BOSTON -- Only eight months ago, Boston Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid feared the worst when he was told there was a blood clot near his collarbone and he needed to have surgery before the condition became life-threatening.
McQuaid was experiencing numbness in his shoulder, arm, wrist and hand when he underwent the first of two surgeries to fix the problem. Due to the NHL labor dispute and work stoppage, the 26-year-old defenseman was able to recover during the extended offseason and was ready when the lockout-shortened, 48-game schedule began on Jan. 19.
On Friday night, McQuaid scored the lone goal of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, giving the Bruins a 1-0 victory and four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins that puts Boston in the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in a three-year span.
It was an emotional night all around, but especially for McQuaid.
"It obviously feels good," he said. "It feels good to be able to contribute that way when you don't normally. But I think you look at so many great efforts we had from guys tonight. The last 10 minutes of the game, guys were all over the ice, doing whatever it took to preserve that goal. Tuukka was phenomenal."
McQuaid's game winner was set up by an exhausted Brad Marchand, who gained control of the puck and, knowing his team needed fresh legs on the ice, carried the puck into the offensive zone. McQuaid came off the bench and skated over the blue line when Marchand fed him the puck. McQuaid stepped into a wicked slap shot and beat Pittsburgh goalie Tomas Vokoun to the top left.
Prior to the game, teammate Milan Lucic told McQuaid that he would score a goal, and it came to fruition.
"Someone had a good nickname for him, called him Adam 'Lone Wolf' McQuaid, and he comes up with that big slapper and gets a huge goal for us," Lucic said. "You look at the guys who have gotten series winners, the last two series winners, with him and [Gregory] Campbell stepping up with big goals. That's what the playoffs are all about, is different guys stepping up at different times."
As a result of his heroics, McQuaid earned the Bruins' coveted Army Ranger jacket given out by the players after every victory.
"Everybody in the dressing room is really happy for him," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He went through obviously a tough situation in the fall. To be able to come back and play with us, not only that, but to score a big goal for us tonight, is certainly a big boost to his morale.
"Certainly he's got the players and his teammates behind him as far as being happy. There was no hesitation there in rewarding him the jacket tonight. It just goes to show you how our guys really appreciate all the different little things that every player does on this team."
Bruins rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who was a healthy scratch for the series, felt especially proud of McQuaid's contribution in Game 4. When Hamilton earned a spot on the Bruins' roster after an abbreviated training camp, he had no place to live in the city, so McQuaid offered to have the 19-year-old move in with him for the season. The two have become close on and off the ice, so when McQuaid's slap shot went in, Hamilton felt the jubilation.
"It was obviously an awesome feeling," Hamilton said. "Throughout the whole game you're wondering if there's going to be a goal, and for him to step up, and it wasn't just a good shot, it was a great shot. We were all pretty excited, but proud of him and happy for him.
"For me, how much he's helped me this year, it's been a lot of fun living with him and he made it a lot easier on me. He's been through a lot and he'll enjoy this."
McQuaid and the rest of the defensive unit stood its ground the entire series against one of the most potent offenses in the NHL. Boston allowed only two goals -- TWO -- to a team that features Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
"Tuukka and the all the defensemen deserve a lot of credit for what they did in this series," Lucic said. "The two best players in the world and you're able to shut them down to zero points -- it's definitely more than an accomplishment. We have full trust and belief in what they do, and it's great what we've done as a unit so far, but the job's not over yet."
Overall this postseason, the Bruins have scored a total of 15 goals from the point, which is more than the 14 they scored from the blue line for the entire regular season. McQuaid's goal in Game 4 was his second of the postseason, joining Johnny Boychuk (5), Torey Krug (4), Zdeno Chara (2) and Wade Redden (1) helping out from the point.
"It's great. When they shoot the puck, they shoot with a purpose to score," Bruins forward David Krejci said. "On the other hand, in the playoffs if you're going to go far, you need everybody to step up at one point.
"If we were playing only one or two lines, we wouldn't be here. We need all four lines and all four lines have been great for us this series. Tuukka's played well and the defensemen have been here when we needed them. You need everybody, and as a team we've done that. It's pretty exciting now, going to the finals."
The Bruins are at their best when they're playing solid defense because that translates into a potent offense. Boston was successful in that area in the Eastern Conference finals, and as a result the Bruins are returning to the Stanley Cup finals.
For everything he's been through in less than a year, McQuaid's heroics will be remembered forever in Boston.