THE STANLEY CUP HAD NEVER BEEN LIFTED HIGHER THAN IT WAS WHEN 6' 9" defenseman Zdeno Chara, Boston's formidable captain, pressed the trophy over his head. With it, he lifted a storied franchise that had been yearning for its first championship in 39 years. The Bruins had conquered another team starved for Stanley: In the Canucks' 40-year history, they had never touched the Cup. Vancouver had dominated the NHL all season, winning the Presidents' Trophy and having the league's best offense and stingiest defense.
When the finals began, Boston knew it would be in for its biggest challenge, but resilience was a quality the team had come to pride itself on. The Bruins, after all, had begun the 2011 postseason with back-to-back home losses to the Canadiens. The finals took seven grueling games—packed with dramatic goals, devastating hits and childish antics—before the Bruins closed out their season with the most satisfying win of all. The Cup was returning return to the Hub of Hockey.
June 1, Rogers Arena
Canucks 1, Bruins 0
IT CAME AS NO SURPRISE THAT BOTH TEAMS WENT into the finals hungry, so to speak. In the case of Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows, one could say the irksome winger was chomping at the digit.
At the end of the first period a scrum exploded around Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, and in the chaos Burrows got tangled with Boston center Patrice Bergeron, exchanging pleasantries. When all was said (en Français, bien sur) and done, a curious image emerged. Cameras had caught Burrows apparently noshing on Bergeron's gloved fingers.
A game that had devolved into finger-pointing accusations, however, turned into a nail-biter, scoreless through the first 59 minutes, as two superb goalies went toe-save-to-toe-save. "I [thought] we were going to go to overtime," Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo said afterward. "At one point I thought we might be playing all night here."
In the waning seconds of regulation Canucks center Ryan Kesler brought the puck into the zone, beat Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk and found teammate Jannik Hansen open across the ice. Hansen, who had three shots during the game, heard Raffi Torres calling for the puck as he found a lane to the net. Hansen fed a perfect pass onto Torres's stick, and as the puck crossed the goal line with 18 seconds remaining, a surge of celebratory relief coursed through Rogers Arena.
Goals were expected to be at a premium with Luongo and Thomas between the pipes. Game 1 marked the first time since 1989 that the finals featured two Vezina finalists. Luongo, who in 2010--11 had a career-best 2.11 goals-against average, led the league in wins (38). Thomas set an NHL record with his .938 save percentage. Though both have the maddening tendency to let in the occasional head-scratching goal, each was on top of his game.