BOSTON — One of the strangest Stanley Cups anyone can remember is going to end with something everyone can understand: A single game, with everything on the line, winner-take-all.
All of the bizarre stats and simmering storylines won’t matter one bit to either the Vancouver Canucks or Boston Bruins if they can find a way to win Game 7 at Rogers Arena tonight.
Vancouver is coming off Monday’s 5-2 loss — the third such beating it endured at Boston’s TD Garden — but should be considered the favourite.
The Presidents’ Trophy winners have been virtually unbeatable at home.
“To tell you the truth it doesn’t really matter,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said of the ugly Game 6 loss.
“At the end of the day, they won and we’re going back home in front of our fans. One game showdown to win the Cup. That’s it.”
It’s the game of a lifetime for teams that feature just three past champions — one of whom, Vancouver’s Mikael Samuelsson, is unavailable because of injury.
The Canucks are facing a Game 7 without forward Mason Raymond, who lasted just 20 seconds on Monday before being sent to hospital by an awkward hit from Johnny Boychuk. He suffered a vertebrae compression fracture and follows Vancouver’s Dan Hamhuis (undisclosed) and Boston’s Nathan Horton (concussion) in being knocked out of the Stanley Cup.
Roberto Luongo has been in and out of the series — posting two shutouts at home, getting pulled twice in Boston — but will be given the chance to lift the Stanley Cup on the same ice surface where he was awarded an Olympic gold medal 16 months ago.
He was chased from Game 6 after allowing three goals on eight shots in less than half a period.
“You can’t hang your head now and feel sorry for yourself, that would be the worst thing I could do,” said Luongo.
The Bruins have to find a way to bring their best game on the road. They’ve dictated play with an aggressive attack in the games at TD Garden but have looked much more timid at Rogers Arena.
Amazingly, they’ve scored 17 goals on home ice and just two in Vancouver — both in the second period of Game 2.
“We are very well aware of how we’ve played on the road the last three games in Vancouver,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien.
“It hasn’t been good enough and our plan is certainly to change that for Game 7. We’ve created ourselves another opportunity and it’s up to us to take advantage of it.
“But we’ve got to be hungrier than we have been the last three times in Vancouver.”
One thing the Bruins should be able to count on is another steady performance from Tim Thomas. He set a NHL record for save percentage in the regular season and kept right on rolling in the playoffs, allowing eight goals in his last seven starts dating back to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.
The 37-year-old has easily been the top performer on either side in the final series.
“I’m going to try to embrace the opportunity and take the same attitude that I’ve taken throughout the whole playoffs,” said Thomas. “And, you know, hopefully that will get me through that one last game to get to the goal that we’ve been shooting for all year long.”
The Canucks have been playing with the weight of expectations since September. Picked by many to win the Stanley Cup in pre-season polls, they put together the best regular season in franchise history and find themselves just one win from their first ever championship.
It would be a quirky way to win it — through six games of the Stanley Cup, they’ve been outscored 19-8.
“It doesn’t matter,” said backup goalie Cory Schneider. “This isn’t soccer, it’s not aggregate score.”
Just like Boston, the Canucks have looked like a totally different team depending on the venue. The home team has scored first and won all six games in this series.
“Luckily, we don’t have to come back here again this season,” Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said before leaving Boston. “We’re going back to Vancouver where we’re a pretty good team on home ice, too. (We’ll) let the crowd get into it and have some fun.”
The keys to Game 7
It’s all down to one winner-take-all game in the Stanley Cup final. Here’s a look at five things the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins need to do to win the Stanley Cup:
1. Score the first goal. An early goal could quiet the home fans and plant a seed of doubt in Vancouver’s mind.
2. Keep goalie Roberto Luongo busy. No matter how well he’s played at home, his confidence can’t be high after being yanked after three goals on eight shots in Game 6.
3. Roll four lines and three defence pairs. Don’t have Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg dragging with fatigue in the third period, as has been the case previously in Vancouver.
4. Be aggressive. Why not? Even if they take some penalties, Vancouver’s once-mighty power play is 2-for-31 in the series and is not playing with much confidence.
5. Watch out for that bank shot off the end boards. It seems to be the only plan Vancouver has to take advantage of how far out of the net Tim Thomas plays.
1. Get the power play going. It was dynamite all season and through the first three rounds of playoffs. A couple of power-play goals will keep the Bruins on best behaviour.
2. Take advantage of Thomas leaving the crease. He played great against Tampa Bay and Montreal too, but they both scored more goals and found more creative ways to make life difficult for him.
3. Keep the pace high. The Canucks should win a fast-paced, puck-moving game over the slower Bruins every time.
4. Jump on the Bruins early and keep the building as loud as possible.
5. Stick to hockey. There’s been way too much silly diving and antics on the ice and ill-advised comments off the ice. That’s where leaders come in. Kesler, maybe? Bieksa? Somebody.