Although the Chicago Blackhawks have been out of the running since game 7 in Vancouver on April 26th, they have remained the reigning Stanley Cup Champions until now.
That ends tonight in Vancouver.
More than 100 games later after players across the league took to the ice to start the season, the playing field has been whittled to two: the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks.
There are many things this playoff season will be remembered for, and this Final round has been one of the wildest rides in recent memory. Two teams that barely had nodding acquaintance to one another, at the farthest ends of the continent from one another (nearly 2,500 miles apart), have gone at it tooth-and-nail since the first puck drop in Game 1.
Those of us who have watched this series unfold will remember for many years the details: the Burrows Bite; the Finger Incident. The Rome hit; the Boychuk hit. The battle of the gee-aw-shucks, happy-to-be-here, gritty, hard-working, "battlefly" goalie, versus the high-priced greyhound franchise goalie who might have a gold medal in his closet but who needs the Stanley Cup to silence all of his critics. The battles of words. The diving. The records set.
But it all comes to a peak in game 7.
Tonight is like Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve and the night before your birthday all rolled into one. The excitement, the anticipation, has the fanbases on overload. It is the joy and expectation, the giddy thrill and the gut-twisting anxiety that marks the final hours. On Monday, the thought was "Is this the day?" for both teams.
On Wednesday, it IS the day for both teams. 3-3. It all comes down to one game. 60 minutes.
As Ryan Kesler said on Tuesday, "If we win, we become legends," something that is true for either team. In the case of the Canucks, it means earning the first Cup in Canucks team history.
For the Bruins, it would mean bringing home the first Cup Boston has had since 1972. Tim Thomas said it succinctly in interviews today:
"The reality is, for me anyways, this may be the only Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals I ever have in my career. If we happen to make it again, hopefully we can win before 7. It's a big game, but you know, when we're in the garage or driveway, playing as a kid, and you're fantasizing ... you're saying to yourself, 'Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.' You're not saying Game 6, you know? So this is really what every kid dreams about."
The Bruins haven't been to a Final round since 1990, and haven't won a Cup in 39 years. The Canucks haven't been to the Final since 1994, and haven't won a Cup in 40 years of team history. Both are nursing huge, multi-decade stretches without a Cup.
Fans on both sides will be loaded with emotion throughout Game 7 -- one will walk away riding a wave of ecstasy and jubilation that lasts for weeks; the other, stomaching disappointment, and thoughts of next year.
In the short term, these memories of a strange and surreal Final round will be the topic of conversations for the rest of the summer, and a few years to come; but sooner or later, those memories will fade, replaced by the memory of the game-winning goal, the Captain first hoisting the Cup, and a team, a city and its fans celebrating.
There is no greater excitement, no better glory to be had in sports than the Stanley Cup - with a playoff season that stretches across two months, and ends on the ice in June.
Somebody will be a hero, with the game-winning goal.
Tonight, the tanks get emptied, and it gets all left on the ice.
Good luck to both teams.
As they say in Minnesota: Let's... play... hockey!