The Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins could be eliminated on the same day in games presented by Hockey Night in Canada, just over 10 months from playing a deciding game for the Stanley Cup.
Boston will travel to Washington to try and force a deciding game in a matinee affair on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, while the Canucks host Los Angeles in Game 5 at 8 p.m. ET. Both games will be broadcast on CBC Television and streamed at CBCSports.ca.
It would be tempting to trot out a "what a difference a year makes" cliché, but the truth is that both the Canucks and Bruins were one shot away from elimination last year in the first round.
Times will be determined by the NHL, but here's the remaining dates of the first round for Boston and Vancouver.
- Tuesday: Vancouver at LA, Game 6
- Wednesday: Washington at Boston, Game 7
- Thursday: LA at Vancouver, Game 7
However, there has been a change in fortune for both Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo and Boston netminder Tim Thomas, who each recorded two shutouts in last year's Cup final.
Luongo will again take a seat on the bench as Cory Schneider gets the starting assignment. Schneider has stopped all but two of 64 shots in the last two games to give the Canucks a smidge of momentum.
The change in horses midstream by coach Alain Vigneault has many hockey observers predicting that Luongo has started his last game as a member of the Canucks, although his contract and no-trade clause would be issues if Vancouver wants to go that direction in the offseason.
Could Thomas be starting his last game as a Bruin on Sunday?
He, too, has not had the smoothest 2011-12 season. Boston got off to a horrendous start and Thomas incited charges that he was disrupting team chemistry by refusing to attend a White House ceremony commemorating their success last year.
Thomas has one year left on his contract at a reasonable rate of $3 million US. Despite turning 38 days ago, there would be interest in a netminder who won both the Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy just last year.
He has played well for most of the first round, but has been clearly outduelled by young Washington goalie Braden Holtby.
Thomas will try and make this all wildly premature by rebounding from Game 5 on Saturday. He allowed two ugly looking goals in the third period in a 4-3 loss to the Capitals, with Troy Brouwer scoring the winner with less than two minutes remaining.
Boston's problems run deeper than Thomas.
Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Milan Lucic have combined for no goals and three assists in this series. Bergeron, along with Joe Corvo and Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid on the back end, are among those known to be banged up.
Vancouver and Los Angeles last played on Wednesday.
The best that can be said about the layoff is that it gave Daniel Sedin ample rest. Sedin returned with an assist in Game 4 after missing 12 regular season and playoff games due to a concussion.
Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Max Lapierre — dubbed by one pundit as the Three Mouthketeers because of their outspoken ways on the ice — want their actions to speak louder than words in Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series.
"At this point, we need guys to become key, clutch performers," Vigneault said. "We got that from Schneids last game and got it from a couple of other guys. If we want our season to continue, we're going to need more guys doing that also."
Vancouver's forwards are clearly on the spot, as Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa have combined for three of seven goals the Canucks have scored.
Kesler and Lapierre are among a list of forwards on the Canucks looking for their first goal of the series.
David Booth, Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond are also in that category.