT but never seen a team lose on the final shot of regulation one night and then the first shot of overtime the next. For Boston fans, the bile created watching Burrows celebrate could only be matched if Cavalier fans had to watch LeBron James win an NBA title. But unlike LBJ, the Bruins did not disappear during crunch time. (Congrats to the Mavs. The entire continent was counting on you to defeat the Evil Empire, well done.)

Game Three: Boston 8 Vancouver 1 -
Remember 5 weeks ago when the Canucks had a 3-0 lead over Chicago and seemed on cruise control only to have the opposition go ballistic over a cheap shot dominate Vancouver and turn the series 180 degrees ??? Same verse, new chapter when Aaron Rome delivered the ultimate cheap shot to Nathan Horton during the first period. This moment galvanized the B’s who channeled the old days of the Big Bad Bruins and started to physically destroy the Canucks. Just like the Blackhawks did in Round 1, Boston out worked, outhit and out muscled the Vancouver team after getting fired up by the cheap shot. By the time the game was over Robert Luongo needed Aloe-Vera for the back of his neck as the red light going off behind him had to lead to some serious sunburn. Interesting how when Vancouver throws cheap, late hits they give up large amounts of quality chances. Chicago won 8-2 after the Torres hit on Brent Seabrook and on this night it was Boston with an 8-1 demolition of the vaunted Canucks. Luongo’s confidence was obviously shaken and Vancouver had no answer to the taunting and outright physical challenges from the entire Boston lineup. To quote Yogi Berra “It was Deja-Vu all over again”

The Boston Bruins celebrate. (AP Photo)
Game Four: Boston 4 Vancouver 0 -
Vancouver was in serious trouble for this one, especially when Rome was suspended for the remainder of the playoffs. (Yes, he deserved the penalty. That hit should be on all videos as an example of what is an offense worth a multi game suspension.) The aura of the” Big Bad Bruins” continued from the moment Bobby Orr appeared as honorary captain waving a #18 (Horton’s number) flag and ended when Tim Thomas defended his turf with a 3rd period beat down of Burrows. For 60 minutes the Bruins hit everything with a whale on its chest including two old Hartford fans sitting in the upper deck. Luongo gets pulled from the net and the Sedins are once again MIA. Mike Milbury went as far as to refer to the Swedes as “Thelma and Louise”, which considering the situation was the ultimate insult to Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis.

Game Five: Vancouver 1 Boston 0 -
It took a three thousand mile trip back home for the Canucks to find the manhood they forgot to pack for the games in Boston. This was a classic, nasty hard hitting affair on both sides.  Luongo gets the shutout in the most important non-Olympic game of his career. Maxim Lapierre nets the game winner on a lucky bounce in the 3rd period. Because of Lapierre’s behavior earlier in the series, the amount of congratulatory Tweets he receives from fellow NHL players is lower than Tim Thomas’ goals against average. At this point in the Finals, Thomas should have locked up a championship, the Conn Smythe trophy and be posing for his statue outside the Boston Garden. He has let in only 5 regulation goals in the  5 series games yet his team is trailing 3 games to 2. Several sleazy law firms are already working up papers for “Lack of Support” law suits. After the game Roberto Luongo talks about how he would have stopped the game winning goal and Tim Thomas didn’t.  Thank you for opening the door and allowing the hockey gods to unleash their version of instant karma.

Game Six: Boston 5 Vancouver 2 -
If the Tragically Hip provide the soundtrack in Vancouver, the Dropkick Murphy’s “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” is perfect for game 6. The song is gritty, has an edge and was used perfectly by Martin Scorsese for the warehouse scene in The Departed.  Hockey fans in the area love this song so much that the marching bands from Boston University and Boston College play this song during all home games.  In the time it takes to Google the song, download and listen, Robert Luongo just gave up another three goals. The good news about his performance in Boston during this series is the equipment managers do not have to worry about getting any of those nasty black puck marks out of that pretty white jersey. Three goals on only eight shots and a seat on the bench before the first period is over. Once again the Bruins dominate and the Canucks leave their game at the border.  Johnny Boychuk sends Mason Raymond to the hospital and the hate between these two teams reaches epic proportions. The Tale of Two Cities has one chapter remaining, the two best words in hockey. GAME 7.

Game Seven: Boston 4 Vancouver 0 - 
There are two undeniable facts going into this contest, teams that win Game #7 have a 100% chance of winning the series and if a team give up zero goals there is a 100% chance they will win the game. Boston proved both of these axioms correct with a rock solid performance. Patrice Bergeron had his digit chomped on in Game 1 and then gave Vancouver the ultimate finger with his two goal performance. In every game during the finals, the team scoring first has won the game. Bergeron set the tone early and then slammed Vancouver’s hopes shut with a determined shorthanded goal to make the score 3-0 in the 2nd. Brad Marchand got under the Canucks’ skin all series long, added 2 goals, an assist and under normal circumstances would have won the series MVP award. But the hero of this series and the entire playoffs for Boston goes to Tim Thomas. Last year at this time he was on the trading block. This season he turned in a performance for the ages. Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Martin Broduer need to move over and make room for the GREATEST performance in finals history. The former All-American from the University of Vermont allowed only 8 goals in 7 games including two shutouts. What makes this performance even more amazing is Thomas faced 246 shots during the finals and stopped 236 biscuits to earn the Conn Smythe trophy and a lifetime of free dinners from Bruins fans across the nation.  Thomas becomes the 4th goalie to win the Stanley Cup with  a game 7 shutout, the 1st to get the goose egg on the road and only the 2nd American (after Brian Leetch) to win the Conn Smythe.  If that wasn’t enough, Thomas becomes the first goalie to win a Game #7 showdown three times in one playoff year. Not bad for a guy who toiled in the nets for nine teams in five leagues in three countries on two continents. Boston becomes the first city to win the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA title and Stanley Cup within 7 years. A fact your local New Englander will be happy to remind everyon, each day  for the next decade. Bottom line is this was no fluke. There are no short cuts to the Stanley Cup. The Bruins overcame injuries, adversity, Game 7 pressure and earned their first Stanley Cup since 1972. They left the first cheap shot and verbal jab to Vancouver. The B’s answered with team toughness, excellence at both ends of the ice and got the ultimate revenge, skating with the Stanley Cup right in the middle of Rogers Arena.

A great ending to a great season. Now it’s time to start focusing on 2011-12. Three things I would like to see immediately as we turn the page:

1)    Home teams go back to wearing white jerseys. Fans want to see the Red Wings in red, the Maple Leafs in blue and the teal of the Sharks. The Stars in black for all games at the AAC playing opponents dressed in white EVERY time out is just plain boring.

2)    The NHL needs to go to scheduling where every team plays in every building at least once a year. All NHL fans deserve to see the defending champs and ALL of hockey’s greatest players in person. It would raise excitement and attendance as compared to seeing the same uninspiring teams multiple times. ( No offense, Columbus) It’s like seeing previews for a great movie and yet it never comes to your local cinema. The NHL’s revenue continues to grow and is strong enough that some owners need to get off their wallets and make this happen for the good of the game.

3)    May the Stars new Head Coach and Owner bring the expertise, enthusiasm and financial resources to return this franchise back into prominence. When we write the history of Stanley Cup playoffs in the future, the Stars need to be part of the story. The two men about to join the Stars have some great people already in place within the organization. Now is the time to bring in the missing elements needed to make Dallas great again.

With the Bruins hoisting the Cup 2010-11 is now part of hockey history. It’s time for the draft and looking forward to 2011-12. Training Camp is three months away and time for all fans to dream of championships again.

Bruce LeVine is the post-game co-host for Dallas Stars road games on Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket.  Email Bruce at or follow him on Twitter @BruceLeVine22

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