Will the third time be a charm? The Vancouver Canucks (54-19-9) certainly hope so as they find themselves in the Stanley Cup Final for just the third time in their franchise history - the first time since 1994 - and they'll be going up against the five-time champions Boston Bruins (46-25-11).
This series features two teams ending lengthy droughts without Final appearances. The Canucks, as mentioned, are making their first trip in 17 years while the Bruins are back for the first time since 1990. Both teams are also looking to end Cup Final losing streaks as well. Vancouver is 0-for-2 all-time in Stanley Cup Final series while Boston has lost the last five straight Final series they've been involved in.
Boston is more like Nashville, I would say, more of a defensive team structure. They have got some big bodies that can bang around. For us, we've seen pretty much every type of style. I think what matters most is the way we play and execute our game plan. - Roberto Luongo sizing up the Bruins.
The Presidents' Trophy winning Canucks had 14 more points in the regular season standings than the Bruins, who finished as the third seed in the East after winning the Northeast Division title with 103 points. The Bruins beat the Canucks in the only head-to-head meeting between the clubs this season scoring a 3-1 win at Rogers Arena on February 26. Milan Lucic broke a 1-1 deadlock by scoring the eventual game-winner with just under five minutes left in regulation as Boston managed to sneak away with a victory despite being out-shot 28-25 including 10-4 in the final frame.
The Canucks are seeking their first-ever Stanley Cup championship in the 40-year history of the franchise having come up short in their two previous trips to the Final in 1982 and 1994, respectively.
In 1982, the Canucks went head-to-head against a New York Islanders team in the midst of their dynasty years and were heavy underdogs facing a squad that had finished atop the league with the most points during the regular season. It was the same story again in 1994 with the Canucks meeting the Presidents' Trophy winning New York Rangers in the Final. The shoe's on the other foot this year for Vancouver, however, as they'll enter the Cup Final as the favored team.
Since the NHL took over ownership of the Stanley Cup, only three teams - the Montreal Canadiens (23), the Toronto Maple Leafs (13) and Detroit Red Wings (11) - have won more championships than the five owned the Bruins. However, it's been a long wait for the fans in Beantown to have a chance to celebrate a Bruins' Stanley Cup win.
Should the Bruins emerge victorious in this series, it would mark just the third Stanley Cup championship in the NHL's expansion era (1967.68 and onward) for Boston. They captured their first expansion era Cup in 1970 - one season prior to the Canucks joining the NHL - with a four-game sweep over the St. Louis Blues. Two seasons later in 1972, they captured their fifth and most recent championship with a 4-2 series win over the New York Rangers.
This is the first-ever playoff series meeting between the Canucks and Bruins. Vancouver trails the all-time regular season series between the two clubs 25-66-17.
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
The Canucks, by virtue as their status as the NHL's best regular season team, went into the post-season favoured to come out of the Western Conference but it was hardly an easy path to the Final.
The Canucks narrowly averted disaster in Round One after squandering a 3-0 series lead to the Chicago Blackhawks and needing an overtime session in the seventh and deciding game to finally vanquish the defending champs. From there, they endured a tough, grinding series with the Nashville Predators with five of the six games played being decided by a single goal.
Vancouver's so-called "easy series" came in the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks - easy, perhaps, because it took just five games to complete but certainly not when you look at how closely each game was contested with the exception of Game Two which was a 7-3 blowout victory by the Canucks. Vancouver had to fend off a San Jose team that seemed to be starting to hit their stride over the final two games of the series - a task made even more difficult after losing two key blue-liners in Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome midway through the series. The Canucks also learned during the course of the last series that they won't have Mikael Samuelsson back for the remainder of the playoffs.
The Canucks did get some positive, if not miraculous, news on the injury front during the break in the Final as Manny Malhotra - who suffered a serious eye injury back mid-March and was thought to be lost for the season - has been cleared to return to game action. He could suit up as early as Game One of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Bruins had to survive two seven-game series during these playoffs to make it to the Cup Final.
They were pushed to the brink by the Montreal Canadiens in Round One as they dropped the first two games of that series but managed to bounce back and eventually win it thanks to an overtime victory in Game Seven. Their easy series came the following round in the Conference Semi-Final when they ran into a Philadelphia Flyers team that self-imploded allowing the Bruins to stomp all over them in a 4-0 series sweep.
The Conference Final against the Lightning, however, was no cake walk. The Bruins had several "bend" moments in Round Three which included nearly blowing a three-goal third period lead in Game Two which would have put them in a 0-2 hole in the series, squandering a three-goal lead in Game Four to allow the Lightning to square the series at 2-2, and watching their special teams fall apart in Game Six and giving Tampa Bay a chance to force a seventh and deciding game in the series. Luckily for Boston, they never did have to endure the "break" moment as they managed to clinch the series with a 1-0 victory in Game Seven.
Aside from a concussion scare for Patrice Bergeron heading into the Round Three (he returned to play the final five games of the series against the Lightning), the Bruins have managed to get through the entire playoffs relatively unscathed and should have all hands on deck when the series opens minus Marc Savard who is out for the remainder of the season with a concussion.
Vancouver...is playing very good, firing on all cylinders. All I can say is, we're going to go and give it our best shot. This team finds a way to get it done, one way or another. - Bruins netminder Tim Thomas on matching up against the Canucks.
The Canucks have only two players with experience suiting up in a Stanley Cup Final game but just one of them will be available to them in this series. Raffi Torres was a member of the 2006 Edmonton Oilers squad that advanced to the Stanley Cup Final against the Carolina Hurricanes but fell short of capturing the grand prize as his Oilers fell in seven games to Cam Ward and the 'Canes.
Mikael Samuelsson is the only other Canuck with Stanley Cup Final experience having appeared in two Final series both with the Red Wings - including winning the championship in 2008 - but he will not be available to the Canucks in this series.
The Bruins have four players on their roster with prior Stanley Cup Final appearances including two who have their respective names etched on Lord Stanley's Mug: Mark Recchi and Shawn Thornton.
Recchi has been to two Cup Finals - with the Penguins in 1991 and most recently with the Hurricanes in 2006 - winning both times. Thornton was a member of the 2007 Anaheim Ducks team that knocked off the Ottawa Senators in the Final.
The other Bruins with Cup Final experience are Chris Kelly, who was on the Senators' team that lost to Thornton's Ducks in 2007, and Andrew Ference, who helped the Calgary Flames make it all the way to the Cup Final before they fell in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
All games in the Stanley Cup Final between the Canucks and Bruins can be seen by Canadian viewers coast-to-coast on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada and in French on RDS. For viewers in the United States, Games 1-2 and 5-7, if necessary, can be seen on NBC. Games 3-4 can be seen on VERSUS. All games in this series face off at 5 pm PT. Listen to every Vancouver Canucks playoff game live on the TEAM 1040 Sports Radio or online at teamradio.ca. All games will also be carried on Sirius XM Satellite Radio.