It’s how you hope every hockey year will end. You dream about scoring the game winner and lifting the most glorious trophy in all of sports at the end of just such a game. Even if your team doesn’t feature in this, most glorious of all hockey games, if you’re a true hockey fan, it will still send positive shivers down your spine. You’re anxious for that puck drop, knowing that whichever team comes out on top that very night, they will be crowned champions. Ladies and gentlemen, hockey fans around the globe, itâ€™s time for a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
The 2011 Stanley Cup Finals have been quite a rollercoaster so far. It has been one of the strangest series I have ever witnessed showcasing both the crowning virtues and crippling flaws of our great game. Vancouver won all of their three games at home. All were extremely tight, low scoring affairs. Boston also won all of their three games at home, but with a combined score of 17-3. An offensive regular season juggernaut stymied throughout the series. A PP that went through a drought equal to that of the Sahara desert improved in the Finals, one of the leagueâ€™s best defensive teams tearing it up offensively when it mattered most. Injuries, some horrific in nature, some in intent, sidelined skilled forwards Nathan Horton and Mason Raymond for what surely would have been the game of their lives.
The diving, the biting, the yapping. Things hockey purists despise, things I donâ€™t like. And yet, like some Finals magic itâ€™s what adds more fuel to the fire for a hockey fan. â€œLetâ€™s bring the Cup home â€“ says a Bruins fan, referring to Bostonâ€™s hockey lore and tradition. Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, The Big Bad Bruins he yells, brimming with pride for his fatherâ€™s team, his granddadâ€™s team. This, this is his team. â€œLetâ€™s bring the Cup home” â€“ says a fan wearing the blue and green. Of course he means Canada. Of course thatâ€™s where the Cup belongs. And he has suffered greatly to get his chance to gloat, to feel pride for his team. The Islanders were too much in 1982, Bure and Linden foiled by Mark Messier who then played for his team and the West Coast Express got stuck in the tracks. Markus Naslund is long gone, but this, this is their time.
All thatâ€™s missing is the magic of the Sedins. Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler have combined for just 6 points in the series. Daniel alone has 4. Those four hardly mattered. Krejci leads the NHL in playoff scoring with 12 goals and 23 points. Michael Ryder is tied with Brad Marchand with a team leading 3 goals in the series so far. As good as that might sound, they need to find that offense in the Rogers Arena.
The winning recipe? A pretty straightforward one for both teams. The Bruins need to play a physical game and try to rattle Luongo early like they did in Boston. Between the whistle stuff always gives an advantage to the less skilled team (Boston), especially if the referees put away the whistles, or call loads of matching minors. For the Canucks, it exactly the opposite. Donâ€™t take bad penalties. If youâ€™re the Sedins, DONâ€™T get goaded into trying to be physical because letâ€™s face it, youâ€™re both fantastic hockey players, but youâ€™re not, by any definition, tough. Let Marchand hit you, but donâ€™t dive. Pay him back on the scoresheet. Donâ€™t dive, play skilled hockey.
Of course, both teams have their keys to the holy grail of hockey kept in the crease. Tim Thomas should get the Conn Smythe regardless of what happens in Game 7. He has been spectacular throughout the series and has had one of the best regular seasons in NHL history. Still not enough? Ok, Thomas is 32 saves away from tying Johnny Bower’s all-time record for saves in a Stanley Cup Final (233), and 41 shots away from tying Bower’s record for all-time shots faced in the Cup Final (250). Thomas needs one save to set a new NHL playoff record for most saves in a single postseason.
There are two names describing Roberto Luongo best, not only during the Finals but through the course of the playoffs â€“ Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One has been stellar, the other one atrocious. Whichever comes out tonight will define his NHL career for the rest of his life. The worldâ€™s most hyped up goaltender whoâ€™s paid a ton of cash for costing his team a win in the Finals, or a guy that overcame his demons, everyone elseâ€™s jabs (including those of Canuck fans) and added a Stanley Cup win to his Olympic Gold medal. Everything is on him, we can pretend it isnâ€™t, we can love him or hate him but it sure looks like the entire world just might be sitting on top of his back.
In the end, what does a neutral fan say? â€œLetâ€™s defend hockeyâ€™s honorâ€ and roots for Boston. â€œGoons have to lose to skillâ€ another voice is heard. A large portion of the hockey world is united in the hate for Vancouver but the truth of the matter is â€“ heart always wins. So, in the end one thing is certain, tonightâ€™s winner will be a team that has it beating harder. And that team will deserve to lift the Stanley Cup. Itâ€™s the way is, will be, and always has been.