THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Plane touching down touched off excitement

By John Powers
Globe Staff / June 17, 2011

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There was no doubting Thomas — not than anyone ever will again.

Everybody had seen the Bruins goalie and his bearded brethren sporting their Stanley Cup champion hats and powerlifting the silver mug on TV. But approximately 500 fans who lined the TD Garden parking lot entrance yesterday morning as the bleary Bruins stepped off their buses from Logan Airport wanted proof positive.

“Show us the Cup,’’ they chanted. “Show us the Cup.’’

So the team’s towering captain, who’d been the first of them to get his oversized paw prints on the trophy Wednesday night in Vancouver, happily obliged.

“It’s ours,’’ Zdeno Chara declared after he and his teammates returned to Boston, having claimed hockey’s most cherished prize for the first time since 1972. “It’s a great feeling. It’s an unbelievable feeling.

“We worked so hard for so long and we are so happy to bring the Cup back to Boston after so many years. It’s a very special day.’’

No Bruins club had played so many postseason games (25) or traveled so many miles (18,802) to win it. The 1970 group lugged the Cup directly off their own ice and into the locker room. The 1972 team carried it on a quickie flight from New York.

This bunch took it on a red-eye flight that was decidedly short on shut-eye.

“We are all so overwhelmed by winning,’’ Chara said, “that nobody really got any sleep.’’

Twice before during the Final, the Bruins had chartered back from British Columbia with buzzards circling their plane. They were down, two games to none, the first time they returned, and were facing an elimination date the second time.

This time, the trip was a 2,500-mile victory lap at 32,000 feet.

“This five-hour flight with the Stanley Cup with us, we could truly just relax and enjoy the accomplishment,’’ said Tim Thomas, who also collected the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason’s Most Valuable Player.

Boston had won the Cup five times before, but never in seven games. Nor had there ever been a June homecoming, and the players who weren’t wearing sunglasses were blinking in the sunlight as the fans saluted them.

“Greatest day of my life, without a doubt,’’ proclaimed Shawn Thornton, who had won the Cup with Anaheim four years ago. “It’s unbelievable. It’s a dream come true.’’

Some members of the crowd were brandishing Cups made of tinfoil and cardboard that they’d fashioned from memory. They were nearly blinded by the real thing, which is considerably bigger, heavier, and brighter than any facsimile.

Unlike the World Series trophy, the Stanley Cup is a perfect drinking vessel, which is why Kevin Youkilis already has asked to have it brought by Fenway Park so the Red Sox can imbibe.

“I’ll do my best to make sure those guys get a sip out of it,’’ promised Thornton.

Everyone from the Gallery Gods to great-grandchildren will be craving a swig of the 2011 vintage, the first harvested from an unpromising British Columbia vineyard but planted in the West End. The Bruins, who won their final six home games, were nourished by the energy of 17,565 nightly witnesses, and they were duly appreciative of the rousing throng both at the airport and the Garden.

“It’s great to see the fans here,’’ said Patrice Bergeron, whose two goals in the finale had made them delirious.

There will be several hundred thousand of them lining the streets tomorrow when the Bruins are feted with the customary parade. The Celtics, Red Sox, and Patriots all had enjoyed multiple celebratory processions since Bobby Orr and his spoked-B frat brothers rode to City Hall Plaza in a bus in 1972. These days, newly crowned titlists are chauffeured in duck boats, but the manner of conveyance won’t matter.

“As long as there’s a parade,’’ concluded Thornton, “I’m happy.’’

Monique Walker of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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