The Boston Bruins had waited 39 long years for another drink from the Stanley Cup, and Tim Thomas was awfully thirsty.
When the Bruins and their brilliant goalie barged into a hostile Canadian rink surrounded by another 100,000 screaming fans outside for Game 7, they emerged with the championship they wanted.
Thomas made 37 saves in the second shutout of his landmark finals performance, Patrice Bergeron and rookie Brad Marchand scored two goals apiece, and the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 Wednesday night for their first championship since 1972.
"I think I went even further than I thought," Thomas said. "I never envisioned three Game 7s in one playoff series and still being able to come out on top."
Bergeron scored the eventual game-winner in the first period and added a short-handed score in the second to keep the Cup away from the Canucks, who have never won it in nearly 41 years of existence. Star goalie Roberto Luongo again failed to match Thomas' brilliance, giving up 18 goals in the last five games of the finals.
Mark Messier and the New York Rangers won Game 7 in Vancouver's last finals appearance in 1994. This time, Thomas silenced the NHL's highest-scoring team, erased nearly four decades of Bruins playoff blunders and crushed an entire Canadian city desperate to take the Stanley Cup to Stanley Park.
Thomas limited the Canucks to eight goals in seven spectacular games in the finals, blanking Vancouver in two of the last four. Boston dropped the first two games in Vancouver but became just the third team since 1966 to overcome that deficit.
"All the physical work we'd done throughout the whole series added up," Thomas said. "Being the last series, we didn't save anything, and we used that physicality again and that was the difference."
Bergeron added a Stanley Cup ring to his gold medals from the Olympics and the world championships with his biggest game of a quiet series. He scored his first goal of the finals late in the first period on a shot Luongo saw too late, and Marchand added his 10th goal of the postseason in the second before Bergeron's short-handed goal, which inexplicably slid under Luongo.
The Bruins are the first team in NHL history to win a Game 7 three times in the same postseason, and they drew another dose of inspiration from forward Nathan Horton, whose concussion in Game 3 irrevocably changed the series' momentum.
Horton attended Game 7, and he apparently poured a bottle of Boston water onto the ice in front of the Bruins' bench 90 minutes before warmups. He joined his teammates in the raucous postgame celebration, putting on his skates and taking a celebratory turn with the Stanley Cup held high above his head.
Horton was lost for the series with a concussion on a big hit from Vancouver's Aaron Rome. The Bruins rallied for four wins in five games after Horton's injury.
During a two-week Stanley Cup finals that ranks among the NHL's weirdest in recent years, the only predictable aspect had been the home teams' dominance. Vancouver eked out three one-goal victories at home, while the Bruins won three blowouts in Boston.
The loss capped a spectacular collapse by Luongo, the enigmatic goalie who backstopped Canada to Olympic gold medals on this same ice sheet a year ago. Luongo was pulled from the Canucks' last two games in Boston after giving up 15 goals on the road, and he was fatally shaky in Game 7.
Luongo praised his own positional game earlier in the series, but he didn't recover in time to stop Marchand's second-period goal. Five minutes later, he inexplicably failed to close his legs on a slowly sliding puck on Bergeron's goal - the seventh allowed by Luongo on the last 21 shots he faced dating back to Game 4.
Luongo wasn't alone in deserving Vancouver's blame: The Sedin twins are the NHL's last two scoring champions, but they capped a disastrous finals by being on the ice for ALL of Boston's goals. Captain Henrik Sedin, last season's MVP, scored just one goal in the series, while Daniel Sedin had two goals and two assists, scoring in just two of the seven games.
Boston overcame more than the Vancouver crowd and the NHL's highest-scoring team to win this Cup. Starting in the first round, when the Bruins rallied past Montreal after losing the series' first two games at home, this team has showed a resilience and tenacity that hasn't been seen much in the self-professed Hub of Hockey in four decades.
The Bruins failed in their five previous trips to the finals since Bobby Orr led them to championships in 1970 and 1972, losing every time. Remarkable players such as Cam Neely came and went without a Cup, while Ray Bourque had to go to Colorado to get his only ring 10 years ago.
Boston declined to schedule a viewing party for the game at TD Garden, worried about logistics and crowd control. Instead, the party will rage in bars and neighborhoods - but it'll pale in comparison to the party that the Bruins ruined in Vancouver.
More than 100,000 Canucks fans packed downtown during Game 5, and even more were expected for the clincher. The picturesque city was dotted with blue jerseys from the early morning, with fans arriving by the hundreds on every train into downtown from the suburbs.
Both teams opened Game 7 at a fantastic pace, forechecking and hitting with boundless energy in both clubs' 107th game of the season.
After both teams' top lines missed decent early scoring chances, Bergeron put the Bruins ahead with a one-timer in the slot on a sharp pass from Brad Marchand, the rookie who has emerged remarkably in the finals. Luongo couldn't be blamed for his teammates' soft checking when Bergeron's shot caught the goalpost and ricocheted home.
Bergeron, who won a gold medal with Canada on this same rink last year, hadn't scored a goal in Boston's last nine playoff games, including the entire finals.
Marchand hit Luongo's crossbar early in the second period, and he scored from behind the net several minutes later with ample help from the diving Luongo, who knocked the puck into the net after getting pushed by his scrambling teammate, Daniel Sedin.
Rogers Arena deflated with that score, and the Canucks' suddenly problematic power play allowed Bergeron essentially to finish them off. He got a loose puck at his blue line and outskated two Canucks toward Luongo, and the puck skittered underneath the goalie while Bergeron went to the ice.
Thomas was unflappable in the third period, and Marchand added an empty-net goal with 2:44 to play.
NOTES: Boston's Zdeno Chara became the second European born-and-trained captain to raise the Stanley Cup, joining Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom. ... Bruins D Dennis Seidenberg had two assists. He is the second German to earn a spot on the Stanley Cup, joining Uwe Krupp. ... The NBA finals ended before the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 2002, when the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Detroit Red Wings to their respective titles.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)