Now the question is, with the Stanley Cup finally his after 22 seasons and four decades of chasing it, will Ray Bourque ever let go?
The Colorado Avalanche, driven to get Bourque the biggest prize in hockey before he retires, scored the first three goals to wrest the cup from the New Jersey Devils with a 3-1 victory Saturday night in only the third finals Game 7 in 30 seasons.
Alex Tanguay supplied the scoring touch with two goals and the 40-year-old Bourque, who had played a record 1,825 games without ever handling the cup, wept as he finally touched it ending a journey that began when he was a teen-age defenseman for Boston in the 1970s.
|Bourque holds aloft the Cup|
"This has been the goal from Day 1," said Colorado captain Joe Sakic, recalling a pre-season conversation with Ray Bourque in which he unveiled the master plan to hand the cherished hardware to him first.
Bourque was about to begin his first full season with Colorado after 20-plus years in Boston and one playoff campaign with the Avalanche that had ended in bitter disappointment.
"I talked to him before the year started, before training camp. I told him we were going to win," Sakic said after his team snatched the Stanley Cup from New Jersey.
In a game where the No. 1 lines scored every goal, Joe Sakic set up Tanguay once and scored himself as the Avalanche opened a 3-0 edge reminiscent of their 5-0 win in Game 1, then held off a second period flurry as the Devils desperately tried to hold onto their cup.
|Colorado Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy is presented the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman|
"In our hearts and our lives, we were playing for Ray Bourque," said coach Bob Hartley, a former windshield installer who never played pro hockey and didn't begin his coaching career until he was 27. "I'll remember coaching Ray Bourque until I close my little eyes."
"I really can't say enough about this club, coming back from behind 3-2," said Bourque, who finally had his Stanley Cup to cap a brilliant 22-year NHL career.
"All year long we said home ice would be key and we got it done in front of our fans tonight. It is unbelievable."
When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman handed the cup to Sakic, he defied tradition that the captain skates first with the cup. Instead, he shoved it into Bourque's hands.
"I know the hockey world wanted to see Ray Bourque lifting it up," Sakic said.
Then, for the first time, Bourque finally showed emotion, smiling, kissing the cup emphatically and lifting it to the sky before a victory lap he once thought he might never take. Along the way, he waved to wife Christiane and his three children, who attended all seven games.
Before Bourque was done, he hoisted it in the air, kissed it, cradled it like a newborn, pumped like a weightlifter, as if to show the weight of not winning it was off his shoulders forever.
"It's unbelievable," said Bourque, who played 20½ seasons for the Bruins and lost two finals with them before requesting a trade last year so he might win the cup before retiring. "It's really emotional. It's tough to keep it together. I couldn't let it go until the end."
He also took it on a second lap, and a third, as if to remind himself it truly was happening. Call it an omen, call it destiny, but Bourque's number finally came up No. 77 in Game 7.
"Lifting the cup, what a feeling!" Bourque said. "I just can't describe it. I couldn't breathe the last 30 seconds, and it wasn't because I was tired. It was just too much and I was trying to hold off the tears, the emotions."
Call it mission accomplished for Mission 16W, Bourque's own name for his cup quest.
"It's great to be on a team that wins the cup for Ray Bourque," said Sakic, who scored a goal after being shut out since Game 2.
Asked if he might retire now that he has finally won the cup, Bourque said he would wait a few weeks to decide.
As Bourque's streak ended, so did Devils coach Larry Robinson's run of never losing the cup, despite his pre-game prediction that New Jersey would ruin Denver's prematurely announced plans for a parade.
Robinson had been 8-0 in the finals as a player, assistant coach and head coach, but that streak ended as Colorado which had lost Game 7s to Dallas in the Western Conference finals the previous two seasons won its second cup in six seasons. They also won in 1996, the season they moved from Quebec.
"It's great for Ray, but it doesn't make it any easier on us," said Devils defenseman Scott Stevenswho hugged Bourque afterward. "As long as we don't win it, it's nice to see him win."
As the game ended, several Devils were in tears, and several more were crying in the locker room afterward.
The Avalanche, who denied New Jersey the chance to clinch the cup at home by winning 4-0 in Game 6, are the first team since the 1971 Montreal Canadiens to rally from a 3-2 deficit in the finals.
"In a seven-game Stanley Cup final, usually the better team wins and I have to give them credit, they won the last two games," the Devils' Bobby Holik said. "It wasn't by accident, we scored only one goal, and the offense wasn't there."
Roy, back on his game just when the Avalanche needed him most, turned aside 25 of 26 shots to follow up his 4-0 shutout in Game 6 and win his fourth cup over three decades, including those for Montreal in 1986 and 1993 and Colorado's 1996 cup.
"It was a bumpy ride and we faced adversity, but nobody gave up," said Roy, who strayed from the net and allowed the tying goal in a 3-2 loss in Game 4 that seemed to turn the series New Jersey's way.
In an unpredictable series in which Colorado lost twice at home but outscored the Devils 15-2 in their four victories, the Avalanche got the early goal they were hoping for to keep their 295th consecutive sellout crowd at its Mile High loudest.
"All year long, we said home ice would be the key, and it was," Bourque said, referring to Hartley's constant reminder to his players to avoid another Game 7 on the road.
As the Devils' Brian Rafalski and Holik collided in front of the net, causing Rafalski's stick to jam inside goalie Martin Brodeur's jersey, Tanguay carried the puck from behind the net and powered a wrist shot into the top of the net at 7:58 of the first period.
Colorado kept its early surge going to score twice in a span of 1:19 of the second period, both times by the line of Tanguay, Sakic and Milan Hejduk that came alive late in the series after disappearing midway through it, after Sakic scored three goals in the first two games.
Defenseman Adam Foote threaded an excellent breakout pass along the boards to Sakic, who rushed in on Brodeur from the neutral zone. Brodeur made the initial save, but the puck rebounded directly to Tanguay, who pushed it into the net as he slid across the ice at 4:57 of the second for his fourth goal in three games.
"As a kid you always dream of being the one scoring the goals in the finals, but this is unreal," said the 21-year-old Tanguay, who was born on Nov. 21, 1979, when Bourque's rookie season was 18 games old.
A high-sticking penalty on Devils defenseman Sean O'Donnell, back in the lineup after being scratched for two games, later set up what proved to be the all-important third goal by Sakic, his 12th of the playoffs and first since early in Game 2.
"Stupid penalties, needless penalties," Robinson said. "Disciplined teams win championships, and that's one of the reasons Colorado beat us."
Brodeur was playng his 97th game, the most in any season by a goalie, but Robinson discounted fatigue: "I don't think so. They had the crowd and the adrenaline."
Petr Sykora ended Roy's scoreless streak at 90 minutes, 28 seconds midway through the second period, on a power play resulting from Eric Messier's penalty, but the Devils couldn't get the puck past Roy again despite dominating the offensive chances for the rest of the period and early into the third period.
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