BOSTON -- The Stanley Cup glistened in the morning sun, the nearly 35-pound symbol of NHL supremacy raised high over the head of 255-pound Zdeno Chara.
Then, the captain of the champion Boston Bruins lowered it to his knees. He patiently answered reporters' questions after a night of little sleep and much joy on a flight from one side of North America to the other -- from the disappointed city of Vancouver to the title town of Boston.
For the six-foot-nine defenceman and his gritty teammates, the first club to win three seven-game series in a single post-season, the heavy lifting was over.
The celebration was on.
"We are pretty OK with that weight," Chara said Thursday, the Cup in his grasp just as it was when he was the first to hoist it after the Bruins' 4-0 win in Game 7 over the Canucks less than 12 hours earlier.
He walked over to some of the about 500 fans who had gathered outside TD Garden, where the Bruins were 3-0 in the series, outscoring the Canucks 17-3. He let some of them touch the coveted trophy that hadn't been in Bruins hands in 39 years.
"It's unbelievable. It's very exciting for the whole city, for us, for the whole organization. It's a very special day," said Chara, one of the NHL's top defenceman but never a champion in his previous 12 NHL seasons. "We're very honoured to be here. We're so happy."
They won with Brad Marchand, a rookie pest, and Patrice Bergeron, who missed most of the 2007-08 season with a concussion. Each had two goals in the clincher.
First-line right wing Nathan Horton was on the ice to hold the Cup but hadn't played after sustaining a severe concussion on a late hit by defenceman Aaron Rome just 5:07 into Game 3. The Bruins did have midseason pickups Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly, playoff scoring leader David Krejci, and, of course, feisty, focused goalie Tim Thomas.
"We went out there on a mission, came back champions," Marchand said. "We proved we were the best team in the world."
They did it with team depth and determination.
"We're blue collar, not flashy," hard-hitting right wing Shawn Thornton said. "We work hard. We take pride in that."
The Bruins hadn't won the title since 1972 and that team's name was erroneously engraved on the Cup as the BQSTQN BRUINS. This year, Thomas provided the Os -- as in the number of goals he allowed in two of the last four games against the Canucks.
He gave up just eight goals in the seven games to the highest-scoring team in the regular season -- the same number Vancouver's Roberto Luongo allowed in Game 3 alone.
"After the game, I was kind of in shock. I still am to some extent," the normally unshakable Thomas said after stepping down from one of the two buses that took the team on the short ride from Logan International Airport, where the plane landed at about 8:30 a.m.
"We're tired from the series," Thomas said. "It took everything we had to win this. I'm sure it will sink in some time, but it hasn't completely yet. You get here, you see the fans, it's starting to sink in a little."
There will be many more fans lining the streets at a parade scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday, Boston's seventh in the past decade following championship celebrations for the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics.
But their place in history as the sixth Bruins team to take the title and the third Original Six club to win the Cup in the last four seasons wasn't the first thing on their minds as they flew home.
"It wasn't quiet, that's for sure," said coach Claude Julien, pumping his fist as he left the bus and flashing a wide smile rarely seen in public. "They deserve to celebrate. And it's their Cup and it's Boston's Cup and, as far as I'm concerned, they could do whatever they want."
For the city, the Bruins' triumph completes the championship quartet. Each of the four major pro teams have won titles in the past seven seasons -- the Patriots in the 2005 Super Bowl, the Red Sox in 2007, the Celtics in 2008 and now, the Bruins.
Some fans are savouring this one even more than those others.
"This is a hockey city," said Neil Cashman, 53, of Andover, who was at the Garden on Thursday. "Everybody thinks it's a basketball city, a baseball city -- it's a hockey city. If you talk to people, you find that out. We were the first team in the NHL from America, and we take it real seriously here."
Motorists honked horns as they drove by. Fans took pictures by the statue of Bobby Orr in full flight after his Cup-winning, overtime goal in 1972.
Emotions overflowed for another fan, Tom Collins.
"It sank in when I got home. I actually started crying," said Collins, 44, of Quincy, who said he was the man who put a Bruins jersey on a statue of President John Adams in the city just south of Boston.
Another Adams, Charles F., was the first president of the Bruins, from 1924-36. The current president, Cam Neely, was drafted in 1983 by Vancouver and traded in 1986 to Boston, where he scored 50 goals three times, and dished out punishing hits ... but never captured the Cup.
On Thursday, Neely was one of the first off his bus, followed by general manager Peter Chiarelli and Julien before the players -- some wearing their white championship hats and still sporting their playoff beards -- set foot in the Garden parking lot.
"We got it done," Julien said. "We brought it back to Boston and this is where it belongs."
The Cup itself had an eventful trip, being passed around by the players.
"We didn't need a passport" for it, Marchand joked. "We didn't need to buckle it in. It was pretty cool."
Despite another long flight -- the Bruins' sixth of the series -- Thomas wasn't complaining.
"It was great," he said. "Most of our plane rides during the season we're getting ready for the upcoming game. This five-hour flight wasn't the case. We had the Stanley Cup on the flight with us. We could truly relax and enjoy the accomplishment that we did."
The silvery symbol of the NHL champions will make many more journeys. Each player gets to keep it for at least one day. Thomas plans to take it to Flint, Mich., the blue-collar town northwest of Detroit where he was born. He'll show it to family and friends he hasn't seen in a while.
"I've been busy," he said, "trying to accomplish some goals."
He already has the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the post-season, and could add his second Vezina Trophy, which goes to the NHL's best goalie, next Wednesday.
But before the players start touring with their hard-earned hardware, they had more immediate needs.
"I need a nap," Thornton said, "I haven't slept."