WITH A relatively easy 3-0 win over Minnesota the Vancouver Canucks pulled back into first place overall in the National Hockey League. Now the players and the fans can fully concentrate on the most anticipated game of the year.
On Saturday the Canucks travel to Boston for a Stanley Cup rematch against the Bruins. Note the 10am PST start time. Yeah, make the west coast team play at 10 in the morning. If I did not know any better I would think the NHL wants the Bruins to beat the Canucks again this year.
You can bet both teams are looking at this game as a statement game. The Canucks want to go into hostile territory and show that the beating they took last June will not be tolerated this time around. Based on a few previous incidents earlier this season, I’m not too optimistic that will happen. The Canucks better hope the referees remember their whistles this time and that their suddenly quiet power play gets going. The Canucks have to play to their strengths, not try to match Boston’s, if they hope to win just their 9th game in Boston since 1970! (No, that is not a typo.)
The Bruins, of course, are going to come out snarling more than ever. Their goal in this game will likely to be to win this game in the opening 10 minutes by chasing the Canucks right out of the rink.
Which will result in one of two scenarios. The Canucks will get off of their own game plan, engaging the Bruins and therefore playing right into their hands. Or the Canucks will fail to respond, which will only give the Big, Bad Bruins that evil grin and the green light to do whatever they want for the rest of the game.
I suppose the third scenario is a hybrid of the first two, which is pretty much what happened in the Stanley Cup final in 2011.
No matter what happens, it should be a riot.
There’s a lot of talk about both of these teams returning to the Stanley Cup final. The odds suggest it is unlikely. It is so tough to get to the Stanley Cup final any year, but to do it back to back is even harder.
I’ve long been on record as saying it is a long shot that Vancouver will make it back. Is it possible? Absolutely. They may be the best team in the west, although their arch rivals from Chicago may have something to say about that. Not to mention Detroit and San Jose and maybe even red hot St. Louis may have something to say before all is said and done. The Canucks path to the final is certainly not going to be an easy one.
Boston, on the other hand, appears to be the class of the East. Pittsburgh would be right there, especially if Sidney Crosby could somehow come back by playoff time. But do not count on that. Philadelphia’s chances took a major blow when Chris Pronger was lost for the season, and their goaltending continues to flounder. The New York Rangers (my pre-season long shot prediction as Stanley Cup champions) are looking good, but they are not yet battle tested come playoff time.
The Bruins path to the final will by no means be easy, but it could be easier than the Canucks. And on top of that I contend that Bruins are a better team right now than they were last year. Their offensive game has come alive and they have great chemistry and almost admirable swagger.
As it stands right now I would have to say Boston is looking good. Very good.