BOSTON — When referee Chris Rooney dropped the puck between Sean Kuraly and Oskar Sundqvist at exactly 8:21 p.m. Wednesday, the greatest and most anticipated event in the 24-year history of TD Garden was finally underway.
A cacophony of noise resonated through the arena, which crackled with an intensity and passion never before seen or heard inside the walls of Jeremy Jacobs’ palace on 100 Legends Way. You could literally feel it in your bones, 17,565 souls joined as one in anticipation for what they hoped would be an occurrence a half-decade in the making: the Boston Bruins lifting the Stanley Cup on home ice.
One game, winner-take-all battle for the best National Hockey League team of the 2018-19 season. Either the St. Louis Blues, who had never won the Cup in its 52-year history, or the Bruins, who were seeking their seventh title overall and second of the decade, would be parading around the Garden ice.
With a nod to both history and irony, Wednesday marked 35 years to the day of the last Game 7 of a championship series that was contested in Boston. On that steamy June 1984 night, Cedric Maxwell, Dennis Johnson and Larry Bird all scored 20 or more points as the Celtics downed the hated Lakers, 111-102, in the dilapidated-but-beloved original Boston Garden.
Another nod: a Boston triumph would be their first championship earned at home since Mother’s Day 1970 ... against these same St. Louis Blues.
For an organization that has played in more postseason Game 7s (28) than any other in NHL history, it’s hard to believe that was the first time in the Bruins’ 95-year history where a Game 7 of the Final was required in Boston.
There had been 16 other such instances in league history, and the home teams had won 12 of those. One of the four squads that went on the road to bring home their riches was also the last one to win a Game 7: the Boston Bruins, in 2011.
With Boston and St. Louis playing the 17th Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, it’s interesting to note that TD Garden’s other tenants, the Boston Celtics, have won an NBA record 17 championships.
Tuukka Rask on the precipice of earning Conn Smythe Trophy honors as the most valuable player of the playoffs, was gearing up for what would be his greatest triumph. The 32-year-old has long had to deflect the slings and barbs of certain sections of the media and fan base, pointing to the fact that he lost the Cup Final to the Blackhawks at home in 2013 and didn’t have the fortitude to lead the Black-and-Gold to glory. This was his night to finally, once and for all, silence the doubters and call himself a best goaltender in the world, at least during this year’s playoffs.
It was the third straight game that captain Zdeno Chara — taking part in his NHL record 14th Game 7 — had played since suffering what has widely reported to be a broken jaw during Game 4 in St. Louis. It was Charlestown’s own Matt Grzelcyk, returning to the lineup for the first time since suffering a concussion on a high hit in the early stages of Game 2.
It was a chance for head coach Bruce Cassidy, who took over a floundering team in February 2017 and had them one contest away from winning hockey’s Holy Grail. It was a season that began with half the team in China, playing a pair of mid-September exhibition games against the Calgary Flames. It was a team that really seemed to gel once the New Year hit following an eclectic Winter Classic victory over the Blackhawks at Notre Dame Stadium.
It was veterans David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Chara and Rask seeking their second Cup while David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Karson Kuhlman, Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson, Danton Heinen, Noel Acciari, Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner, David Backes, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Grzelcyk, John Moore, Kevan Miller, Steven Kampfer, Jaroslav Halak and the long-suffering Torey Krug — who, by his own research, was the longest tenured current Boston pro athlete to have not won a title — all looking to lift the world’s most famous trophy for the first time.
All of the aches, pains, maladies and debilities that the players had suffered through for the past two months of the playoff grind would all be worth it, just for the chance to lift that gorgeous 37-pound silver chalice that would undoubtedly feel light as a feather over their heads.
That’s why this was the best event to ever take place at TD Garden.