Now that we are (thankfully) done with the NBA Finals, and Lebron James’ epic collapse, the NHL will take centre stage Wednesday night with the biggest game of the year. Will Vancouver be able to continue the trend of the home team winning, and take home Lord Stanley’s hardware? Will it be Luongo in net at the end of the 3rd period, or Schneider? Can Tim Thomas put up yet another outstanding playoff performance? If he does, but the Bruins still manage to lose, does he deserve Giguere-esque praise, and the MVP trophy? Will at least one Sedin show up? Will we have to endure that Johnny Reid song on CBC (let’s go higher) any longer? Will Tomas Kaberle take a shot (for the record, his “shot” that led to the fourth goal wasn’t officially a shot as it was tipped in)?
I can’t think of a better time for the NHL to have its game 7. With the NBA season done, and headed for a lockout, it is more important than ever before for the NHL to come through with an exciting finish. The NHL has a chance right now that doesn’t come about very often. They have the opportunity to overtake a dominant American sport, and it is vital for the NHL to make the most of this opportunity if they want to get out of this stage of mediocrity/irrelevance. Of course, it is up to the players to make this Stanley Cup as memorable as possible, not for blindside hits to the head, but for genuinely well-played, exciting hockey.
On to the actual game now. The big story thus far has been Vezina candidate goaltenders (though at this point, there really is only one candidate) Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo. Thomas has been nothing short of incredible all postseason, while Luongo has been shaky, as we’ve seen in this series (he’s won 1-0, 1-0 and 2-1 and lost 8-, 4-0 and 5-2). Back on Vancouver, Luongo needs to have a good start. You could see his confidence go down after a questionable Marchand goal then a downright ugly goal scored by Milan Lucic. I think Luongo will show up tonight. On a sidenote, Luongo WILL NOT be traded this summer, to all the people that think he will. Even if the Canucks wanted to, his value has never been lower because of the perception that he is a choker. As for Thomas, I have never liked him. Maybe that stems from being a Leafs fan, or the fact that I don’t like his style of play. Either way, he’s been a brick wall and at this point seems like a lock to win the Conn Smythe no matter who wins, barring a total meltdown.
There is no questioning how badly both of these teams want to win. The Bruins haven’t won since ’72 (only 5 more years than the Leafs), and Vancouver hasn’t won a Cup in their entire history. The Bruins are playing for Nathan Horton, the Canucks Mason Raymond. So as far as “intangibles” go, these teams are dead even. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the series has been the on-ice antics from the likes of Alex Burrows and Brad Marchand. Both are very talented players, who have come up big in clutch situations (see Burrows game 2). That is what makes this so interesting, that these guys aren’t your typical Sean Avery super-pests. They have an added value to their team beyond getting under the opponent’s skin. They aren’t the biggest, most physical players on their team but they are extremely important. Speaking of physicality, Boston must keep this style of play in order to win tonight. It is how they have been playing all year, and it brings out the best in this big team. At home, Vancouver must set the tempo early, and play their fast-paced style of game. If they can set this tone early, then they can win tonight’s game hands-down. It has been frustrating watching the Canucks try to play a different game than their own, and I’m not sure it will hold up much longer, even playing in Vancouver (fun fact: home teams are 18-2 in the Stanley Cup since 2009).
It says something about this series that I have yet to mention the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, Zdeno Chara or Patrice Bergeron. It is the role players that have defined this series; however, it is the stars that must step up in game 7. Daniel Sedin guaranteed victory for Vancouver tonight. Wouldn’t it be a nice way to win a game 7, after Mark Messier guaranteed a win for the Rangers in 1993 and came through? I think this game will be defined by the first period, and whether the Bruins can rattle Luongo. Ultimately, I think the Canucks will pull this game out in front of their home crowd, with a 3-2 win. We know that a European will be handed the Cup, and that an American in all likelihood will will be named MVP, but in the end, the Stanley Cup will finally come back to where it belongs, in Canada.