The 39-year wait for Boston Bruins fans to experience a Stanley Cup Champion as ended. There were an awful lot of fans that had waited for this particular moment for an awful long time. Waited through Ray Borque's career. Through Cam Neely's. Through Don Cherry and Stan Jonathan, through the death of the old Boston Garden and Joe Thornton. There were no Stanley Cups. There was, to be sure, hardly a Stanley Cup Final appearance.
And as the century turned, as the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics racked up championships, the Bruins were all but left for dead. But the diehards never left. They were the ones attending games when the TD Garden only filled 10,000 seats. They were the ones who filled the bars, even when Montreal and Toronto were using Boston as punching bags.
And on this night, they were the ones whose reward was greater than any other. But the wonder of it all was that they shared it with a new generation.
That generation was one that sang "Zombie Nation," the Bruins' goal song, when Patrice Bergeron scored the first Boston goal - the one that would turn out to be the game-winner - in Boston's 4-0 game seven win over the Vancouver Canucks. Sang it, at least, as best as the song can be performed a capella, con birra.
But they also criticized the forecheck for being too weak early on, even after the Bergeron goal. They lauded the defense for keeping the high-powered Vancouver offense to the outside and making it easy on Tim Thomas, who stopped all 37 shots that he saw on the night.
Of course, their accurate insight was tempered by suggestions that the lines be shaken up as early as six shifts into the game, that Brad Marchand should be put back on the checking line, that Daniel Paille should be bumped up to the second, but we're all prone to judgment errors after a few drinks and a lot of adrenaline, aren't we?
The first intermission passed without much to-do; two-thirds of the fans were reeling from Christopher Higgins hit on Bruins captain Zdeno Chara in which Higgins left his feet (and how) to hit Chara in the head at the Boston blue-line; the rest were just glad that the captain was alright.
All were glad that their team was up after 20 minutes - after all, the team that had scored first had won games one through six in the series. There were, to be sure, no blue sweaters on Causeway Street this time around.
After Bergeron scored the Bruins' third goal on a gritty, short-handed effort that can only be described as the epitome of Bruins hockey, chants of "sieve, sieve, sieve" - a derisive cheer that I'd heard before only at college hockey games - broke out. Roberto Luongo was human, after all. And he had been solved by the Bruins attack once again.
By the time the second intermission arrived, with the Bruins leading 3-0, it seemed that everyone in the city had forgotten just how dangerous a 3-0 lead in a game seven was.
As recently as two months ago, that would have been the difference between this collection of fans - a gaggle would remember the past, would remember Ulf Samuelsson's hit on Cam Neely, would remember Borque winning the Cup but not with Boston, would remember the Thornton trade, would remember seeing Marc Savard go down and not seeing any of his teammates stand up for him, would remember losing game seven to the Flyers just 13 months earlier. But a majority, most of whom came around because the Red Sox were struggling and the Celtics were out of the playoffs early, would cheerily accept the lead as fait accompli.
And yet, whether old or new, when the Cup was shown being shined with about eight minutes to go in the third period, everyone collectively rose to chant "We want the Cup!" as if they didn't quite think it was theirs just yet.
It wasn't yet theirs, but time was on their side. As Claude Julien said after the game when asked about the Bruins coming back from down two games to nothing of the Cup, "it wasn't ours to have. It was ours to earn."
They earned it. They earned it like hockey players are supposed to - not by diving and goading their opponent into penalties like the Canadiens, not by ignoring play in their own zone like Philadelphia, not by having a more powerful offense than the Tampa Bay Lightning, and not by talking a bigger game than their opponent like Vancouver.
When the game ended, the fans respectably stuck around to watch the Cup be passed around - they cheered loudest when Nathan Horton raised Lord Stanley's Chalice, of course - and calmly, almost serenely, waded out into the streets, where nobody climbed light posts, nobody took their clothes off and nobody challenged the police to a scuffle.
The same, unfortunately, couldn't be said for their Vancouver counterparts, who overturned cars, lit fires, raided high-end stores and, according to so many retweets, "fornicated" following the disheartening loss. It was the same reaction the fan base had to their 1994 Stanley Cup Final loss to Mark Messier and the New York Rangers, and it's not one that anybody's sure to be too proud of.
It was fitting, in a way. After all, the Canucks did their most memorable work all series after the games had ended. The Bruins, on the other hand, put their heads down and went to work.
And when all was said and done, those 20 hard-nosed, blue-collar, Black and Gold-clad athletes were the ones with their heads held high. And rightly so; they earned it.
They did it with experience - Mark Recchi, who gets to ride off into the sunset, won his third Cup at 43 and will now retire; Tim Thomas, who took 31 years to earn himself a job in the NHL, won the Conn Smythe Trophy at 37, was the first goaltender in the history of the NHL to record a shutout in game seven of the Stanley Cup Final - but they also did it with youth - Tyler Seguin, who nearly single-handedly won game two of the Tampa Bay series when they desperately needed a spark with Bergeron out, and Brad Marchand, who tallied 11 goals in his first NHL postseason, as well as six finesse points for his right-hand jabs on Henrik Sedin in the closing minutes of game six, to name a few.
They parallel their fan base in that way; there are the more experienced, the ones who have been around forever and waited their entire lives (or at least a good portion of them) for this moment, but now there are the rookies, who just finished their first year following the Bruins, and have a lot to look forward to.
And the future for the Boston Bruins looks pretty rosy right now, with only Recchi figuring to depart, and the 10th overall draft pick due them in just nine days. They reason to get better, and that's an awfully exciting prospect.