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(BEN NELMS)
(BEN NELMS)

Vancouver Canucks vanquished in Stanley Cup showdown Add to ...

In the handshake line, after the Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup since 1972, goaltender Tim Thomas stopped briefly to speak to his opposite number with the Vancouver Canucks, Roberto Luongo.

What was said in that exchange?

“I told him, ‘just for the record, I think you’re a great goalie,’ ” Thomas reported. “He had a great year. As far as I can recall, I never said anything bad about him. I didn’t necessarily say anything good about him, but was a little bit of tactics – and it seemed to work.”

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Yes, it did. As he had all series, Thomas won the battle of the Vézina Trophy contenders, the biggest reason that the Bruins’ long Stanley Cup drought is over and Vancouver’s continues. The Canucks lost a 4-0 decision to the Bruins in the seventh and deciding game Wednesday night before a disappointed crowd at the Rogers Arena in of one of the most controversial finals in history.

Instead of attaining legendary status, as centre Ryan Kesler suggested they might, the Canucks settled for being merely infamous, falling apart at the seams against a Bruins’ team that had all the answers.

In goal, where Thomas permitted just eight goals in seven games against the NHL’s highest-scoring team and won the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoffs MVP.

On defence, where the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara stood tall against the NHL’s scoring champion Daniel Sedin and his twin brother Henrik, reducing them to shadows of their regular-season selves.

Up front, where the Odd Fellows trio of Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi and Brad Marchand, which was Boston’s best line in these playoffs, keyed the attack Wednesday night against a floundering and flustered Roberto Luongo in the Vancouver net.

Afterward, commissioner Gary Bettman handed the Cup to Chara, who passed it on to Recchi, then Bergeron, then Thomas – the quartet that saved the day for the Bruins.

“It’s an amazing moment, a humbling honour to be in that position,” Chara said. “I’ll remember that moment the rest of my life.”

Thomas, said Chara, “gave us a chance to win every game. He deserved to be MVP.”

Recchi is the 43-year-old greybeard and B.C. native, who’d clearly been sipping from the fountain of youth these past two weeks, leading all scorers in the series. He promised to retire if the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, the third of his career.

Marchand is a 23-year-old rookie, a Theo Fleury-style pest in the making, who scored 11 goals in the post-season, two Wednesday night, the pivotal second goal, on a brilliant wrap-around and then an empty netter.

Bergeron was a Canadian Olympian 16 months ago, but hardly played as the team’s 13th forward. However, he was front and centre Wednesday night. Usually cast in a defensive role, Bergeron scored twice, including a pivotal short-handed goal with 2:35 to go in the second period that essentially sealed Vancouver’s fate.

It was a goal that resulted largely from Bergeron’s sheer will and determination. Pulling away from Christian Ehrhoff, Bergeron was off on a partial breakaway, forcing the Canucks’ defenceman to pull him down. As both crashed to the ice, the momentum carried the puck past a bewildered and stunned Luongo. The looks on the Canucks’ bench, as they hoped for an overrule, said it all. This one was over.

“We wanted to be difference makers,” said Marchand, amid the jubilant on-ice celebration. Marchand revealed that his father had told him before the game, ‘go out and get a hat trick and make a name for yourself.’

“I was like, ‘that’s not going to happen,’ but he said, ‘well, you can go out and score, so go out and play your game.’ He had so much faith in me. If it wasn’t for him [Kenneth]this wouldn’t have been possible.”

Boston played harder, longer and ended up with a cumulative 23-8 scoring edge, the closest, one-sided series perhaps in history. It was a series that had something for everyone – exceptional goaltending on the Bruins’ side, erratic netminding for the Canucks. There were two serious injuries, nightly officiating controversies, a record suspension for a Stanley Cup final for Vancouver defenceman Aaron Rome – and bad blood, lots of it.

“It was ridiculous,” Marchand said. “Most of the time, it doesn’t matter how many goals you score in the game, it’s the win that matters. They seemed to win the 1-0 games. They made it tough, but we kept pushing forward. We wanted to prove we were the better team – and I think we did.”

The Canucks? They couldn’t find any answers, even though they had two tries to clinch the championship. Instead, they let the Bruins get off the ropes twice to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972, or the height of the Bobby Orr era.

In all, the Bruins were stretched to the limit in three series, the first team in history to do so and emerge victorious. It also helped them purge the memory of last year’s historic collapse, when they became just the third team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 lead and lose a playoff series.

For the Canucks, by contrast, the frustration continues. This marked the second time in franchise history that they’d gone the distance in a final and lost – a bitter, stinging defeat for a team that ran away with the regular season title and was fighting the weight of heavy expectations all the way through these playoffs.

The Canucks almost succumbed in the opening round to last year’s Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, but when they escaped with a seventh-game overtime win, it appeared to relax them for the next month. They lost just three games in the next two series, rolling past the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks, before bumping up against the Bruins, who never showed any signs of wilting. Even the five gruelling cross-continent trips in the 15-day series didn’t faze them.

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