The last puck of the Stanley Cup Finals: an important relic, timeless for the player who gets to keep it as a souvenir of the greatest achievement of his profession life, yet strangely secondary. In the rush to celebrate the final horn, not a single member of the Kings gave a thought to that little rubber disc. Not until yesterday, more than two weeks later, did Los Angeles locate that Game 6 puck—and even now, there's plenty of reason to question whether it's the real thing.
The investigation was spurred and carried out by one man: Rich Hammond of LA Kings Insider. Days after the end of the season, Hammond realized that no one was talking about or showing off that final puck, and emailed members of Kings management to ask if they knew anything about it. No one did, so Hammond Zapruder-ed footage of the game's final seconds and identified a culprit: Devils winger Patrik Elias.
Lo-res framegrabs show Elias, after the buzzer, altering stride to meet the puck, which had squirted out to the Devils' blue line. Elias appears to flip it into his glove, then goes to console Martin Brodeur, before skating to bench. The puckhunt gained national traction when Bill Plaschke wrote about it this past Tuesday. He revealed that the hunt was on, and the Kings were officially going to request an NHL investigation.
"This is a big deal," said Luc Robitaille, the Kings' president of business operations. "We've got to get that puck back."
It is a big deal, if recent years are any indication. Two seasons ago, the Blackhawks were missing their own final puck, one that was actually a Cup-winning puck as well, landing in the Flyers' net off an overtime goal from Patrick Kane. Suspicions immediately settled on Chris Pronger, who had built a reputation in the playoffs for swiping pucks, only to spite opponents who might have wanted to keep them. Pronger denied taking this one, and even an offer from the FBI to help investigate turned up nothing.
But the Chicago Tribune pored over their photos, and found a series of images that showed linesman Steve Miller palming the puck and skating away. Despite one Hall-of-Fame referee saying it was common for officials to hang on to important pucks for their own collections, Miller denied having the Blackhawks' puck, and said he didn't even remember picking it up.
"I pick up a thousand pucks a year," Miller said. That wasn't good enough. Nearly a full year after Chicago's championship, the Tribune dispatched a pair of reporters to Boston to find and corner Miller, and ask him once again what he knew. Miller stuck to his story, and a longform piece from Outside the Lines couldn't turn up any new leads either. The last puck of the 2010 finals remains lost to the aether.
The Kings hoped they could locate their own holy relic while the trail was still hot, but Patrik Elias was still on vacation. Finally, Wednesday, the Star-Ledger's Rich Chere was able to get in touch with him. Elias claimed the puck wasn't in his possession.
"I don't have it. I have no idea where it is. I grabbed it when the whistle blew. I had it in front of me and I picked it up with my stick. I went over to Marty (Brodeur) and then I sat on the bench and I think I left it there."
He knew he didn't toss it into the crowd. He knew he didn't give it to Brodeur, on the occasion of what could have been his last game in a Devils uniform. He swore he's not hiding it, claiming a losing puck holds no interest for him, and that he didn't bring it back to New Jersey with him after Game 6. But he promised to check again when he returned to the practice rink, even though he had already cleared out his locker.
Yesterday, Elias found the puck. According to the Devils, it was in his equipment bag, in his locker, and will be returned to the Kings posthaste. The Kings, in turn, will donate money to Elias's favored charity. It's a happy ending for the gullible.
It's extraordinarily convenient that the puck was found in the one place Elias had promised to look the day before, in an equipment bag that had been lugged cross-country and emptied and cleaned. It's just as likely that Elias was planning to keep the puck for himself, and only fessed up when the theft became public,or that he never had it at all, and the Devils are just shipping any old Game 6 puck west to make this go away, or even that Elias still has it, and is huckstering his own team. Both the Kings and the Devils claim the puck has been verified, presumably through a serial number or other special marking meant to distinguish Stanley Cup Finals pucks for memorabilia purposes. But that wouldn't distinguish it from the other 35-40 pucks used during each finals game. There's no way to prove that this is the puck beyond Elias's word, and a day earlier, Elias's word didn't sound so encouraging.
No one's going to ask too many questions, and that's for the better. The Game 6 puck's value is sentimental, not intrinsic. As long as the Kings believe they're getting is the real one, then it is the real one for the intents and purposes that matter. It's not going to be sold. It's going to be kept, by a player or owner or a collective team, and it'll still spark all the memories of those joyous few seconds when Los Angeles's first Stanley Cup became a reality. That's good enough, even if 30 years from now, Patrik Elias hands his grandson a puck in a baggie, and swears him to secrecy.