If the Devils had been willing to have theft noses rubbed in it, if center Scott Gomez had been willing to hang on to the puck for another second and find a teammate with a pass when he saw red-bearded 6'5", 225-pound wing Chris Dingman barreling toward him at the boards, they might have been tough enough to overcome their three straight fruitless power plays in the first period of Game 6. Instead, the spooked Gomez coughed up the puck like a hairball to defenseman Adam Foote, who scored the first Colorado goal.
The loss seemed to numb New Jersey's nerve endings. The Devils, who had skulked out of a half-empty Continental Airlines Arena after Game 6, arrived for their Game 7 morning skate in Denver full of piss and vinegar—with an emphasis on the former. As talk swirled about a conspicuous postgame police presence for the anticipated riot (page 98) and word leaked of plans for a parade on Monday, Robinson gathered his players at the end of the practice. He announced that they could all stay for the Avalanche parade, a crack that was greeted by the appropriate guffaws. In a press conference that followed, Robinson said, "I love urinating on parades."
However, before there could be precipitation of any kind, the Devils would have to stay out of the penalty box and get more from their captain, 37-year-old defenseman Scott Stevens. On Saturday night Stevens played a game for the aged, not the ages, finishing with a-2 rating, inadvertently screening netminder Martin Brodeur on Sakic's goal, getting felled by checks from middleweights Sakic and Dan Hinote, and taking a tripping penalty in the final six minutes that snuffed any hope of a comeback. A third New Jersey Cup in seven years would have secured the Devils' legacy as one of the best postexpansion teams, but their performance late in the series downgraded them to merely splendid. "We've got to learn to play disciplined," said Robinson, whose team was outscored 15-2 in its four losses. "That's one reason Colorado beat us."
The only moisture that fell in Game 7 came from Bourque's tear ducts. His eyes began welling up at the national anthem, and he also had tears in his eyes when he was on the bench during the match, which wasn't often considering one of hockey's best-ever three-zone defensemen played 29 minutes and 35 seconds. For Bourque, the last 10 minutes seemed to take 22 seasons to play. A TV camera caught him smiling on the bench with less than five minutes left, but that must have been some imposter because the real Bourque, the most steadfast of men, recalled not letting his emotions go until more liquid started dribbling down his stubbled cheeks with 10 seconds remaining.
"A name was missing from that thing," Roy would say about Bourque and the Stanley Cup. "And today it is back to normal. [It was so special] seeing Ray raise that Cup, seeing his eyes, seeing how excited he was."
These battered men become little boys every June, playing for, above all else, the trophy at the end of the season. On Saturday night Bourque bathed in the Cup's silvery glow and accepted congratulations from old friends like former Boston Bruins defense partners Don Sweeney and Gord Kluzak and new buddies like Chr�tien, who was too busy running a country to fly to Denver but not too busy to watch the game. The cheering will stop soon, though, and then Bourque will have a decision to make. He will receive $6.5 million if he plays next season or $1 million if he walks away from a mutual option with the Avalanche. Although one family member expects Bourque to retire and return to his home north of Boston, the defenseman said he will take several weeks to rest and ponder his future. Bourque has earned that right no less than he earned the Cup, finishing the playoffs with 10 points and a +9 rating.
Bourque's wife, Christiane, slipped an empty champagne bottle into a bag late on Saturday before the family left the arena, a final keepsake. Maybe the city was still suffering from a hangover when it awoke on Monday morning, but that didn't stop thousands of Denverites from snaking their way through LoDo to a rally at Civic Center Park. This was a tribute to Bourque and the Avalanche, but didn't it also pay homage to the World Series that Ernie Banks will one day win, to the Super Bowl victory that will no longer elude Dan Marino, to the NBA title that will never again slip through Karl Malone's and John Stockton's fingers? Didn't this parade celebrate the possible? The weather was grand. Not a drop of rain.