On Wednesday night the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks will stage one game for the Stanley Cup, and will give all hockey fans all we could ask for: a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals.
|This is even funnier now.|
In this 21st century world of saturated media (I offer as evidence that I have a blog, and you’re reading it!) we seem to have become obsessed with assigning blame to teams or athletes that lose. The word “choke” is thrown around by hate mongers to describe each and every time someone comes up a little short, even when that loser was the underdog to begin with. Everyone’s loving Tiger Woods’ life implosion, and he is talked about more now than he was when he was winning at an incredible rate. America rejoiced the other night when the Miami Heat had to eat the platter of excrement that they prepared for themselves when they talked about winning seven or more championships before they had ever ran a drill together (going out of your way to stick it to an entire franchise on national television didn’t garner any sympathy points either). And as great as Roger Federer is and was, he got more chatter relating to his decline (which lasted all of 16 months, by the way) than any of his amazingly dominant grand slam runs.
|Remember when Federer was “done?”|
The list of examples of our obsession with piling on losers rather than celebrating winners goes on and on, but it should not see a single entry from the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs on it. Up to this point, I believe the playoffs have played out exactly as they should have. Obviously, there was Ilya Bryzgalov quitting on the Phoenix Coyotes, and the much maligned Sharks doing what they do, but nothing has really happened in these playoffs that loosely resembles a choke. Even the Capitals did what they always do, which is lose early to a team that nobody foresaw beating them. And even then, the story was predominantly Washington, not Tampa Bay.
We’ve already laid the foundation for the Roberto Luongo “choke” in Game 7, and everyone rooting against him is ready to invalidate his entire career with any loss Wednesday night. The jokes are locked and loaded — Monday night saw the term “Roberto LeBrongo” trending worldwide on Twitter (see paragraph 2).
|Today is the biggest game of Luongo’s career, again.|
But as hockey people, we’ve always held ourselves to a higher standard than fans of the other big sports, so let’s do what we should do, and focus on how wonderful it is that we have this series of moments that is a Game 7 in the season’s final series. Someone will win, and let’s focus on celebrating them, before turning our attention to next season. Oh, and our next season will be played in a few months, unlike those other leagues. So absorbing yourself in Game 7 won’t go without value — you’ll get to carry that backstory into this fall and pick up where you left off.
As far as who will win Game 7, nobody knows. But Canucks MVP candidate Daniel Sedin thinks he does. Sedin said that Vancouver will win Game 7, just as they’ve won every home game in the series so far. Most people are doing what we do these days and calling it a guarantee just to get eyeballs and clicks, but Sedin never used that word. All he did was say that he believes his team is going to win, and really, there’s nothing to criticize about that. If he’s right, then maybe he will elevate his and his brother’s status in the eyes of North American hockey fans, who have long been slammed for being “soft.” But I don’t think Daniel making these comments have anything to do with the aftermath of a Canucks win. For one, a Canucks win make all talk and former panic irrelevant. Also, Sedin probably feels more free to go out and make things happen knowing that he quipped the talk early and said that the team will just win the game. It sounds obvious that he should go out and play freely and create and score goals in the biggest game of his career, but it’s not always that easy to feel free in these games. The magnitude of big moments has restricted the weak of heart for as long as mankind has existed. This is Sedin saying “screw it, let’s just play.”
|Luongo scared? That’s not true! Come after me, I’m a man! I’m 30!|
Another possible motivation for Daniel to speak out and “guarantee” a Game 7 win is that it will lead people to talk about his statement, and not Luongo’s state of mind. This is a tactic that has been used by coaches for a while, but it’s not something we’ve seen come from the quiet Swede before. To me, this is proof of Sedin’s continuing evolution as a hockey player and as a man. It takes guts to make declarations prior to do-or-die games, despite the obvious reality that these statements do not really matter. We’ve been asking for heart and grit out of the Sedin twins for a long time. Here’s a start. Wednesday can be something of a finish.
Regarding Luongo’s state of mind entering Game 7, there are conflicting schools of thought, and either could prove to be right. The conventional thinking seems to be that Luongo has been money at home, and therefore should continue to be. A dissenting opinion is that a man can only be beaten down so many times, and Game 6 solidified that the earlier beatings in Boston were no fluke. Luongo has been pulled twice now in the finals. Perhaps the 19-8 overall score line has Luongo shaken in the lead up to what is close to a 50/50 game for all the marbles.
But Luongo has prevailed in this situation before. Granted, he had an amazing team in front of him for the 2010 Olympic gold medal game, but he also had exponentially more pressure on him. This Stanley Cup run has been very important to all Vancouver Canuck fans for the last few months. The Olympics were an all-or-nothing proposition for the host country for four years. Luongo managed that game well, despite allowing a game-tying goal with under a minute left in regulation. On top of that, he fared just fine in Game 5 after two shellings, and was superb in Game 7 against Chicago in the ultimate panicked negativity situation around the team. I wouldn’t expect another yanking of Luongo in Game 7.
A better reason that Luongo and the Canucks won’t bring home the Cup is the man in the other crease. Tim Thomas has had one of the most outstanding goaltending seasons in recent memory, and he only upped his game for the Stanley Cup finals. By all accounts, Thomas already has the Conn Smythe Trophy wrapped up. There’s no reason he shouldn’t, as both teams are 15-9 through 24 postseason games thus far. If Thomas is the unanimous MVP through 24 games, what could happen in the 25th to turn that on its head? Nothing, and Thomas should bring home the hardware tomorrow. The only question is whether he will do it Giguere style. He, and Bruins nation, hopes not.
|Tim Thomas wants no part of a J.S. Giguere dichotomy tonight.|
Besides the goaltenders, one key for both teams is to be aggressive and not find themselves trying to counterpunch. I think both teams will come out assertive, but Boston probably has the bodies to do it a little bit better. While the Bruins don’t have Nathan Horton up front, they still have Chara, Lucic and the rest of the lumberjacks to bend some wills. And speaking of Horton, how cool was it to see him at the glass swinging a towel and rooting on his teammates?
|Thank the Lord I’m somewhere that cares.|
You think that guy loves finally being on a competitive hockey team after wasting the first six years of his career in South Beach?
But the Canucks won’t let the B’s come into their own building and shove them around. I expect Vancouver to bang as much as Boston, and that’s another reason I have no problem with Daniel Sedin saying the Canucks will win. If anything, it should galvanize the team. Makes you wonder if the right Sedin is looking to become the second european captain to ever win the Stanley Cup (Lidstrom ’08).
I don’t think Boston has to do much differently to win the Stanley Cup in Game 7. They’ve been in every game this series, dropping all three losses by one goal. We know Thomas and the rest of the Bruins’ vets are going to show up. It just comes down to who executes better and gets some breaks. One positive thing the Bruins have going for them is the power play disparity in the series. Vancouver, who brought a 28.8% power play success rate into the finals, is sputtering at 6.5% in the finals. Boston, on the other hand, couldn’t throw in a power play goal leading up to the finals. But the Bruins have bucked the trend and rolled at a 19.2% clip against the Canucks.
Moving onto strategy, one thing I would do if I was Vancouver is roll out Dan Hamhuis. I know he’s probably very hurt, and it seems unlikely that the defenseman will play in Game 7. But if he can skate, he needs to play. Ryan Kesler has been doing it the whole series. The only question really is, who gives you more, Hamhuis or rookie Chris Tanev? That’s a rhetorical question, and therefore I just can’t see how Hamhuis would be held out of this one if he can give the Canucks even 12 minutes of pain-impaired but responsible hockey. What do they have to worry about, next year, when they might not have a home game to win the ultimate prize?
|Guess who’s feeling better Wednesday morning|
Another question for Vancouver is who will replace winger Mason Raymond, who fractured a vertebra in Game 6. By all reports, Raymond’s injury is a vicious one, and I hope he can get through his time of pain. He is listed as out for at least four months. It seems that CCHA product Jeff Tambellini would be the most likely replacement, although coach Vigneault has not indicated his Game 7 roster at this moment.
With all of this said, let’s realize again that these two teams have given us everything that we ask for as sports fans. Both teams have given it everything in taking it to the final game, all while playing as collectively hurt as they’ve been in their hockey careers. Wednesday will be the 107th game for each team this season, and it will be that magical seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals.
In many ways, we’ve become spoiled with these Game 7s in the Cup finals. This will be the sixth Game 7 in the finals since the turn of the millennium. The home team won the first four, before the Penguins prevailed in Joe Louis Arena in 2009 in the single most painful loss of my adult sports life. But these games are a treat. Just ask anyone who watched hockey from 1966 to 2000, only to see three such spectacles in those 35 seasons. And so the moral of the story is this: enjoy the hell out of this Game 7 between the two most deserving teams in the league, and don’t pile on the loser; instead, celebrate the winner. Not much more to say, good luck to all parties, and let’s have a great game. Can’t wait to look ahead to the offseason.