TAMPA - We go back a month ago when the Eastern Conference Final got underway between the Lightning and Bruins.
Spending a great deal of time with the Boston media, the general consensus was this series would be brutally physical.
The eventual winner, which was too close to call, would likely be worn down, injury depleted, and just not at top form to take on a well-rested Vancouver Canucks.
Most of it came to life.
The ECF was a seven-game test of wills, won by Boston.
I can't speak for the players, but I will say the media for both cities came away with a great appreciation of what we saw first hand.
The tired-eyes of the combatants. The ebbs and flows of an emotional two weeks The thrill of winning, and the sobering effect of close games lost.
Personally, having witnessed this series from start to finish, and having made the trek back and forth to Calgary for the Lightning's Stanley Cup run, I came away with two completely different feelings.
In the Cup winning run, the Lightning was a dominant team, with expectations far greater than this season.
Not to have seen the Bolts raised the Cup would have been a disappontment, and frankly an upset by the Flames.
Not until Martin St. Louis scored that game winning overtime goal in game six at the Saddledome did the real fervor kick in.
Perhaps we were spending so much time trying to figure out how the Flames were even in the series, and believing true talent would prevail in the end.
Hence, a Lightning series win.
However, in the Boston series, for some reason, the intensity hit from the drop of the first puck, in the first game and never let up.
A series between a Cup starved-history-laden team from Boston against a pretty talented team from Tampa Bay, coming from the depths of ownership squabbles to a new regime that has become as solid as any in all of sports.
How can you not, even as a non-partisan broadcaster, not get pulled into a emotional tussle of your own, yet keep objectivity for fairness?
Which leads me to the Stanley Cup final.
I made no bones about it on ABC Action News, I was pulling for the Boston Bruins.
Having talked to most of the Bruins through those two weeks, not one of them said anything that came across too cocky or arrogant. If they felt that way, they had the smarts not to say it publically.
And this Tim Thomas guy; if your going to find a hockey player who needs to have a little of that swagger, a little bravoto, a little brashness, it would be the goaltender.
Not Thomas. He is without a doubt, the most unassuming goalie I had ever run across.
Soft-spoken, almost shy to a point.
Yet, when he entered that crease, Thomas was a changed man. Fiesty, with incredible talent.
When Boston entered the Stanley Cup series, they were the David, Vancouver was the Goliath.
Had I not watched Boston from up close for those previous two weeks, I would have said it's Vancouver, good night and have a nice day.
I didn't, mainly because they beat a Lightning team that had more fight than the Canucks.
Many thought the Henrik twins would take over the series for Vancouver.
My thought was they better be a couple of tough hombres, because once they got near that neutral zone, they better have eyes in the back of their head.
I banked on them becoming intimidated, and they were to a certain extent.
I also thought there was no way Roberto Luongo could even match the performance of Tim Thomas.
No one in the league was capable. That was an easy observation.
However, I wasn't sure who would win the Cup until Nathan Horton went down with series ending concussion. I felt then, Vancouver made a big mistake.
They messed with the wrong guy. They messed with family.
It took that tired bunch of Bruins and gave them a renewed life, a purpose beyond the Cup. Wrong team to give that opportunity to.
When this series entered the sixth game, I said the first goalie to blink would determine the winner. I thought it would be Luongo, and he did in spades as Boston pummeled him.
So when they went back to Vancouver for the finale, I was pretty confident that Boston was in the mind of Luongo, and carried the edge.
Turns out, Luongo folded, and the Bruins prevailed.
It just goes to show you talent isn't everything. Oh, it carries weight, but the inner core of the Boston players was the difference.
As I watched Boston celebrate last night on the Rogers Centre ice, I started wondering what was going on in the minds of the Bolts players and management.
Don't kid yourself, there is a underlying rivalry going between the two teams. Oh, yes.
Seeing Boston hoist the Cup likely heightened the Lightning's determination to get back in that position again. It was already high to begin with.
Congratulations to the Bruins. You are the Stanley Cup champs this year. Next season........we'll see.
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