The puck drops on the first game of the Stanley Cup Final tonight with the skilled and eminently hopeful Vancouver Canucks taking on the tough and eminently desperate Big Bad Bruins from Boston. But it may not be toughness or skill that decides this match, so much as hope, desperation and the looming burden of expectation.
Editor/psychic Guy Bertrand picked a Bruins-Canuck final at the beginning of the playoffs. His heart is with the Bruins, though his head might protest, there are a few good reasons not to discount the Bs from lifting Lord Stanley at long last.
In 108 regular-season meetings, Vancouver has only beaten Boston 25 times, compared to 68 wins for the black and gold. It is the least amount of Vancouver wins against any team in the NHL.
Playing in Boston is even worse. The Canucks are 8-38-7-1 in Beantown, while the Bruins are a very respectable 29-17-8 in Vancouver. The Bruins also won their only game this year, 3-1, on February, 26 and have won four of their last five.
But in the last 40 years, both teams have been notorious underachievers. Aside from Bruins wins back in the Pleistocene Era when Bobby Orr led them to three Cups, the teams have been good at times but never good enough.
The Bruins last appeared in a Stanley Cup final in 1990, a year before the Minnesota North Stars bowed to the vaunted Lemieux-led Penguins.
And last year’s highly ranked Boston team choked miserably after going up three-games-to-none against the Flyers only to lose the series in seven. It was the biggest bust in Boston since the Red Sox’s Bill Buckner booted the World Series in ‘86.
Since their ‘72 Cup win, the Bruins have been to the final five times, losing each one – only the Flyers have had more peaks at the Promised Land since their last win in ‘74.
Should the Bruins lose, they will share with the Flyers the dubious honour of six straight appearances in the final without a hoist.
It will almost put them on par with the Chicago Cubs in post-season futility.
But the Canucks should be worried.
The Bruins are due – at least more so than the Canucks who have only squandered two trips to the final in their unheralded history.
The bears are tough, especially at full strength and their ability to completely shut down Tampa’s Vincent LeCavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steve Stamkos in game seven is not a good sign for the Sedins.
I fear the wizened Tim Thomas just might outplay a crease crashed Roberto Luongo – remember Byfuglien?
Yet certain intangibles might help the Canucks. They picked up some good Habs Karma when they added Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins.
Lapierre leads the Canucks in playoff hits with 63 and his aggressiveness could draw crucial penalties.
The Bruins scored 47 even-strength goals in the playoffs — 17 more than the Canucks — but their power play is a meagre 8.2 per cent compared to the Canucks’ 28.3. So it stands to reason that riling up Lucic would work if it lands him in the box.
Lapierre recently told a Province reporter, “I was raised to hate the Bruins. That’s the way it is for pretty much everybody in Montreal. They [Canadiens] had to win every year or people would be pissed off for the whole summer.”
Not bad motivation for ex-Canadiens Lapierre, Higgins, and Vigneault and the other three Quebecois that play for the ‘Nucks.
For added leverage, Vancouver is the first team since the ‘77-78 Montreal Canadiens to lead the NHL in both goals scored and goals against, and those Canadiens won the Cup.
And to top it off, the last four President’s Trophy winners to make the final have also gone on to win it all.
If they can stand the pressure they just might do it.
Vivre les Canucks in 7.