There are a bunch of NHL teams that would argue the point, but more than few League observers are thinking that Tuesday's meeting of conference leaders, San Jose at Boston (Versus, 7 p.m. ET), is a Stanley Cup Final preview. If so, it would reverse a trend.
As it turns out, the last three Stanley Cup Final matchups have featured teams that did not face off during the regular season. The Red Wings and Penguins did play each other during the 2007-08 season (they play this Sunday in the NBC Game of the Week, 12:30 p.m.), nor did Anaheim meet Ottawa in 2006-07 or Carolina and Edmonton play in 2005-06.
In fact, Tuesday's game on Versus will also feature former Bruin Joe Thornton
's return to Boston for the first time since January 2006, just about a month after being traded to the Sharks. Thornton drew a misconduct for a high hit that night and left the game after just two minutes. So Tuesday qualifies as the Western Conference All-Star captain's first full game against his former team, for whom he scored 169 goals and 454 points. Thornton's San Jose run is 83 goals, 358 points and counting.
The atmosphere in Boston figures to be noisy and electric. It's an appointment with Versus you won't want to miss--mark it in permanent ink on your sports TV calendar.