DENVER -- An arrangement among superstars was fashioned before the opening of training camp, before the first sweat of the NHL season. The Colorado Avalanche was on a distinct mission -- anything less than the Stanley Cup would not suffice.
Colorado dedicated this season to future Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, vowing to give him a championship befitting his prominence in the game. Center Joe Sakic told Bourque as much in the September heat, adding that once the trophy was theirs, Sakic would not be the first player to hoist the Cup and parade it around the ice as team captains customarily do. Sakic and Bourque reprised that conversation Saturday night, in the bedlam of Colorado's 3-1 victory over New Jersey in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals. Then a weeping Bourque kissed the chalice and began a victory lap on the Pepsi Center ice.
"I talked to (Bourque) before the year started, before training camp, and said we're going to win (the Stanley Cup) and I want him to be the first one to lift it," Sakic said. "That's been our goal since Day One and I told him on the ice that as soon as I got it I was going to pass it over."
Bourque's 1,826th game ended as none had before for him. His 22nd season in the league concluded with a series of images to last a lifetime. Bourque's family joined him on the ice, buckling at the sight of pure joy on his face. The Avalanche, winners of their second title since moving from Quebec in 1995, was swept up in emotion, watching their gray-bearded teammate circle the ice.
"Lifting the Cup, what a feeling," said Bourque, 40. "I just can't describe it ... (Sakic) just wanted me to go up there and grab it. He's our leader; he has been all year. I said, 'Grab it and give it to me, I'll run with it for a little bit.' "
The Devils players embraced Bourque, second all-time in assists, during the ceremonial handshake, putting aside their bitter disappointment with blowing a 3-2 series lead for a moment. New Jersey's coach, Larry Robinson, a Hall of Fame defenseman who used to play against Bourque, remained on the ice for several minutes awaiting his chance to congratulate the man.
Colorado goaltender Patrick Roy was presented with the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the postseason, winning the award a record third time, but an event so profound seemed of lesser significance on this night. "It's not as special, to be honest with you, as seeing Ray raising that Cup," Roy said. "Seeing his eyes, how excited he was."
As Colorado winger Alex Tanguay, a Game 7 hero with two goals, said: "It brought a tear to the eye of everyone in the hockey world."
Bourque has tried to remain calm throughout this postseason, maintaining perspective through the joys and defeats. But when he headed to the morning skate and saw pictures from the neighborhood kids on his driveway and flags on the street, the 19-time All-Star felt the magnitude of the moment.
For a moment during the national anthem, Bourque lost control, felt the tears and regrouped. Halfway through the game Colorado led 3-0 and it was apparent to all but Bourque that the Cup was his.
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