VANCOUVER -- It's been 39 years since the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup and it's been, well, never for the 40-year-old Vancouver Canucks. One team will take a big step toward erasing that history Wednesday night at Rogers Arena with the 2011 Stanley Cup Final ready to finally get under way.
The Bruins and Canucks don't have much in the way of history. Boston has been to the Stanley Cup Final five times since Vancouver entered the League in 1970, but never has it faced the Canucks, who lost in this round in 1982 and 1994. The Canucks and Bruins met only once this season with Boston winning 3-1 here at Rogers Arena thanks to a three-point night from Vancouver-native Milan Lucic.
All that means absolutely nothing with Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) only hours away. Here are six questions to ponder as you wait for the championship round to begin:
1. Will the Sedins continue to make magic or will they be neutralized?
Henrik and Daniel fought off waves of criticism in the first two rounds to become virtually unstoppable in the Western Conference Finals against San Jose. Henrik set club records with 11 assists in the series and 4 assists in Game 4. He also tied Pavel Bure's franchise record with 12 points in a series. Daniel chipped in with 2 goals and 4 assists.
The Sharks had no answer for the Sedins. The Bruins will likely try to get their big defensive pair of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg on the ice against Henrik, Daniel and Alexandre Burrows as much as possible, but that might prove difficult in Games 1 and 2 since the Canucks have the last change.
"It's another challenge for us," Daniel said of facing Chara. "We've seen the top defensemen every game in the regular season and we're going to see probably the best one in the Final. That's the way it should be."
One way for Boston to neutralize the Sedins is to stay out of the penalty box. Eleven of their 18 points against the Sharks came on the power play. It's fairly obvious that if you give the twins time and space on the power play, they will beat you.
Boston's penalty kill has been average in these playoffs at 79.4 percent, a few percentage points worse than it was in the regular season. The Bruins are giving up, on average, 3.5 power plays per game in the playoffs, a number that isn't too bad but needs to be cut down in order to keep the Sedins down.
2. Can Roberto Luongo be the better goalie?
Well, he might not have to be better than Tim Thomas, but he certainly needs to be as good. That's not asking for too much from the guy Canucks GM Mike Gillis called the best goaltender in the League when he met with the media Tuesday.
Luongo has never been more confident in his abilities than he is right now. He's coming off a 54-save effort in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals that was probably his best game ever in the NHL considering the stakes and the time of year. Luongo is 9-3 with one shutout, two one-goal games and six two-goal games since coach Alain Vigneault put him on the bench to start Game 6 against Chicago.
He has already beaten a fellow Vezina Trophy finalist in Pekka Rinne and a former Stanley Cup winner in Antti Niemi. Now he has to try to be as good or better than Thomas, a former Vezina winner who is also a finalist this year.
Luongo typically takes the blame in a loss and gets little to no credit in a win, but for the Canucks to hoist the Cup he's going to have to pen a positive story in this round.
"We know what type of goalie he is and he's at the best I've seen him yet," Canucks center Ryan Kesler said. "He was our best player in Game 5 (against the Sharks) and I don't expect anything differently in this round."
3. How can the Canucks keep Boston's power play down?
The Bruins are here in spite of their power play, which has operated at an anemic 8.2 percent success rate so far in the playoffs. The Canucks' penalty kill has been efficient, especially toward the end of the Western Conference Finals. They killed off 13 of their final 14 penalties after giving up five straight power-play goals to start the series.
The last thing the Canucks want to do in Game 1 is give the Bruins' power play some life. The best way to avoid that is to obviously stay out of the penalty box. The Canucks are giving up four power plays per game in the playoffs, but they don't necessarily have to concern themselves about their discipline because that's not a bad number and the Bruins' power play doesn't strike fear into their hearts.
However, that also doesn't mean Vancouver can go soft on the penalty kill because Boston does have some weapons, especially if Chara continues to play in front of the crease and Tomas Kaberle starts to make a difference at the point. Chara is so big that if he's able to establish some net-front presence and Kaberle is able to get the puck through, the Bruins' power play can start to click.
"We could care less if it is at 8 percent," Burrows said of the Bruins' power play. "We have to make sure we are ready because they have great players that can put the puck in the back of the net."
4. Will Milan Lucic star for the Bruins in his hometown?
Lucic has not performed in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs up to the expectations he created as Boston’s lead goal-scorer during the regular season. After collecting 30 goals this season, Lucic has only 3 in the first 18 games of this postseason -- and 2 came in one contest.
Now he will be playing in front of plenty of friends and family. Lucic is a Vancouver native and played for the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League.
"It's cool, you know," Lucic said. "Obviously, it's definitely special to be able to play here in the NHL Stanley Cup Final. The fact that it is at home against a team that I grew up cheering for makes it extra special."
Lucic’s linemates have excelled for the Bruins. David Krejci leads the team with 10 goals and Nathan Horton has the game-winning goals in both of their Game 7s. Krejci and Horton are also tied for the team lead with 17 points. Boston could use more from Lucic if the Bruins are going to be able to score with the high-powered Canucks, though.
5. Can Boston keep the game at even strength?
Unless there is a stark reversal of fortunes, Vancouver is going to have the edge in this series on special teams. The Canucks have converted more than 28 percent of their power-play opportunities -- tops among teams that reached the second round of this postseason. Meanwhile, Boston is 6-for-51 with the extra man -- easily the worst among the final eight teams.
Meanwhile, the Bruins have been the best team at even strength both in the regular season and during these playoffs. Boston plays strong defense and uses its collective size to wear on teams, but those advantages are muted a bit on special teams. Boston played a penalty-free contest in Game 7 against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals. It would be hard to keep that clean of a record, but the longer the games in this series stay at even strength, the better Boston’s chances of success.
"It's going to be huge -- going into every series, discipline is a big thing," Lucic said. "I think our penalty kill has been great so far throughout the playoffs, but their power play has been very good. Sometimes you got to suck it up and be the bigger man, not take a retaliatory penalty, let the emotions get the better of you."
6. Will success in the faceoff circle continue to play a large role in Boston’s fate?
The Eastern Conference Finals was an incredibly tight series, but one big indicator every night was the battle in the faceoff circle. Each contest was won by the team that had the better game in that area.
Patrice Bergeron has won 62.3 percent of his faceoffs, which is the best rate for any player who reached the second round. Rich Peverley and David Krejci are also above 50 percent. Ryan Kesler is Vancouver’s top guy on the draws at 54.7 percent, while Maxim Lapierre has won 50.8 percent. The Canucks could also get back Manny Malholtra (61.7 percent in the regular season) sometime during this series.
Boston needs to win faceoffs and control the puck. It helps the Bruins set up their defensive system and allows them to be more aggressive on the forecheck. Obviously, the more they can keep the puck away from the Sedin twins, the better.