BOSTON — It had been 1,757 days — St. Patrick's Day 2007, to be exact — since Cory Schneider had been the starting goaltender for a hockey game at the TD Garden.
But when he skated out to his post between the pipes wearing the white, green and blue road uniform of the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon, the reception Schneider received was about 100 times chillier than when he was tending goal for Boston College in the Hockey East championship game here five years ago.
That's why the end result was ultimately so satisfying for him.
Oh, you never would have known it by watching him when the final buzzer went off Saturday: a quick pump of goalie stick, nothing more, before his teammates came over to congratulate him after his 36 saves allowed Vancouver to knock off the Boston Bruins, 4-3, in a nasty, vitriol-filled rematch of last year's Stanley Cup finalists.
Even afterward, as he removed the tools of his trade in the visitors locker room before a swarm of media descended upon him like locusts, the 25-year-old Marblehead native didn't seem the least bit fazed in guiding his team to victory in what was immediately being hailed as the hands-down best regular season game in the NHL this season.
"As a college player, I didn't know if I would ever get the chance to play here again. So to be able to come back and have this opportunity in front of a lot of friends and family and people at home watching, it was really cool — and I guess even more special because we don't come here very often," said Schneider, who had roughly 15 family members and friends on hand, including his parents, Rich and Sue, and his older brother, Geoff. "I'm glad we got the win."
The win was Schneider's ninth in 14 decisions in 2011-12; he also has a goals-against average of 2.21 and a save percentage of .930.
To call this a local-boy-returns-home-and-hopes-to-play-well story would be like saying "The Usual Suspects" is a decent movie.
For the visiting Canucks, who were outscored, outplayed and simply embarrassed during their three decisive losses in Boston last June, this was more than just another road battle in an 82-game regular season. It was a chance, before a nationally televised audience in both the U.S. and Canada, to show that they could stand up to the big, bad Bruins and beat them in their own barn.
Adding to the intrigue was the Canucks' much talked-about, but hardly surprising, decision not to play multimillionaire starter Roberto Luongo. He had been shelled and ridiculed during the Finals in Boston, giving up 15 goals in less than seven full periods, and it was widely perceived that he wasn't in net Saturday to spare him from another potential meltdown.
But the choice to start the former Marblehead High netminder instead proved genius. While never forced to make a 'Did you see that?' save — "it wasn't a game where I was making 10-bell saves ever other minute," he admitted — Schneider was a brick wall when the situation called for it.
He denied Boston's Daniel Paille on a penalty shot in the first minute of the second period, keeping the game tied at 1-1. Following a goal by Boston's Rich Peverley to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead, he came up big with a pair of in-tight stops against Nathan Horton, then took a Zdeno Chara bomb off his chest protector. Schneider also dove on a Chris Kelly tip-in attempt out front with 1:57 to play and the Canucks clinging to a one-goal lead.
"We knew this game was important to Cory, for him and our team to play well here," said Canucks forward Daniel Sedin. "He was great out there."
But perhaps the big redhead's most critical save came just after Boston's sixth power play opportunity ended with about 11 minutes remaining. With the home team continuing to apply heavy pressure, Schneider flung himself across the crease and negated Patrice Bergeron's one-timer at the near post with a key pad save.
"He never had the opportunity to play in front of his friends and family," Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault remarked, "and we thought after analyzing not just that, there were other areas to analyze, but we just thought that he'd give us a good game. He obviously played well for us (Saturday)."
Schneider is, if nothing else, the embodiment of cool in a profession known for its quirky personalities and fragile egos (see Luongo, Roberto). The highs are quickly brought back to reality; the lows stay down for the most miniscule of fragments before they're forgotten for good.
A win, plain and simple, in his first start back home as an NHL goalkeeper was plenty for Schneider.
"(The Bruins are) an unbelievable team, and they've been playing the best hockey in the league for most of the year," he said, "so I think for us, as a team in the big picture of things, to come in here on the road and get a game from them is really important to us."
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Phil Stacey is the sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 978-338-2650 and follow him on Twitter at PhilStacey_SN.