The Stanley Cup finals get underway tonight in Vancouver, of course, minus the Eastern Conference’s top seed, your Washington Capitals.
While the Caps have been golfing for nearly a month, the Boston Bruins will play for the Cup for the first time in 21 years after sandwiching seven-game survivals of the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning around a four-game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers.
The last remaining obstacle to Boston’s first Cup since 1972 – when its superstars were Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito – is Vancouver, whose Canucks are in just the second finals of their 40 seasons. The previous one was in 1994, a seven-game duel won by Mark Messier and the New York Rangers (despite the heroic efforts of Canucks forwards Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden) that is generally regarded by hockey cognoscenti as the best of the past quarter century.
Messier also ruined the Bruins’ hopes in 1990, leading Edmonton to its only title minus Wayne Gretzky, the Great One who had led the Oilers past Boston in the 1988 finals. Both those series are best remembered for power failures at ancient Boston Garden, a much less likely occurrence at its replacement, TD Garden.
Boston won the teams’ only meeting this year – on Feb. 26 in Vancouver, but the Canucks, who had the league’s best regular season, not only have home ice advantage, they’re better-rested, having eliminated the San Jose Sharks in five games after ousting the Nashville Predators 4-2 and outlasting the defending champion Chicago BlackHawks 4-3.
Boston (Tim Thomas) and Vancouver (Roberto Luongo) are led by veteran All-Star goalies seeking to etch their names on the Cup for the first time. Each has 12 victories, two shutouts and a 2.29 goals-against average in the playoffs.
The Canucks boast postseason’s No. 1 point producer, Henrik Sundin (21), while the Bruins counter with the co-top goal scorer, David Krejci (10) and mammoth defenseman Zdeno Chara, the plus-minus leader (plus-11).
Somehow, the Bruins got this far despite a horrible power play (5-for-61) and mediocre penalty-killing. However, the Canucks, who have solid special teams, must deal with the pressure of being the favorites and playing for Canada’s first Cup since 1993. Of course, there’s a little less of that in Vancouver than if they represented Toronto or Montreal where hockey is more religion than sport.
Hockey writers have to be thrilled to get to cover the finals in two of North America’s best cities – sorry Pittsburgh and Detroit – and it says here that Canadians, who celebrated Olympic gold in Vancouver last year will finally enjoy the thrill of bringing the Cup home again thanks to the Canucks prevailing in six games.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.