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Six questions to prepare for Game 7

Wednesday, 06.15.2011 / 9:00 AM / 2011 Stanley Cup Final - Canucks v Bruins

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

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Six questions to prepare for Game 7
Before the puck is dropped Wednesday night, here are six questions to ponder as we head into the final game of the 2010-11 season.
VANCOUVER – It all comes down to this -- a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Wednesday night at Rogers Arena (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS), the Stanley Cup will be raised in triumph.

Will it be the home-standing Vancouver Canucks, claiming the first title in the franchise's four-decade history who party before the home crowd? Or, will it be the Boston Bruins, who are looking to put a 39-year Cup drought to rest, who send this city into hockey mourning yet again?

The final 60 minutes – or more – of this frenetic series will tell that tale. But, before the puck is even dropped Wednesday night, here a few other questions for you to ponder as the minutes slowly tick by until the start of the biggest – and final – game of the 2010-11 season.

1. Where's the Canucks offense? While all the focus has been on Roberto Luongo's implosions on the road and dominance at home, the Canucks haven't been able to score goals on either coast. They led the League this season with 262 goals but have just 8 in six games against Tim Thomas and the Bruins. Ryan Kesler has just one assist in the series.

"I think Thomas has something to do with it," Kesler said. "Obviously we're playing a team that didn't get here by chance. They're a very good team and they play a very good defensive system.  We just need to keep getting shots. I liked what our power play did last game and we continue to improve on that.
"
The Canucks' power play -- ranked No. 1 in the regular season and No. 1 in the playoffs entering this series, is just 2-for-31 against the Bruins. They scored in the third period of Game 6, so perhaps that can give them the confidence they need entering Game 7.

2. Will Roberto Luongo feel at home? With the Canucks not scoring, Luongo has needed to be nearly perfect in his three victories. He had shutouts in Games 1 and 5 and allowed just two goals in a 3-2 victory in Game 2. His performances in Boston resulted in Cory Schneider replacing him twice. Luongo allowed 15 goals in 111:52 at TD Garden, but has stopped 95 of 97 shots at Rogers Arena.

If the Canucks can't find their offense, it will take another stellar game from Luongo to win the Stanley Cup. If Luongo gets off to another shaky start like he did in Game 6, it wouldn't be shocking to see Schneider replace him once again.

3. Are the injuries/suspensions finally catching up? Since the start of this series, the Canucks have lost two defensemen -- Dan Hamhuis to injury and Aaron Rome to suspension -- and forward Mason Raymond to a fractured vertebrae in Game 6. Kesler isn't listed with an official injury, but he hasn't had the same jump to his game that he had earlier in the playoffs. Mikael Samuelsson, a staple of the second line during the season, has been out since the second round.

The Canucks boast one of the deepest blue lines in the League, but rookie Chris Tanev lacks experience and veteran Andrew Alberts was used mostly as an extra defenseman during the regular season. Against the physical Bruins, the suddenly thin Canucks might be showing signs of weakness entering the most important game of the season.

Tanev looked smooth at home in Game 5 but faltered a bit in Boston during Game 6. Alberts, meanwhile, is minus-7 in eight playoff games. The inexperience and poor play has forced Vigneault to rely heavily on his top two defense pairings.

Up front, perhaps missing a perennial 20-goal scorer in Samuelsson and a speedster like Raymond will be a problem in Game 7. With the Sedins not producing in the series, an unexpected hero might need to emerge if the Canucks are going to win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

4. Will a change in routine end in a different result?

The Bruins have been shut out in two of the three games here, have managed just two goals in the other outing and have lost all three games here by a solitary goal each time. So, Claude Julien and the coaching staff had the Bruins change things around a bit by having a short practice upon arrival on Tuesday, something they have not done on the previous two trips West in this series.

"I think we need to alter our game here, that's what needs to be altered," Julien said Tuesday.
"We've already started talking about what we need to do as soon as the game (Monday) was done. I think it was important to set the tone and the stage for Game 7, so we started doing that. We've talked about it and our guys realize what they didn't do here well enough and what needs to be done and we're going to be ready to put that on the ice tomorrow."

There are a few things that Boston would like to do differently Wednesday. Scoring some goals is the most obvious one, but the Bruins would also like to handle Vancouver's physical game a bit better as the Canucks have tried to set the tone early in each home game with a punishing checking game. They would also like to get more traffic around Roberto Luongo and make him work to see shots. 

5. Can Tim Thomas finish out his magical ride through the Stanley Cup Final?

The Bruins goalie has given up just 8 goals in the first 6 games of this Final. He has made the high-powered Vancouver offense look discombobulated and ineffective throughout the series and is the front-runner to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, even if the Bruins lose tomorrow.

But, can he find the reserve to turn in one more gem? Because the Bruins may well need it. Unless there is a change in form, Boston is going to scuffle for goals at Rogers Arena and Thomas may have to keep the Canucks to one goal, if not shut them out.

There was nothing in Monday's performance – a 5-2 win in Game 6 – or in Tuesday's media availability that suggest he might be losing his momentum. He spent most of Tuesday's press conference relaxed and trading barbs with the media. 

"I wouldn't call it pressure like that; it's more we want to win," Thomas said Tuesday. "We want to win. We want all the work that we've put into this whole season and this whole playoffs to payoff and accomplish that goal that we've set ourselves towards, which is winning the Stanley Cup.

"I can only speak for myself, but I'm not thinking of it as pressure. I'm thinking of it more of this is the reality. The series is tied 3-3; Game 7 tomorrow; we're on the road; we have to find a way to win this game to get what we want, which we all know what that is."

6. Will Boston's first line show up?

Despite all the depth scoring that Boston has received in these playoffs, it is still a team that feeds off its first line. If Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Rich Peverley, who will most likely once again slot in for the injured Nathan Horton, are going, the bruins become a much more difficult team to handle.

In Game 5 here, they were ineffective in a 1-0 loss. Milan Lucic did not have a shot on goal and was not physically engaged. In Game 6, Lucic and Krejci each scored and Peverley might have been the most dynamic player on the ice and, as a result, they gave the Vancouver Canucks defense fits.

Boston's top line will see more of the Kevin Bieska pairing at Rogers Arena because Alain Vigneault will have the luxury of the last change. But, if the mindset of the top line is right, the matchup shouldn't matter, Lucic says.

"Well, we talked about our (Game 5) and how it wasn't good enough, and you know, I had zero shots and I think Krejci might have had one shot, you know, as a line, we need to create more and we have to want to create more and I think that’s big, right there," Lucic said. "It's not, you have to go do it, it's what you need to do, you have to want to do it, and when we have that mindset I think that's when we're able to come out and play like we did (in Game 6)."
Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic