- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Stop pinching yourself.
It's real. Yes, the Boston Bruins really are the 2011 Stanley Cup champions. It almost seems surreal that this team, this city and these fans are celebrating a title.
The Bruins, who earned a sixth Cup with a 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 on Wednesday night at Rogers Arena, returned home as heroes and will receive the much-deserved championship parade Saturday. Boston is a hockey town once again, and this team will keep the Bruins atop the sports landscape for a long time.
Bruins fans who were fortunate enough to attend Game 7 in Vancouver and were flying home Thursday afternoon could not believe what they had witnessed.
Tom Frost, of Hopedale, Mass., attended the Cup-clinching game, and when he was driving from Vancouver to Seattle for his flight home, the customs agent at the border asked whether he had anything to declare. "Only a lifetime of memories," he answered, proudly wearing a No. 30 Tim Thomas sweater.
He's not alone.
The Bruins, Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics now have all won championships in a span of eight seasons. It's a golden era of sports in New England, and fans should be pumped.
Thomas won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP and was a major reason why the Black and Gold were able to hoist the Cup for the first time since 1972. He will forever be endeared in this city for his performance and accomplishments between the pipes.
Before the team left Vancouver on Wednesday night, Thomas had a message for the fans back in Boston: "You've been waiting a long time, but you got it. You wanted it, you got it. We're bringing it home."
The Cup is home, and fans will be able to see it firsthand Saturday.
"This is absolutely for the fans; they deserve it," Bruins president Cam Neely said. "The players did everything they could to win this Cup, and it's an amazing feeling. That fan base has waited for a long, long time for this to happen again. There's been a lot of heartache, so I'm extremely happy for the fans of the Bruins and the fans of New England.
"This is an incredible feeling. It's hard to really put it into words. It's an amazing feeling, and I'm just so proud. I'm proud of the players, the way they played. I'm proud of the coaching staff. It's a special, special moment right now."
This celebration will last through the summer until training camp begins and the Bruins attempt to defend what is rightfully theirs.
Moving forward into the offseason and the near future, there won't be many changes within the Bruins' organization. Claude Julien will remain the coach. Peter Chiarelli will remain the GM. This victory definitely gave them job security. As far as players, Mark Recchi announced his retirement immediately following Game 7, but other than that, the roster is likely to remain as is.
Defensemen Tomas Kaberle and Shane Hnidy, along with forward Michael Ryder, will be unrestricted free agents. Playoff hero and fan favorite Brad Marchand is the lone restricted free agent, but he is likely to get a major pay raise given his contributions and success this season.
What does get interesting is that the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2011-2012 season, so that means Chiarelli could offer players such as Ryder and Kaberle one-year deals, while both players are more than likely looking for long-term deals.
Kaberle did have his struggles after the Bruins acquired him prior to the trade deadline in March, but he was solid during the Cup finals. Chiarelli has said he wants to sign the veteran defenseman to a long-term deal, so it's going to be interesting to see how that plays out.
In the hour after the final buzzer of Game 7, Kaberle said he wants to stay in Boston.
"It would be nice to stick around here," he said. "We'll see what happens, but it would be nice."
Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron has been a mainstay on this roster since his rookie season in 2003-04. He's only 25 years old, and already he's a legend in this town. It didn't take him long after Game 7 to look around the ice and in the locker room to realize this is a new era in Bruins hockey.
"The future looks bright with all the guys that we have," he said. "But to be honest, I'm worrying about the celebration."
Bruins fans are probably bruised due to all the pinching. Don't worry -- the bruises will heal, but the memories will last.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
It's time to bask in the glow of the Stanley Cup for Bruins fans.