The 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs began with 16 teams 48 days ago and now has dwindled down to two in this West-East showdown between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins.
With the series opener set for Rogers Arena on Wednesday, lets take a look at 10 storylines for the final.
1. The Stanley Cup has not been won by a Canadian team since Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens upended Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in 1993. Vancouver is the first Canadian team to return to the final for a second time since the Habs last championship and this is the fifth appearance by a Canadian club in the final in the past 17 years. The Canucks were beaten by the New York Rangers in seven games in 1994. The Calgary Flames lost a seven-match series to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. The Edmonton Oilers also extended the Carolina Hurricanes to the limit, but were beaten in 2006. The Ottawa Senators were downed by the Anaheim Ducks in five games the next spring.
2. Both the Bruins and Canucks are trying to end long dry spells. This will be the Canucks third trip to the final - the other was in 1982 - but they have never won the Stanley Cup in their 40-season history. The Bruins will make their first appearance in the final since 1990 and haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1971-72, the second season of existence in the NHL for the Canucks. The legendary Bobby Orr won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP that year. He scored four goals and four assists in the final against the New York Rangers, including the Cup-clinching goal in Game 6.
3. The Canucks will attempt to become only the second Presidents' Trophy-winning team to celebrate a Stanley Cup title since the lockout. The other team was the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings. Three teams (2005-06 Red Wings, 2008-09 San Jose Sharks, 2009-10 Washington Capitals) won the regular-season championship, but were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. The Bruins, by the way, finished seventh overall in the 2010-11 regular-season standings.
4. This series pits 32-year-old Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo against Boston's 37-year-old Tim Thomas, two of the three Vezina Trophy nominees this season. It's arguably the biggest marquee goaltender duel since Patrick Roy bested Martin Brodeur in the 2001 final. Luongo beat the third Vezina Trophy nominee, Nashville Predator goalie Pekka Rinne, in the second round. The Canucks goalie finished first in regular-season wins (38), second in goals-against average (2.11) and fourth in save percentage (.928). Thomas was ninth in wins (35), first in save percentage (.938) and first in goals against (2.00). In the playoffs, they each have 12 wins and identical GAAs (2.29), but Thomas has a better save percentage at .929 to Luongo's .922.
5. Can Boston's shutdown defence duo of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg keep up their tight-checking ways against back-to-back scoring champions Henrik and Daniel Sedin? Even though the Sedins were slowed in the second round by the defensive-oriented Predators, Henrik leads the playoff scored race with 21 points in 18 games and his brother is ninth with eight goals and 16 points. But Chara is the playoff leader in plus-minus at plus-11. His partner is eighth at plus-eight. Seidenberg also is third among playoff performers in ice time at 28:33 a game and Chara is fourth at 28:22.
6. This will be the first time two French-Canadian coaches match wits in a final and Vancouver's Alain Vigneault, 50, and Boston's Claude Julien, 51, have travelled similar paths to reach this point. In fact, the pair of former defencemen were teammates for the Salt Lake Golden Eagles of the old Central Hockey League for two seasons in the early 1980s. Both had brief stints in the NHL. Vigneault played 42 games for the St. Louis Blues, while Julien spent 14 games with the Quebec Nordiques. Both coached in the Canadian junior program. Both coached junior in Hull (now the Gatineau Olympiques) and both landed their first NHL head coaching jobs in Montreal.
7. Bruins president and Hockey Hall of Famer Cam Neely was born in Comox, B.C., and helped the Portland Winter Hawks win the 1983 Memorial Cup. He was drafted by the Canucks and traded by them when he only was 20 years old, along with a first-round pick that turned out to be Glen Wesley, in exchange for centre Barry Pederson, now a Bruins television analyst. It was one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. Neely, who turns 46 on June 6, was dealt because at the time he was behind Stan Smyl and Tony Tanti on the team's right wing depth chart. Neely scored 51 goals and 104 points in 201 games in a Vancouver sweater. The 25th anniversary of that one-sided trade is next month.
8. If Canucks centre Manny Malhotra returns to action in the Stanley Cup Final, it truly is one of the remarkable comeback stories. The 31-year-old faceoff and defensive specialist suffered a serious left eye injury when a puck struck him in the face in a game in mid-March. After multiple surgeries and speculation that his career may be over, Malhotra started to skate 11 weeks after the scary incident and he was cleared for contact last week. If he does suit up in the final, it would be a the perfect tribute to his former Guelph Storm coach E.J. McGuire, who succumbed to cancer at age 58 on April 6.
9. Vancouver native Milan Lucic gets a shot at the Stanley Cup in his hometown. Lucic is popular in Vancouver and why not? He helped the Vancouver Giants win the WHL championship in 2005-06 and the Memorial Cup the following year. He was added to the Giants ring of honour prior to a game on Feb. 25 and the next night went out and scored the game-winner and two assists in the Bruins 3-1 win over the Canucks at Rogers Arena in the only meeting between the two teams this year. Lucic has scored only three goals in 18 playoff games for the Bruins this spring, but there is nothing like a return visit to play in front of family and friends.
10. Four of the most highly-sought after unrestricted free-agent defencemen this summer will be on display in the Stanley Cup Final with Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo as well as Boston's Tomas Kaberle.
Odds and ends:
- Can the Canucks continue the Canadian Olympic tradition? The year after the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. The Flames followed suit the year after Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics in 1988.
- How much will special teams make a difference? Both penalty killing units are close with the Canucks having yielded 14 goals to the Bruins' 13, but Vancouver's power-play has scored 17 times to Boston's five.
- Both teams have played 100 games this season, 18 in the playoffs and 82 in the regular season
- Because Canucks right wing Mikael Samuelsson is out after undergoing abdominal surgery, the only players in this series with Stanley Cup rings will be Boston's Mark Recchi (Pittsburgh, 1991 and Carolina, 2006) and Shawn Thornton (Anaheim, 2007)
- Bruins forward Chris Kelly (Ottawa, 2007) and defenceman Andrew Ference (Calgary, 2004) have been to Stanley Cup Final, as well as Vancouver forward Raffi Torres (Edmonton, 2006).
- The city of Boston has celebrated three Super Bowl championships with the Patriots, two World Series titles with Red Sox and an NBA crown with the Celtics all in the past nine years.
- Canucks' 52-year-old general manager Mike Gillis played 246 NHL games, 125 with the Bruins. His second NHL season was with the Colorado Rockies under coach Don Cherry.
- The Stanley Cup will return to the province of Newfoundland this summer because either Bruins forward Michael Ryder or Canucks assistant coach Darryl Williams will win.
- How much of a distraction will the Atlanta to Winnipeg relocation be? Please commissioner Gary Bettman, wait and hold your annual Stanley Cup state of the union address until one of the two off days between Games 1 and 2 because of concerts from Supertramp and Bruno Mars & Janelle Monae in Vancouver later this week.
Prediction: Bruins in seven.
Overall record: 8-6.
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