|Boston and Vancouver will play for the Cup Wednesday night|
It all comes down to one game. Lord Stanley's Cup will be awarded to the winner of Wednesday night's Game 7 between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks.
The Bruins won Game 6 5-2 Monday night to tie the series at three games apiece. They scored three goals in 3:04 to chase much-maligned Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo for the second time in this series. They added another goal in the first off of backup Cory Schneider, and sealed the game with another goal in the third period. Luongo made comments critical of Bruins goalie Tim Thomas' playing style after Vancouver's 1-0 win in Game 5, and the TD Garden crowd let him know they didn't appreciate it.
So on Wednesday night, a team will end either 41 or 39 years of futility, and the other will see their Cup drought continue in heart-wrenching fashion.
Keys to the Game
Home-ice Advantage: The home team has won every game in this series so far. The Bruins have dominated in Boston, while the games in Vancouver have all been one-goal games won by the Canucks. The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to win a Game 7 for the Cup in Detroit in 2009, but the previous six Game 7s in the Finals were won by the home team. Boston was not able to transfer the momentum they gained in Games 3 and 4 back to the Rogers Centre for Game 5; they need to find the same gear they played at in Boston.
Swallowing the Whistle: Game 7 between Boston and Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals was a penalty-free game. The referees let the players decide the game. Power plays will be few and far between tomorrow night. It's difficult to call this an advantage for either team, though, because the Bruins have shockingly been better on special teams than Vancouver. But Vancouver's power play is due to break out; they scored on the power play in Game 6, but had only scored one other power play goal in the series. Expect a very disciplined game from both teams.
Louuuuuuu: Roberto Luongo will start for Vancouver in goal. He's been great in Vancouver and terrible in Boston. If he gets comfortable like he did in Game 5, the Bruins will have a tough time beating him. They need to score early to rattle him. He will have a very short leash. Coach Alain Vigneault will not hesitate to turn to Schneider once again; he's played very well in his relief appearances.
Timmy: Bruins goalie Tim Thomas should win the Conn Smythe regardless of who wins. He has been by far the best player in this series. He will certainly be on his game. Vancouver has tried to throw him off his game with physical and mental assaults, but nothing has worked. They have had success, though, sending shots from the point intentionally wide and picking up rebounds off the boards. That's how Maxim Lapierre scored the only goal in Game 5, and Henrik Sedin whiffed on an empty net chance in Game 6 on the same type of play. Vancouver will certainly try to get chances that way.
|The Bruins will try to slow down the Canucks with physical play|
Physical Play vs. Speed: This was a big debate coming into this series. Would Boston's physical play slow down Vancouver? It has so far. The Bruins have shown some speed of their own as well. Both teams are certainly tired. Will Boston be more tired because they're chasing the Canucks or will Vancouver be more tired from the physical play? It will be interesting to see if the Canucks control the third period like they have the previous three games in Vancouver. The Bruins have bullied the Canucks in Boston, but they haven't brought that same attitude to Vancouver yet. The refs will let the teams go. It's something the Bruins will certainly take advantage of. They've knocked the Sedins off of their game by punishing them between and after the whistle. The Sedins haven't responded at all. Players like Brad Marchand will have to agitate without taking undisciplined penalties.
Sedins vs. Chara/Seidenberg: Boston's defense pair of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have shut down the high-flying Sedins. Henrik Sedin got his first point of the series in Game 6. Yes, it took him six games to get just one point. But in Vancouver, the twins, along with linemate Alex Burrows, have been able to pin the Bruins in their own zone when Chara and Seidenberg are off the ice. With the last change, Vigneault can get the Sedins on the ice away from Chara and Seidenberg more than he could in Boston. Boston needs to be more effective breaking the puck out of their own zone when the Sedins and Burrows are on the ice. Vancouver's Mason Raymond is out for Game 7 reportedly with a broken vertebra after an awkward play in Game 6. His loss may affect Ryan Kesler's second line. Kesler has been playing hurt, and losing his linemate doesn't help. Boston may be able to focus more on the Sedins with Vancouver's second line banged up.
Motivation: The motivation is obvious for both teams: Win the Cup. But I think the Bruins have a real edge here. They've seen a teammate and friend, Nathan Horton, taken out of the series on a bad hit. Then they saw the Canucks try to defend the hit. There's the whole biting incident. There's the Luongo talk after Game 5. It will likely be veteran leader Mark Recchi's final game. I think the Bruins want the Cup for themselves more than anything, but I also think they want to keep it away from Vancouver. I think they legitimately hate the Canucks. That's powerful motivation. Vancouver has never won the Cup in the team's 41 year history. The Bruins have gone 39 years without the Cup. But I think the motivational edge goes to the Bruins, and I think that decides it.
Prediction: Bruins 3, Canucks 1. The Bruins get to Luongo early, but he settles down somewhat. Boston takes a 2-0 lead into the third, but Vancouver scores on a shot off the boards like in Game 5. The Bruins end it with an empty-netter in the last minute.