Archive

Stanley Cup Finals

A story came out last night that the New Jersey Devils will honor Scott Niedermayer by retiring the former defenseman’s jersey number 27 high in the rafters at the Prudential Center.

This should come as no surprise to anyone, as Niedermayer was a part of all three Devils’ championships in the last two decades (1995, 2000, ’03), served as team captain in 2004, and won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in that same year that he wore the “C.” What was a little surprising to me was that Scotty will be only the third player to have his number retired by the Devils, but then again, this is a team that has only been in New Jersey since 1982. On top of that, some of the Devils’ heroes and Cup winners are still playing, although it could be argued that only goaltender Martin Brodeur’s jersey number 30 has a reservation up on the ceiling. The other players to have their numbers retired by the Devils are both defensemen from the same era — Ken Daneyko and Scott Stevens (jersey numbers 3 and 4, for those who care).


I’m not sure that any Devils forwards will get the honor, although Jason Arnott’s overtime goal to win the Stanley Cup in 2000 was kind of a big deal. In addition, Patrik Elias is entering his 14th season as a regular in the lineup, served as captain in 2006-07, and is the franchise all-time leader in regular season and playoff assists and points, playoff goals, game winning goals, and many other notable statistics. To add to his resume, the team captaincy is currently vacant following the departure of Jamie Langenbrunner, and Elias just may be the logical bet to fill the spot once again, since Zach Parise’s future with the team is in doubt, and to name Ilya Kovalchuk as team captain would almost certainly be kissing Parise goodbye. [Read Tram’s Table on American NHL team captains, which includes a bit on Parise’s prospects of joining the bunch.]

An interesting note on the retirement of Niedermayer’s jersey is that the team is waiting until December 16 to do it. New Jersey will host the Dallas Stars on that night, which ties in with those 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, when Arnott’s Game 6 overtime goal reversed the fortunes of the Stars, who scored their own controversial Game 6 (triple) overtime Cup clincher of their own just one year prior. But that matchup isn’t the only thing linking the two franchises.

As I alluded to in my early prognostication of the central division, specifically Langenbrunner and Arnott being current members of the St. Louis Blues, there was a trade between Dallas and New Jersey in 2002 that many in the lone star state consider to have derailed the franchise. The sentiment only grew stronger when New Jersey won the Stanley Cup in 2003.

At that time, still in the aftermath of the 2000 Cup Finals defeat at the hands of the Devils, Stars GM Doug Armstrong orchestrated a trade to bring Arnott to Dallas, along with Randy McKay and a first-round draft pick. In exchange, Dallas sent Jamie Langenbrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk to New Jersey. Both players were important parts of the Devils’ most recent Cup win. Langenbrunner captained the Devils from 2007 – 2011. Nieuwendyk is currently the general manager of the Stars. Interestingly, Armstrong is now the GM of the Blues, who will roll out Langenbrunner and Arnott for the first time as members of the Blues in just over a week’s time.

So while it makes sense to honor Niedermayer on a night when the visitors are a team that played a key role in the storyline of the hosts, I have to wonder if there isn’t a little bit of rubbing it in going on here. Why wait three-and-a-half months into the season to have this ceremony on the one night this year that the Devils host the Stars? It could be that this is the date that best fits Niedermayer’s schedule. It could also be that the teams of the NHL want to bring history full circle as a way to remind old fans and educate new ones. It could also be that Nieuwendyk rather likes the idea of remembering his ’03 Cup hoisting against the franchise that he poured his heart and soul into — the very one that betrayed him with that ’02 trade, and the one that he is now in charge of. Or, it could be none of these things.

The logical choice as visitors to honor Niedermayer would have been the Anaheim Ducks, who play in New Jersey on February 17. Any other team in the league would have been an arbitrary choice, and one that would put the sole focus on the legendarily smooth-skating defenseman. But to choose the one night in the season when the Dallas Stars are in town reeks of sly salt-pouring, or perhaps an ode to warriors past. But whatever this decision was, it almost certainly was not arbitrary.
Advertisements
While we are stuck in the waning parts of the summer, left to contemplate the effect of free agency, the rises or stagnations of young players and all things between the pipes, I feel it is as good a time as any to reflect upon some of the better and worse Stanley Cup Finals that we’ve seen in recent years.
I’ve read about and familiarized myself with the lineal history of the league, but I don’t have many chronological memories of given playoff years before the magical spring of 1994. As a nine year-old kid, I found myself trying to beat chants of “1940” out of my head during random parts of pretty much every day from May on. The Rangers’ crowd was intense during those playoffs, and fed upon the growing hysteria of the idea of taking back the Stanley Cup for the first time since that year that it kept chanting. The tone of the chants seemed to change as the playoffs went along, with it starting more as a reminder of the franchise’s impotence over the last half century. The chant grew to have a touch of controlled anger, meant to not only convey the fans’ pain and suffering, but also to motivate the group of star players that would cement their legacy at the end. By the end, the chant was pure joy, but that’s only because the Cup was already in hand, since even with 1.6 seconds left in Game 7 of the Finals against Vancouver, the Rangers still had to avoid a defensive zone faceoff disaster. The Rangers were able to dig the puck to the corner, and the ensuing celebration in the arena might put to shame anything that we’ve seen since. It, along with the playoff run itself, made a lifelong fan out of my then six-year-old brother.
Photo via here


But as beautiful as those playoffs were, in today’s world they may not have ever happened. The 1993-94 season was played without a collective bargaining agreement, and that situation manifested itself into the 1994 NHL lockout, which carved the 1995 season into a rapid-fire 48-game season that saw the playoffs start in May for the first (and hopefully last) time. Since that first lockout we’ve been lucky enough to see a statistically strange amount of Finals series go seven games, but not every Stanley Cup Finals lives up to the hype inherent in the fourth round of any bracket-style tournament. Here’s a look at the best and worst Finals from the standpoint of an objective third party, who either supported a team that was previously eliminated or just a casual fan without a dog in the fight to begin with. These series are rated based on excitement coming in, the teams and story lines involved, watchability and actual results, and are of course all my opinion.
The Good
5. 1997 – Detroit d. Philadelphia 4-0
I know, I know. How can a sweep be considered among one of the best series in any time frame? But remember that there were key story lines coming in for both teams, and that the Red Wings were decided underdogs prior to the drop of the puck in Game 1.
For Philadelphia, the story was supposed to be the punctuation on the Eric Lindros trade as one of the better moves in franchise history, and the first opportunity to reverse what happened the year before. For those that don’t know or remember, Lindros very publicly indicated that he would never play for the Quebec Nordiques, who drafted him #1 overall in 1991 anyway. Among Lindros’ reasons for refusing to play for the club was reportedly that he did not want to have to learn French, which is kind of funny in today’s age of baseball players with translators and the like. Lindros stuck to his guns though, and the Nordiques fielded two trade offers for his rights. One was from the New York Rangers, and the other from the Flyers. New York threw the following at Quebec for the rights to Lindros: Doug Weight, Tony Amonte, John Vanbiesbrouck (apparently the biggest city in the USA didn’t like American players much), Alexei Kovalev, three consecutive first-round draft picks from 1993 to 1995, and $12 million in straight cash, homie.
Luckily for New York, the arbitrator deciding on the two offers ruled in favor of Philadelphia’s deal instead. The Flyers sent the following to Quebec: Peter Forsberg, who by himself made the deal a stinker for Philadelphia and a boon for Quebec (or rather, Colorado), Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, a 1993 first-round pick that became goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, a 1994 first-round pick that was later traded to Washington, and $15 million. Quebec moved to Colorado in the summer of 1995, and that Avalanche team won the Stanley Cup in its first year, largely thanks to the contributions of the players sent over from Philadelphia.
Photo via
Lindros with the ’97 Prince of Wales Trophy. It would be the only team trophy he’d win with the club.
One of those players was not Hextall, who got himself traded to the New York Islanders after one season in Quebec. He was then shipped back to Philadelphia, which brings us back to the 1997 Finals. Hextall was a Flyer through and through, and Lindros was expected to cement himself as the legend that he was expected to be all along. He had already won a Hart Trophy as league MVP in the 1995 shortened season, and now was to come the Cup. Lindros and the Flyers destroyed everyone in their path en route to the Finals, going 12-3 in three consecutive five-game victories. To add hype to the already legitimately-based expectations, Lindros had two linemates that teamed up with him to actually have a universally recognized nickname — the Legion of Doom. The line of John LeClair, Mikael Renberg and Lindros tallied 225 goals in the previous two regular seasons alone. They would tack on 41 in those two playoffs, but it ultimately wouldn’t be enough and the line was broken up after the sweep at the hands of Detroit.
So while we look back and understand that this was the one and only chance at glory for Lindros and that era of Flyer hockey, at the time the mood was much different. They were rolling, had a player that people were actually calling the best in hockey, and were favored to win the Stanley Cup over a Detroit team that was known for “choking,” playoff disappointments and a “lack of toughness” that was coded language for “too many europeans.” Ah, the days of nationalism. Glad we’ve moved on and matured. Oh, wait…
The expectations and general feeling surrounding the Red Wings were very different back in the spring of 1997, however. It’s hard to remember now, but four Stanley Cups ago the Red Wings were seen as a team of regular season heroes who didn’t have it in them to close the deal and win hockey’s biggest trophy. While the Flyers were a three seed on an uptick, the Red Wings were a three seed coming off two Presidents’ Trophies in 1995 and ’96 that were mocked by solid beatings at the hands of New Jersey and Colorado. In fact, that 1996 season saw the Red Wings set a record with 62 regular season wins; that record still stands today. But it ended in the conference championship series when those Avalanche handily dispatched of Detroit with those players gained from the trade with Philadelphia. Coming into the ’97 playoffs, it was expected that Colorado should be able to get back to the finals as the winners of their very own Presidents’ Trophy that year.
All signs pointed to another season of Colorado’s dominance over Detroit until a game in late March changed the fortunes of both franchises. Remember that Claude Lemieux rearranged Kris Draper’s face in the ’96 conference finals. The Wings had already played against and lost to Colorado three times in the 1996-97 season, and were reinforcing their reputation for being too soft (read: european) by doing absolutely nothing to anyone on Colorado’s roster. That final meeting changed everything, and allowed Detroit to win the first of two Stanley Cups in a row.
It started when Forsberg took a swipe at Igor Larionov, who aside from having one of the most awesome daughters in the world today, also showed some mettle in getting involved in a wrestling match with Forsberg. That “fight” itself wasn’t much, but it set off a chain of events that delayed the Avs’ second Cup by four years and gave the Red Wings the forum they needed to jumpstart the franchise’s ultimate success. Darren McCarty beat Lemieux into the doctor’s office, and Patrick Roy came flying up center ice before being intercepted by a clothesline by new acquisition Brendan Shanahan. Roy eventually got up and challenged Detroit’s smaller goaltender, Mike Vernon, to a fight that saw Roy put on his back. It was the first time Detroit had gotten over on Roy since they hung 11 goals on him in a game that forced his way out of Montreal and into the Cup-ready hands of Colorado, and it was the first time the team had collectively addressed the illegal hit that could have ended the career of their young teammate ten months prior.

Video via HockeyFightsdotcom’s Youtube page
Pass Sports’ coverage of the March 26, 1997 brawl.

After a six-game upset of Colorado that ended at Joe Louis Arena and felt like a revelation of how to play hockey in the playoffs, the Red Wings found themselves underdogged for the second series in a row, and in the finals again after being swept by Lemieux and his New Jersey Devils in the conclusion to the lockout-shortened season of ’95. So after finally getting over on Lemieux and the team that the Flyers arguably handed the ’96 Stanley Cup to, Detroit had its chance to end a 42-year drought of its own. Let’s also not forget that while Vernon played in the most important regular season game in franchise history, it was actually Chris Osgood who played 47 games to Vernon’s 33. Osgood’s GAA and save percentage were better than Vernon’s through the regular season, and therefore head coach Scotty Bowman probably set himself up for criticism if Vernon didn’t come good and bring the Cup to Detroit right then and there. But, of course, he did.
The games themselves were pretty compelling early on, as the Red Wings played nearly perfect road hockey games to take a 2-0 series lead to Detroit. But it looked shaky early in Game 3, and the Flyers took their first lead at any point in the series in the first period. But the hope was short-lived, as Steve Yzerman tied the score on the power play two minutes later. Another two minutes after that, Sergei Fedorov made one of his best deke moves to put the Wings ahead. By the end it was a 6-1 Detroit victory that left fans’ jaws on the floor. By the time everyone had picked up their jaws, it was time to move on to piling on Lindros and the Flyers. That was perhaps unfortunate, as nobody will remember that the Flyers actually kept their heads and played Game 4 down to the wire; albeit they trailed by two goals throughout the third period until Lindros scored his first and only goal of the finals with just 15 seconds to go. Detroit held on for the 2-1 win and answered announcer Gary Thorne’s very appropriate question from three hours earlier, which was whether or not it was, at long last, time for a coronation.
Full Game 4 highlights, for your viewing pleasure.

The Wings went on to roll through the Washington Capitals in the 1998 Finals, which were utterly forgettable other than the Caps’ incredible collapse in Game 2 and the Brian’s Song-esque scene where fallen defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov was rolled out onto the ice in his wheelchair and made into the centerpiece of the team victory photo. Since that series wasn’t worthy of the top 5 or bottom 5 (based on the Konstantinov / repeat / major franchise story lines), I figured I’d make note of it here.
4. 2008 – Detroit d. Pittsburgh 4-2
Yeah, the Red Wings were the victors in both of the finals that I’ve picked so far, but it’s hard to argue against the magnetism of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals. On one side, we had a Detroit team that won the Presidents’ Trophy and had relatively little resistance from either Nashville, Colorado or Dallas on their way to the Finals. The Avalanche were by this time a shell of their former strength, and the Dallas series only went six games after the Red Wings went up 3-0 in the series before people remembered that blowing a 3-0 series lead was possible (see, I really don’t hate the Flyers).
The only real event of controversy for Detroit came prior to Game 5 of the first round series against Nashville, when after losing both road games Dominik Hasek was benched in favor of Osgood, who grabbed the reins and never let go. Osgood went all the way and won his second Cup as a starter (1998) and third overall, including that ’97 title as the playoff backup. Henrik Zetterberg won the Conn Smythe and the Wings were finally certain that they had successfully transitioned from the Yzerman, Shanahan & Co. era.
But the real intrigue of the series came from the runners-up. The Penguins finished dead last in their division from 2002 – 2006, and loaded up on high draft picks due to those terrible seasons. The Pens made the playoffs in 2007, but were eliminated in the first round by the deeper and more mature Ottawa Senators, who went on to win the east. But the 2008 playoffs put those negative memories in the past, and the three series wins had the hockey world questioning whether this 20 year-old Sidney Crosby kid was just too good. With Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury and plenty of more-than-capable older players like Marian Hossa at his side, Crosby was trying to start a dynasty for team owned by the man who was housing him. But the Penguins played too similar a style to Detroit, and did so as less developed puck controllers. It’s long been an idea to fight fire with fire, but that strategy only works if your fire is as big as your opponent’s. Pittsburgh’s puck possession game was very good, but not as practiced and dominant as Detroit’s.
It almost didn’t matter though, as the Penguins were within inches of scoring the game-tying goal in Game 6 against a sprawling Osgood. Pittsburgh had already stolen Detroit’s first opportunity to raise the Cup when Max Talbot tied Game 5 with just 35 seconds left in regulation. The Penguins went on to win in triple-overtime and took the series back to Pittsburgh, which had people getting excited and wondering if we could be in for one of the best finals series in recent memory. A 3-1 Detroit lead was cut in half with 1:27 left in the game, and for those moments the Penguins had the feeling of a possible team of destiny. But in a scene that would be almost exactly reversed the following year, Crosby, Hossa and the team in black ran out of time in Game 6 and the Wings raised the Cup on the road.

Pittsburgh’s final rush can be seen around the 2:35 mark.

3. 2011 – Boston d. Vancouver 4-3
This year’s final really was very good. Aside from the obvious fact that it went seven games, we had rumblings of a goalie fight, a couple of crushing injuries (which are unfortunate, but add questions and intrigue), a contrast of styles and two droughts that had lasted 40 and 39 years. This series is still fresh and the fallout is still unknown as far as the Canucks go, so a long writeup as if it were a new concept is unnecessary. If you want to know what I thought about the series, check out the June archive of this blog.
2. 2001 – Colorado d. New Jersey 4-3
As a 16 year-old Red Wings fan, I couldn’t think of a matchup between two teams that I’d rather see lose, but this series was a great one for hockey. These two teams, along with Dallas, had owned the three-year gap between Detroit’s second and third Stanley Cups. Colorado had lost the western finals to Dallas on the road in Game 7 in both ’99 and 2000, but surprisingly the Stars were swept in the second round by St. Louis. The Avs had no problem with the Blues, and finally got back to the finals after those two losses on the brink to Dallas, which were preceded by a blown 3-1 series lead against 7th-seeded Edmonton in ’98 and that conference finals upset loss at the hands of Detroit in ’97.
The team they faced was the defending champion Devils, who had beaten Dallas the previous season in a final series that we’ll get to. New Jersey had always seemed like an overachieving team, as they weren’t favored to win the Cup in their previous two finals appearances in 1995 or 2000 — but they won in four and six games despite being the road team in the series. The Devils again had to do this thing on the road, and it ultimately may have been the difference that led to the Devils finally losing a final series.
The big story throughout the season was the Cup pursuit of legendary defenseman Ray Bourque, who came to Colorado for one last shot at the title that had eluded him for twenty years of that drought for Boston that only just ended in June. After both teams traded road wins in Games 2 and 3, the Avalanche surrendered all advantages by getting smashed at home in Game 5 by a score of 4-1. The game had people wondering if there was just something about the Devils style of play and organization that lent itself to winning championships, and if Bourque would be shutout and kept off the Cup as a player for all eternity. That was not to be, however, as the Avalanche focused and put on a clinic in New Jersey for a 4-0 win that put them squarely back on the podium as favorites to grab the Cup back at home in Game 7.
They did just that, and after doing so captain Joe Sakic took the Stanley Cup over to Bourque so that the 22-year NHL veteran could be the first to lift the Cup that night. It was Patrick Roy’s fourth championship and second as an Av. He won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP for the third time, which is something that still has never been done by any other player. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Colorado won the final two series of the playoffs without Peter Forsberg, who was sidelined for over a year following the bursting of his spleen after 2001’s second round victory over the L.A. Kings. The lack of Forsberg took away from the beauty of the ’01 Finals, but his absence only highlighted the fact that the Avalanche were a great team, and one of the best of the era.
This series brought a merciful end to the Dallas-Colorado-New Jersey three-year round robin of sorts that was bookended by Red Wings titles in 1997, ’98 and 2002.
1. 2009 – Pittsburgh d. Detroit 4-3
As a fan of the Red Wings, this is the one that I think I’ll always remember. Subjectively, this series brought on all the emotions like a truly well-done story can. But objectively, this series had everything that a third party fan can ask for. It had a defending champion going up against the very team that it had denied the season before. It had a young challenger that made a few modifications to try and accomplish what it could not one year prior. It even had an element of treason to it in the form of Marian Hossa leaving Pittsburgh in the summer of 2008 and heading to the very Detroit team that beat the Pens in the ’08 Finals.
And don’t forget that all of this was played out in the cities of Pittsburgh and Detroit less than a year after the crash of the U.S. stock markets. A big rallying cry in Detroit was that the Red Wings needed to do it for the city and its struggling people. Two of the big three automakers had just filed for bankruptcy and employment was skyrocketing while the housing market closely resembled the equal and opposite reaction of something skyrocketing. The Tigers made a fluke World Series in 2006 but threw it away quickly, and hadn’t been back to the playoffs since (and still haven’t). The Pistons had just failed to qualify for the conference finals for the first time in seven years, and everybody knew in which direction that thing was trending. And the eight-year tenure of Matt Millen as head of the Lions front office had finally ended, but the team had little hope of quickly picking up the pieces of the worst eight-year record in modern NFL history (31-97). The city still had it’s Red Wings though, and the mood of the town felt desperate if not defiant. This was the last thing going right in the lives of many of those fans, but the team had to find a way to hold off the charging and maturing Penguins again if Detroit was to hold its title as kings of the hockey world and defend the Stanley Cup for the first time since, well, the Red Wings did it in 1997-98.
Doing so would have made a prophet out of ultra-talented but as-of-yet Cupless forward Marian Hossa, who in many ways led the Red Wings to the ’09 Finals. But in what was either an “english as a second language” misinterpretation or one of the greatest and most unnecessary digs ever, Hossa sat on the bench after Game 2 and told NBC that the reason he jumped ship is because he wanted to see what it was like to play with the top organization in the league. While I think I understand what Hossa was trying to say, it came off as ill-willed and shocking, since many figured the Penguins would rise to the top of the NHL soon, if not in that very series. Of course, they did, but Hossa’s embarrassment lasted only one season, as he immediately signed a long-term deal with Chicago and won the Cup the following year.
For my emotional retelling of how I spent my day and night on Friday, June 12, 2009, refer to this post that was meant to encourage fans of the Canucks and Bruins in the lead-up to their big one this past June.
But as far as the series went, it seemed like it might be a stinker early, or at the very least a long series of uncompetitive games. Detroit won both of its home games, just as it did the season before. Both games went to the Wings by a score of 3-1. But what didn’t follow 2008’s model was a series score of 3-1. Where Pittsburgh failed to get back on serve the year before, the Penguins actually managed to sway the opinions of many by producing back-to-back 4-2 wins to even the series and make it a best-of-three for the ultimate prize.
What happened in Game 5 was perhaps the most intentionally misleading slight of hand that I can remember in a playoff series. If we were watching the series as a film, Game 5 would have been seen as either a piece of writing and directorial genius or a liberty so unbelievable that it’d have us throwing overpriced fountain drinks at the screen. Back at Joe Louis Arena in a game that Detroit lost the year before, the Red Wings embarrassed the Penguins. The Pens seemed to come unglued in the 5-0 loss that had them picking fights about nothing and looking utterly stumped by the return of Pavel Datsyuk, who had missed the first four games of the finals with a foot injury. By the end, over 20,000 people were piling on and letting the Penguins know exactly where the city boy was from. The scene looked every bit like a proof. If the teams were relatively even before, and now Datsyuk was back and rolling, the Wings simply had to be better than the Pens.
But like most if-then arguments relating to sports, this proof turned into just another failed hypothesis. Pittsburgh locked down in Game 6 and made sure not to watch the Wings lift the Cup in Mellon Arena again. Dan Cleary was in all alone late in the third period, but was unable to lift the puck and got stoned by Fleury, who saved 25 shots in a 2-1 win to force Game 7 and give Pittsburgh a game to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in 19 years.

And for as much as Detroit was struggling at the time, let’s not forget that this is a Penguins franchise that had to file bankruptcy itself in the late ‘90s, and had to fight through relocation rumors for a while before patron saint Mario Lemieux stepped in to turn the huge amount of money that the Penguins owed him into equity, and bought the team less than four months before Y2K hit. So as much as Detroit wanted to keep its grip on the one thing it still felt it had to hand onto, one can forgive Pittsburgh for not assuming the role of the overfunded tycoon that was beating the life out of the poor small business that had four Stanley Cups since the Pens had their last one.
Game 7 began with this, and ended with this. In between, Sidney Crosby got injured and Max Talbot scored the biggest brace of his career before Fleury stoned Nicklas Lidstrom as time expired. The Penguins won 2-1 again and the cinematic reversal was complete. It’s a loss that the Red Wings haven’t fully recovered from as a team yet, no matter what anyone might say. The quest to win another Cup in 2011-12 is as much fueled by the craving to banish the feelings of inferiority from three years before as it is by the fairy tale desire to send Lidstrom off in the ultimate style.
Pittsburgh’s playoffs have been disappointing since, as they bowed out early in both 2010 and 2011, to Montreal and Tampa Bay, respectively. Both series saw the Pens as the home team, and they’ve now lost their last five games when entering with the opportunity to clinch a series, with three of those games at home. That in itself has been a reversal from what they did inside the Joe on the 12th of June, 2009. They hope to stop the skid, but a lot of that depends on the health of Crosby, who even eight months after last playing doesn’t sound like a man who’s able to fully prepare for a hockey season. We’ll see what happens to both of these teams when the puck drops in just over a month, but for now we’ll have to settle for the memories they gave us from the best Stanley Cup finals since the first lockout.
The Bad
3. 2000 – New Jersey d. Dallas 4-2
It feels a little unfair to dub this series “bad,” since the level of play was pretty high and it had the defending champions in it. But episode two of the Colorado/Dallas/New Jersey round robin was hard to embrace as a third party observer. Maybe it was the slushy ice in Dallas’ hot summer. Maybe it was the Devils’ trap style of play. Maybe I was still at that age where I needed Detroit to be in the finals. Whatever it was, this series didn’t hold my attention and awe like any of the five listed above, or even like any of those that won’t end up on either list.
There were story lines that developed, such as Jason Arnott being traded to Dallas after beating them in this series. That trade famously brought over Jamie Langenbrunner and franchise legend and current GM Joe Nieuwendyk, and another Stanley Cup in 2003, to New Jersey. Dallas, meanwhile, has never fully recovered from that deal that put an end to their western dominance.
The goalies were Eddie Belfour and Marty Brodeur. The bone-crushing defensemen (and captains) were Derien Hatcher and Scott Stevens. But there’s just something about a series with one home win in six games that lacks continuity, and I never did feel like anybody could figure this one out. Maybe all of this made the series great. Maybe I need to go back and watch the 2000 Finals again. But comparing it with the other 15 finales since 1995 doesn’t allow it to finish high on the list.
New Jersey won in double overtime on the road on Arnott’s goal. The Cup was the Devils’ second and came between the two in 1995 and 2002-03. This series set up the third final in the round robin in 2000-01, when New Jersey entered the finals as the defending champion against Colorado. That series was #2 in “The Good” list above.
2. 2007 – Anaheim d. Ottawa 4-1
One franchise had finally gotten back, while the other had finally gotten there. Anaheim was a surprise entrant in the 2003 Cup finals and took New Jersey all the way to seven games, where the Ducks succumbed to the better Devils despite Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. Ottawa had beaten two recent nemeses in Buffalo and those very Devils to get to the finals. Daniel Alfredsson had the chance to be the first european captain to ever win the Stanley Cup (Nick Lidstrom would become that just one year later).
Unlike 2003, the Ducks were heavily favored to win this Stanley Cup Finals appearance, and unlike ’03, they did. In fact, outside of the obligatory Game 3 that every home team wins when it’s down 0-2 if it even remotely resembles a good team, there was no real drama to this one. You could argue that Anaheim’s first three wins were sort of dramatic because they were all by one goal, but the games looked like what they were: a matchup between a relative dream team and its less tough, junior varsity version. By the time the series got interesting it got over, as the Ducks cleaned up the mess from the game before with a 3-2 road win in Game 4, which set up a 6-2 drubbing and coronation at home.
Anaheim’s roster is almost laughable when you go down the list, but it was the first Stanley Cup for a lot of them besides captain and Conn Smythe winner Scott Niedermayer, whose career accomplishments provoke more laughter than the ’07 Ducks roster. The smooth-skating defensemen won all three of those New Jersey titles (’95, ’00 and ’03) as well as this one; he won two Olympic gold medals (2002 and ’10), a world championship (2004), a world junior championship (1991), the Memorial Cup (1992), and a Norris Trophy in 2004 to go with the Conn Smythe in ’07.
While Ottawa had a story of redemption to get to the finals, the team was unable to score the ultimate prize, and quickly fell apart afterward. Dany Heatley would request and be granted a trade just two years later, while goalie Ray Emery was waived in the summer of 2008. Jason Spezza remains on the team, but not without much rumor surrounding his impact on the locker room and desire to remain on what’s left of a once-contending team. Alfredsson tore his MCL in the ’08 playoffs, and has battled the aging process to try to find that form that took the Sens through the east in ’07. And in what was one of the worst decisions made, the Senators chose to re-sign free agent defenseman Wade Redden over Zdeno Chara in the summer of 2006, which was not an after-effect of losing the ’07 Finals, but it helped to ensure that the Sens would never get back, even as Chara polishes his ’09 Norris Trophy and ’11 Stanley Cup.
1. 1996 – Colorado d. Florida 4-0
This plain sucked. Not because Colorado won a Stanley Cup in its first year after relocation; not because Claude Lemieux got a title for smashing Kris Draper’s face in; not because it was a contest between a third-year franchise and a first-year team relocated from Canada to the western United States. This series sucked because this was like watching one of those private school vs. public school football games early in a high school season where the only questions of consequence are the winning margin and how many injuries piled up.
Florida had an amazing run to get to the ’96 Finals, largely on the back of goalie John Vanbiesbrouck. The fans decided to try to make a staple out of throwing toy rats onto the ice, and like the first few innings of the Anaheim Angels’ playoff run in 2002 where thunder sticks became all the rage, for a while the ritual was kind of cool. It was almost even acceptable.
But the magic died quickly when the Cats ran up against that Avalanche team that was honed by the Lindros trade with Philadelphia. Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Lemieux, Patrick Roy and the many other big names were too much for Florida, and the series ended mercifully as soon as it could have: in Game 4 on the Panthers’ ratless rink.  Colorado won the total goal count in the series 15-4. Plain sucked.

Even a rival winning in a sweep is exciting when it’s Cup-clinching.
The Ugly
Didn’t think you were gonna get this bonus category, did you? Well, these ones weren’t “bad” so much as they were ugly for one reason or another.
3. 1999 – Dallas d. Buffalo 4-2
This one was intriguing enough, and the competition was better than most people expected. The underdog Sabres had Dominik Hasek in net, and therefore had a chance to beat anybody. The Stars were expected to take this one though, as the western conference was seen as simply tougher after Colorado and Detroit had swept through the previous three finals.
Not only did Dallas fail to sweep Buffalo though, they actually needed one of the more controversial overtime goals to finish the series off in six games. In the spirit of competition, there’s no way Brett Hull’s goal should have been anything but a season-winner. But this was that two-year period where every single goal was under review and seemingly half of them were disallowed because a toe was in the crease on the opposite side of the goaltender. For this one, Hull was all up in the crease, but he kicked the puck out of the blue paint, which meant that it had to have come from there, which meant that being in the crease was allowed. Got that? You’re instincts are correct, the crease rule was destroying hockey and it was finally done away with (or just drastically altered) after the ’99 playoffs seemed to end a couple weeks late due to booth review.
So while the hockey was acceptable enough to avoid being one of the three “bad” series, any time you have a team celebrating with the holiest of sports trophies while the commentators are legitimately questioning whether there’s more hockey still to be played, that qualifies as ugly.



2. 2004 – Tampa Bay d. Calgary 4-3
There was a lot of beauty to this series. On one hand there was the Red Mile, in support of an upstart six seed led by one of the most beloved first-year captains league history, Jarome Iginla. On the other hand, there was the desire to spread hockey to the American south and build brands and tap into a mostly untapped hockey market. And there was the knowledge going into the series that this might be the last NHL hockey that any of us got to see for a long time.
Tampa Bay won the Cup at home in Game 7 by a score of 2-1, with Ruslan Fedotenko scoring both goals much like Max Talbot would five years later. But the team was powered by players like Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards, 1998 top overall draft pick Vincent Lecavalier, winger Marty St. Louis, and younger versions of defenseman Dan Boyle and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who really justified the “Bulin Wall” nickname with his outstanding 1.71 GAA and .933 save percentage in the ’04 playoffs. And on top of that, the Lightning were captained by Dave Andreychuk, who mirrored Ray Bourque’s ’01 triumph by winning his first and only Stanley Cup in his 22nd season of NHL play.
But again we had controversy, as Martin Gelinas appeared to have scored what might have held up as the Cup-clinching goal in the third period of Game 6. Certain camera angles appeared to show the puck crossing the line by the slimmest of margins before Khabibulin kicked it out, but the play was to go on. St. Louis ended the game just 33 seconds into overtime, and spoiled the Flames’ chance to win the Cup on home ice. But more importantly, we again had controversy determining a “true winner” after a questionable play in front of, or this time just behind, the goal line. To make the situation even uglier, there was no hockey for another sixteen months, as what could have been Alex Ovechkin’s true rookie season was lost to the lockout.

Here is a link to a video recap of the series.

1. 2005 – Season Cancelled
Come on, there’s never been a Stanley Cup Finals worse than this one. To the credit of everyone involved, the system needed fixed and it got fixed (as far as we all understand). But that doesn’t change the fact that we all had to swallow the mud for an entire year. Turning 21 in what should have been the lead-up to the all-star game may have allowed me to legally quell my heartache for a time with that sweet medicine, but nothing short of winning the Mega Millions could truly offer an even trade off.
The good news is that the puck will be dropped on October 6, and the games will start to count again. The bad news is that the current CBA is set to expire on September 15, 2012. But I am optimistic that a new agreement can be reached before that date, and even if one is not, the current CBA is set to continue on a year-to-year basis until one party notifies the other of a termination at least 120 days before that date. That would be in the middle of the playoffs at the latest, and if such a written notice of termination is delivered by either side in 2012 I’d be close to stunned.
There you have it — the Good, the Bad and the Ugly Stanley Cup Finals from the past 17 years and 16 seasons. I had to give that one final twist into the 2004-05 lost campaign. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and check back periodically before the puck drops for real on October 6.
Following the Boston Bruins’ hoisting of the Stanley Cup last week, many in the media were using the old clichés about teams beating talent and will beating skill.  I understand what those phrases are supposed to mean, but I think it’s a little misleading to insinuate that the Vancouver Canucks were not united, or that the Bruins lacked skill or talent.  The better team won the series.  Boston won four of the seven games.  They won their four games by 7, 4, 3 and 4 goals, respectively.  They lost their three games by one goal apiece.
I read a lot of opinions that the Canucks blew a golden opportunity.  I know on the surface it sounds nuts, but I disagree.  In fact, had the Canucks won Game 7 at home like the -150 money line said they were supposed to, it would have been the Bruins who blew the opportunity.  You see, when teams take each other seven games, it’s the team that lost games that it could have won that really has the burden of a blown opportunity.  Vancouver lost exactly zero games that it could have won, if we agree that the 4.5 goal margin equates to no opportunities, which of course it must.  Boston is the team that twice blew stellar one goal allowed efforts from MVP Tim Thomas, and tacked on an overtime loss to boot.  People can misremember this series all they want, and talk about how Vancouver really let it slip away, but the facts show that the Canucks truly almost stole the series from the Bruins, who would have had a hard time dealing with their blown opportunity.
With this said, I want to look ahead to next season to see which, if either, team can be expected to get back to the Stanley Cup finals.

Vancouver Canucks


For some time now, people have been applauding the job that Vancouver has done to build such a great roster despite the limitations of the salary cap.  While I agree that the Canucks looked rather stacked, they were a team that was really built to win in 2011.  The pieces are in place for a smooth transition into next season, but the Canucks have ten roster spots to fill in the offseason and only about $13.7 million with which to do that.  This average of $1.37 million per roster opening ranks 24th in the league.
The biggest of the big names are all back for the Canucks.  The Sedins are signed for 3 more years; Ryan Kesler is locked up for 5 more campaigns.  Manny Malhotra and Alex Burrows are entering their penultimate seasons under contract, and Mikael Samuelsson and Mason Raymond both have one more year left.  Whether or not the Canucks buy out Samuelsson’s $2.5 million contract remains to be seen, but they can probably expect some delays in production from Raymond, who is out at least four months from now after suffering that terrible injury to his back in Game 6.  The rest of Vancouver’s forwards — Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins, Raffi Torres, Jeff Tambellini and Tanner Glass — are all free agents on July 1.  It should be noted that Lapierre and Hansen are RFAs, which will make it much easier for the Canucks to retain them, should they want to do so.  Remember though, only $13.7 million to go around…
The situation on the blue line really makes it clear how important the 2011 championship was to this team.  Going into the free agency period, the Canucks have Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard and Alex Edler locked up past the upcoming season.  They have Aaron Rome on retainer for this upcoming season at a discount price of $750,000, after which he will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) if not signed to an extension beforehand.  The Canucks’ once-heralded stable of defensemen is now down to four, and one of those players is Ballard, who brings a $4.2 million cap hit for the next four seasons, and the Canucks refuse to use him in games that mean anything.
This leaves Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Christian Ehrhoff and Andrew Alberts all as UFAs in eleven days, and again remember, there’s only $13.7 million to go around.  While the Canucks can bring some players up from the AHL at six-figure prices, there’s almost no way they can pay all of these defensemen the money that other teams will be able to offer.  I would assume that of the four listed above, the Canucks would soonest part ways with 36 year-old Salo, but just refusing to resign him doesn’t add money to that $13.7 M pool with which to pay the other three D men.  All three played well this season, but one would think that Alberts can be had at the lowest price.  The soon-to-be 30 year-old Alberts came with just over a million dollar price tag last year, and Vancouver seemed to get at least what they paid for out of him.
Bieksa and Ehrhoff, on the other hand, are coming off $3.5 and $3.4 million seasons, and at 30 and 28 years old, probably aren’t looking to make financial concessions.  Even if those two will sign for the same money, that’s 7 of the 13.7 in available funds.  Doesn’t seem likely, does it?
All the rumors are that Bieksa will be the one to leave, and while I understand that Ehrhoff is the better defenseman per se, I don’t particularly like the idea of a team known for being “soft” washing their hands of one of the few hard-nosed producers it has.  I mean all they would have to do at that point is trade Kesler for Ilya Kovalchuk, and the caricature would be complete.  But alas, the salary cap restrictions…
Even if Bieksa is allowed to walk and Vancouver brings back Ehrhoff and Alberts to add to the four blue liners under contract, there’s no denying that on its face the 2011-12 squad would be worse off just without Bieksa, let alone Salo.  The elder statesman from Finland wasn’t worth the money he got last year, but he was still an effective hockey player, usually.  Ehrhoff and Alberts would probably cost the team somewhere in the vicinity of $6 million next season, given that Ehrhoff is an outstanding player and Ballard makes $4.2 million.  This would leave $7.7 million for more defensemen and all forwards beyond the seven currently under contract.  What would solve Vancouver’s problem is finding a taker for Ballard’s contract.  While it would seem obvious that nobody could be that dumb, I assure you there always is that one moron who tilts the game in someone’s favor.  If Islanders’ owner Wang is serious about taking on more payroll, perhaps Vancouver should give Garth Snow a call.
The Canucks are set at goalie for next season, as Cory Schneider will turn in his 28 games with a 2.30 GAA, and all for less than a million bucks.  Roberto Luongo is entering his tenth-to-last year on his contract.  Gulp.
Boston Bruins


As far as the Bruins go, I was really impressed after looking at their roster entering next season.  I mean the bottom line here in Beantown is, damn near everyone is coming back!  The Bruins have five roster spots to fill, and just over $7 million to do it with.  Their average number, only one spot ahead of Vancouver’s, is $1.43 million per opening.  But the key difference is that the B’s don’t have a lot of big earners who need to be resigned.  Assuming Mark Recchi is serious about retiring, the only Boston forwards not under contract already for next season are Brad Marchand and Michael Ryder.  Marchand is due for something of a raise after his integral role in bringing home the Cup, but a raise is acceptable when the starting point was an $821k cap hit last year.  I expect the Bruins will do everything necessary to keep Marchand, and I also expect the price not to exceed $2.5 million.  Ryder is somewhat of a different story, as he banked $4 million in each of the last three seasons.  But I have a feeling he’s a guy that the Bruins will be alright parting ways with, since they must see Marchand as a more valuable piece in their efforts going forward.  Ryder is a very good talent, but he even still has lacked the consistency to justify such a large salary.  Ryder tallied 41 points in 79 regular season games.
On defense, Boston brings back five of its six Cup-winning regulars.  Only trade deadline acquisition Tomas Kaberle is a free agent, but the Bruins are likely to bring up Steven Kampfer before giving Kaberle close to half of their available offseason funds.  Whoever the sixth D man is, he will join the ring bearers Chara, Seidenberg, Ference, Boychuk and McQuaid.  To make matters better for the Bruins, only Boychuk and McQuaid are even entering their final seasons.
Like the Canucks, Boston is also bringing back its two goaltenders, Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask.  Also like the Canucks, the Bruins have around $1.4 million per player this offseason.  But unlike the western champs, Boston only has five spots to fill, and only one must-sign — Marchand.
In order to properly evaluate which team has a better chance to return to the SCF, one would have to do a similar accounting of each’s opponents, but for now, I must say that contrary to popular belief — Vancouver is an early 5 to 1 favorite to win next year’s Cup — it is the Bruins who are better set up to make it back next year.
Thanks for being patient with me over the past week.  Like my brother’s favorite, Craig Anderson, I had to avoid burnout.  I’m strongly looking forward to doing some more of these team offseason evaluations.  Feel free to join me via comments, Twitter or email.
What do you guys think?  Will either of these teams defend their conference crowns?  Will we have a rematch in 2012?  Or are we looking at new blood next year?

I want to add, I get all of these salary numbers from CapGeek.com, and I highly recommend it for anyone desiring to know anything about player salaries, team cap restrictions, or anything related.
I remember my Game 7 day like it was yesterday.  Friday, June 12, 2009 was one of the most optimistic days of my life.  I was unemployed at the time — a result of a combination of the terrible job market and my own apathy following another year of law school — and I couldn’t have been happier.  My Red Wings were about to do the deed on the Penguins for the second straight year, and we were in for an aggressively emotional parade that was going to feel like a defense of the Motor City, much like the Eminem Chrysler commercial did during the Super Bowl a year and a half later.

What was going to stop us from having this three-month celebration, anyway?  Sure, it was Game 7, and in the past I would have been a nervous wreck over the possibility of losing, but the two teams had shown nothing to suggest a Pittsburgh win on that Friday night.  Aside from dispatching of the Penguins in six games the summer before, Detroit had won its first three home games of the series by a total score of 11-2, with no one-goal games in that stretch.  This was the scene at the end of Game 5.  The Red Wings had shown that they ran the best puck possession system in the league.  If anything, the Penguins were just a junior varsity version of the Red Wings.  That argument held up in 2008, so why not in ’09?
It was a hot and sunny day, and I felt obliged to amp up my strangely calm heart rate with about seven cups of coffee over the course of the afternoon.  I made the obligatory Sour Patch Kids run, my lone superstition applying to Red Wings home playoff games.  I made the mistake of buying them from the package, instead of hitting up a candy shop and getting my magic candies in a stock white bag, but what could that hurt?  We had this thing on lock.
At that time I was lucky enough to live far enough north to get CBC, and I will never forget Don Cherry’s intro to Game 7.  Click the link, and do not go away from it if you have not yet reached the 2:45 mark of the video.  “Nine months of war for one game.”
Then the actual game happened.  The Wings looked flat early, and found themselves trailing 2-0 after 40 minutes thanks to a pair of Max Talbot goals.  It was around that point that I realized this thing was getting away.  Sure, the Penguins lost Crosby earlier in the game, but the Red Wings were doing nothing to convince anyone that they planned on scoring any goals that night, let alone three.  All I remember are a lot of blank stares, trying to get a head start on processing the devastation that was headed my way.  This was it.  My team was going out like suckers.  Not like the defending champions that they were, but like overmatched weenies afraid to push back.
Then the third period unfolded, and the Wings outshot the Pens 8-1.  Jonathan Ericsson cut the deficit in half with just over six minutes to play, and the Wings proceeded to throw everything they could at Pittsburgh.  They decided that if they were going out, they were going out like champions.  The dream for the repeat finally collapsed when Marc-Andre Fleury stoned Nick Lidstrom from point blank range with about a second to play.  What I remember next was a mixture of pain, shock and a quickly developing sense of appreciation for what the Penguins had just done to my team.  They came into a building in which they had been beaten down three times to conclude a series that, for the second straight year, they had never led.  And they won the game without their best player.
Fleury saves. Internal crying commences. It hasn’t stopped yet.

It didn’t seem at that time that the loss was the end of the Red Wings, and until Lidstrom retires it won’t be, but we Detroit fans have spent the past two years hoping desperately for a return to that very spot.  We haven’t come close, and there appears to be a two-week window now in which Lidstrom might lock up that era of glory that ended on a Friday night in June of 2009, and throw away the key.
My advice for Canucks and Bruins fans is this:  relax, remember this moment, and enjoy the lead up and the game.  When it’s over, it’s over.  Even if your team wins, attention will soon turn to offseason moves and trying to defend what you already have.  If you lose, it will be hard to take.  But life will go on, and all the losing team can do is attempt to get right back to where they are today — on the brink.
“It’s the deep breath before the plunge.” – Mithrandir

But that’s what makes today so fun.  Everything is on a knife’s edge.  History is hanging in the balance.  It hasn’t happened yet, but it will soon, and we know it will soon.  It is very possible that as fans, your team will never get to this point again.  And even if they do, there’s no telling how you’ll feel about it as compared to this 2011 campaign.  So don’t fret about losing, and don’t pray for a win to come and go as quickly as possible.  Enjoy the game tonight, and go get your Stanley Cup.
Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals is tonight at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT live on NBC, CBC and RDS.
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.
The Stanley Cup will be in Boston tonight, but the Bruins intentions are to keep it in its case and next day air it back to Vancouver.
The Vancouver Canucks are looking to win the first road game in these Stanley Cup finals in Game 6 tonight.  If they are successful, the Stanley Cup will be theirs.  We’ve seen this same situation in Game 6 of the finals the past three years, with Detroit and Chicago clinching the Cup on the road in 2008 and ’10.  If the same result happens tonight, the Canucks will win the game’s biggest prize for the first time in the franchise’s 40 seasons.  Conversely, the Penguins stayed alive at home in 2009 before hitting the road and winning the Cup in Detroit in Game 7.  Boston will want to channel that black and yellow home ice success tonight.
Everybody has an opinion, but nobody knows what will happen tonight.  Here’s one thing I’m thankful for: that Dirk Nowitski and the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title last night.  Before my hockey readers get upset, here’s two reasons why.  First, and most obviously, they beat the jerks that are Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.  But second, and more importantly for the NHL, the NBA finals are over.  Tonight, the sports world gets to fully turn its attention to Boston for what could be the last game of the season.  There’s no “superfight” of a Miami Heat game 7 to worry about (yes, NBA playoff games are “games;” NHL playoff games are “Games”).  All of the casual fans will be locked into Game 6 tonight, and if necessary, Game 7 on Wednesday night in Vancouver.  There’s no quantifying how important it is for the NHL that the biggest and most polarizing story in the NBA in decades is now over, or at least on hold for a while.


Photo courtesy broraz.com
Dirk Nowitski is excited to bring you an uninterrupted game or two of the Stanley Cup Finals. You’re welcome, world.
As far as tonight’s game goes, anybody can point to any stat they want to make their case for which team will win.  For Boston, there’s the fact that they outscored Vancouver 12-1 in their two home games, and have won nine of ten games at home since dropping the first two games of the playoffs to Montreal.  There’s the resiliency that the Bruins have shown with their backs against the wall in two Game 7s just to get to this point.  But, then there’s the fact that the man who scored the game-winning goals in both of those Game 7s, Nathan Horton, is not walking through that door, at least not this season.
Photo courtesy nhl-red-light.si.com
Nathan Horton: Not Walking Through That Door

For Vancouver, there’s no reason not to be confident tonight.  Sure, they fared terribly in Boston last week, but it’s a new day, and funny things happen when championship trophies are in the building.  I mean honestly, did anybody think Miami wasn’t winning that game last night?  As far as actual on-ice results go, the Canucks can look to the fact that they finally may have figured out their post-Hamhuis/Rome defensive lineup, as rookie Chris Tanev joined the lineup as the sixth D man, relegating Keith Ballard back to the bench.  The result was Roberto Luongo’s second 1-0 home shutout of the series, and thus we can probably expect the same six on the blue line tonight for Vancouver.  Hamhuis travelled with the team, but that was a foregone conclusion, seeing as they might be skating with the Cup tonight.  He is listed as out for tonight’s Game 6.
Photo courtesy sportsofboston.com
Luongo won’t win the Vezina this year,
but he hopes to raise the Stanley Cup.

















Photo courtesy Getty Images
Thomas will win his second Vezina, but
hopes to avoid being awarded the Conn
Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP — at least
not tonight.







What do you guys think will happen tonight?  Will Vancouver finally win the most coveted prize in hockey, or is this thing going back west for a Game 7?  And in the event of a Canuck win tonight, is Tim Thomas still the Conn Smythe winner?  I would have to say yes.
Stumbling around a playing surface that could only loosely be called “ice,” the Vancouver Canucks saw their series lead evaporate Wednesday night in Boston, thanks to a 4-0 Bruins victory in Game 4.
The pucks didn’t want to lay flat and glide for either team, but the newly sprayed rink seemed to particularly frustrate the Canucks, who repeatedly had pucks jump their sticks at the wrong moments.  It was already a hot day in Boston, as the temperature peaked in the mid-90s.  On top of that, apparently there was a Glee concert Tuesday night at TD Garden, and therefore the playing surface had to be remade entirely in the heat.  CBC’s Jeff Marek predicted that the result would be a playing surface that would slow the game down and hinder creativity, and he turned out to be spot on.

But both teams had to play on the crappy rink, so why did Boston seem to handle it so much better than Vancouver?  There’s the typical argument that the Bruins are much more physical, and that the finesse game of the Canucks couldn’t flourish on top of a slightly chilled swimming pool.  But I’m not sure that’s what we actually saw, as Vancouver outshot Boston in every period.  Sure, often times the shots on goal statistic gets skewed once the score gets out of hand, but why then did Vancouver outshoot the B’s in the first period, when the game was still very much in doubt?  To be honest, I thought Vancouver played a pretty decent first 25 minutes.
A better explanation of this game could be that Tim Thomas was simply great again, and that Vancouver made clear mistakes on every goal.  Thomas scored another shutout — his third in the last nine games.  Add to that stretch three games in which Thomas allowed only one goal, and the soon-to-be two-time Vezina Trophy winner might be in what the cool kids call “the zone.”  This is an issue that Vancouver must solve soon, because while you can expect players to play great at home, hot goalies are perhaps the best ingredient for a road victory, which is something that Vancouver cannot afford to concede in Friday night’s Game 5.
Speaking of conceding, each of the first three goals saw a specific mistake by a mid-to-low end Canuck skater.  I hate to cite college football, or as it should properly be called, “semi-pro legalized prostitution,” but Raffi Torres reminded me of that University of Texas safety that just jogged out of bounds to let Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree walk in for the game-winner a few years ago.  Instead of trying to defend a flying Rich Peverley, the Canuck third-liner got caught not moving his feet around the boards on the blue line, and let Peverley make him look more like a football punter than an NHL tough guy.
Boston’s second goal was that snipe by Michael Ryder from the left wing, but the time and space to shoot was due to Canucks D man Sami Salo never wanting to stop the puck or impede Ryder’s progress.  To make matters worse, Salo did that thing where you throw your stick six inches in front of the shot, which effectively gives your goaltender two things to worry about: the initial shot, and the potential deflection.  Salo only needed to lean and reach because he wasn’t moving his feet, and it cost the Canucks on that one.
The third goal for the Bruins led me to eat some crow.  I’ve been calling for Keith Ballard’s insertion into the lineup since stud defenseman Dan Hamhuis went down with an injury in Game 1 of the finals.  Instead, Andrew Alberts got the call, and played just fine.  Then Aaron Rome got suspended, and it was finally time to throw in Ballard, the $4.2 million healthy scratch.  At first it seemed Ballard was doing fine.  He was advancing the puck and sending it away when it fell in a vulnerable position for the Canucks.  But then in the middle of the second period, Ballard fell down behind his own net, albeit after a little chop by Bruins forward Brad Marchand.  After laying there for a couple seconds, Ballard got up and shifted over to try to cancel out Patrice Bergeron, who was at the left post.  Ballard kicked and swatted, but couldn’t make contact with the puck, which Bergeron chipped right out in front to Marchand, who fired a backhand off Luongo’s glove and in.  The play caused a bit of a stir for Canucks fans, who point to this as an example of why Ballard cannot regularly crack the lineup on this team.  But at least it’s not like Ballard is on the books for $4.2 million for each of the next four years, while blue liners like Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Alberts and Salo are unrestricted free agents in less than a month.  What’s that you say?  Oh, that’s right, it is like that.  It’s actually exactly like that.
Roberto Luongo was pulled from the game after allowing the fourth goal, and Cory Schneider came in and saved all nine shots he faced in just under 16 minutes of play.  I don’t think there’s another goalie controversy, and I think it’s probably a waste of time to talk about it.  But, we all remember the circus surrounding the latter half of the Chicago series.
One potentially notable statistic is that while Vancouver won its home games by a combined score of 4-2 (which was 2-2 through the first 59.5 minutes of each game), Boston smashed Vancouver to the tune of 12-1 in its home games.  Doesn’t make you feel comfortable if you’re a Canuck fan.
To close, this is now the third year in a row in which the first four games of the Stanley Cup finals have been won by the home team.  Vancouver will be looking to channel 2010, when Chicago rebounded for wins in Games 5 and 6 to win the Cup over Philadelphia.  Boston, meanwhile, needs only to look to its black and yellow brethren in Pittsburgh, who prevailed over Detroit by winning Games 6 and 7.
Vancouver has been outscored by five goals in the 2011 playoffs, which is alarming considering where they are.  Much of that is explained by their two stinkers each against Chicago and Boston, however.
Game 5 is Friday night at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT live from Vancouver on NBC, CBC and RDS.