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Dan Shaughnessy

Next up: The Cup

Game 7 win puts Bruins in finals

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 28, 2011

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This is the reward for those who have waited; all you pond hockey warriors, mayors of Hockeytown, and folks who lived through too many men on the ice and last spring’s epic fold against the Flyers.

The Boston Bruins are back in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990.

In a pulsating Game 7, the spoked-B’s defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 1-0, on Causeway Street last night. The Bruins play the Canucks in Game 1 Wednesday night in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The conference finale was an epic, 60-minute battle with a couple of dozen close calls and zero penalties. Boston’s lunch-pail goalie, Tim Thomas, kept Tampa Bay off the board and the Bruins won it when Nathan Horton converted a pass from David Krejci with 7:33 left in the third period.

Imagine. A guy named Horton breaks a 0-0 tie in the 53d minute of play and sends his team to the Stanley Cup finals. Anyone want to invest in Nathan Horton’s Donuts?

There has to be a way for Mayor Tom Menino to take credit for this High Renaissance of Boston sports. Football, baseball, basketball . . . and now hockey. These are Boston’s Glory Days, Black-and-Golden Days, Lobster Salad Days.

“Right now, we’re four wins away from the Stanley Cup,’’ said oft-maligned coach Claude Julien. “That’s what matters to me.’’

The Bruins’ long-awaited return to the finals gives Boston a chance to become the first city to win championships in all the major sports in less than a decade. Should the Bruins win the Cup next month, the local team with the longest championship drought would be the Patriots, who haven’t won since way back in . . . 2005.

Certainly no fans are more worthy of a championship run than Bruins fans. They get knocked down, but they get up again.

“They’ve been supportive of this team through thick and thin,’’ said 43-year-old Mark Recchi. “Tonight, we could hear them while we were still in our [locker] room, before warm-ups. We were like, ‘Oh, they’re ready.’ ’’

The regular (not a pink hat in the bunch) sweater-clad 17,565 filed into the air-conditioned barn with considerable trepidation. In each of the last three seasons the Bruins finished their playoff run with a Game 7 loss. Hub Hockey Krishnas have schooled their young on a 39-year Cup drought, which is encroaching on territory formerly occupied by citizens of Red Sox Nation.

There was no disappointment on this magical night. No penalties, either. The Bruins and Lightning played the full 60 without anyone getting whistled or punched. How many of us have seen that before?

We know that no one under the drinking age has seen the Bruins in the Cup finals. They haven’t been to the championship round since they were smoked by Edmonton 21 years ago.

“This is something you dream about as a kid,’’ said Milan Lucic, who hails from Vancouver. “No question, I’ll be motivated.’’

Pregame, the Garden was electric, and it had nothing to do with the Lightning. There is no shortage of ex-Bruins-with-juice in our region, and Boston management made a good call trotting out Derek Sanderson for some old-timey inspiration.

It was obvious from the jump that the zebras weren’t going to call anything that didn’t result in dismemberment. The refs swallowed their whistles and let ’em play, much to the delight of the ever-thirsty crowd. It was great action, up and down the ice.

After putting a paltry 20 shots on net in Game 6, the Bruins peppered Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson with 15 shots in the first 20 minutes of this ultimate game.

The Bruins continued to force the action at the start of the second. There was a horrific moment when Lightning star center Steven Stamkos went to the dressing room after taking a 90-mile-per-hour Johnny Boychuk slap shot in the face. It was the type of injury that would sideline your average baseball player for a season and a half. Stamkos was back on the ice five minutes later, wearing a full cage. Another reason why we love hockey.

Back and forth it went. The Bruins got more shots on goal, but there was no yield on either side.

It was perhaps the best dual shutout since Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal went 16 innings in 1963. It was Zdeno Chara shadowing Vincent Lecavalier and Patrice Bergeron blanketing Stamkos. The Bruins had a 29-17 shot advantage after two.

It only got better in the third. The crowd roared louder on every shift. Still, no penalties and no goals.

Finally, the breakthrough. The Bruins beat the 1-3-1 zone coming off a rush, with Andrew Ference feeding Krejci. Krejci came down the left lane and centered beautifully to Horton, who was skating to the net with his stick on the ice and shoveled it home. No one sat down the rest of the way. Thomas, who played every minute of the series, finished with 24 saves. Goal count for the seven games: Boston 21, Tampa Bay 21.

“It felt like overtime the entire game,’’ said Lightning coach Guy Boucher. “It was going to be who made that one mistake, and it was us. They deserve that goal. They made it happen and now they’re going to the Stanley Cup finals.’’

Given the 2-2-1-1-1 format of the finals, the Bruins might have to cross the continent six times to bring the Cup back home to Boston. And they will face the fury of an entire nation. No team from hockey’s motherland has won a Stanley Cup since the 1993 Canadiens.

That’ll just make it more fun for your Bruins — Boston’s Team Of The New Decade.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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