Canucks host Bruins in Stanley Cup Final opener

The Sports Network
6/1/2011 7:34:52 PM
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(Sports Network) - The Stanley Cup Final will finally get underway this evening in Vancouver, as the Canucks host the Boston Bruins in Game 1 at Rogers Arena.

Both clubs have had plenty of time to rest for this best-of-seven series since winning conference titles. The Western Conference champion Canucks have been off since ousting San Jose from the postseason on May 24. Boston has been out of action since beating Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday.

The Canucks, who have never won a title, were last in the Cup Finals in 1994 when they were bested in seven games during a classic series with the New York Rangers.

The road back to the Stanley Cup Finals has been a long and tough one for the Vancouver franchise, as the club never made it past the second round between '94 and this spring. But the path the Canucks have taken in this year's postseason has gotten progressively easier.

Alain Vigneault's club blew a 3-0 lead to Chicago in the opening round before winning the series in Game 7. The Canucks then ousted Nashville in six games in Round 2 before beating San Jose in five tests to earn the franchise's third conference title.

The Canucks used an excellent series from the Sedin twins and goaltender Roberto Luongo to make quick work of the Sharks.

Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin compiled an amazing 12 points in the conference finals, notching one goal and 11 assists over the five games. Thanks in large part to that monster series, last year's Hart Trophy winner is leading all NHLers with 21 points (2 goals, 19 assists) in 18 games this postseason

Identical twin Daniel, meanwhile, notched two goals and four assists against the Sharks and has eight goals and eight helpers in the postseason.

Between the pipes, Luongo has gone a long way this spring towards dispelling the notion that he doesn't have what it takes to win big games. The 32-year- old netminder had a rough series in the opening round against Chicago, but it has been pretty much smooth sailing since. The Montreal native and 2011 Vezina Trophy finalist is 12-6 with a 2.29 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 18 playoff games this year.

Vancouver's Manny Malhotra has been out since March 16 with an eye injury and it appears the veteran centerman will not be ready to return for Game 1. Malhotra was hit in the left eye with a puck and although the injury was originally expected to keep him out for the remainder of the year, it is now believed he could return at some point in the Finals.

On defense, Christian Ehrhoff (shoulder) and Aaron Rome (head) missed the last two games of the San Jose series, but both players are expected to skate for the Canucks this evening.

While the Canucks last played for a title 17 years ago, it's been an even longer road back to the Cup Finals for Boston, which made its last appearance in the NHL's championship round in 1990.

The Bruins ousted Tampa Bay for this year's Eastern Conference title by beating the Lightning, 1-0, in a decisive Game 7 in Boston. It was the second Game 7 victory of this postseason for Boston, which went seven games against Montreal in Round 1 before sweeping Philadelphia in the conference semifinals.

Boston, which was ousted in five games by Mark Messier and the Edmonton Oilers in the 1990 Stanley Cup Finals, hasn't won a title since Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito led the franchise to the 1972 crown. All told, the B's have claimed five Stanley Cup titles in their storied history.

Boston is a team built on strong defense and solid goaltending, but the B's showed some offensive punch in eliminating the high-powered Lightning in the conference finals, scoring 21 times over the seven games. The Bruins are averaging 3.22 goals per game for the entire playoffs and have yielded just 2.50 scores per contest.

David Krejci and Nathan Horton have been Boston's best forwards in this postseason. The former is leading the playoffs with 10 goals and has also added seven assists, while Horton has also notched 17 points (8g, 9a) and scored the only goal in Boston's Game 7 victory over the Lightning.

Boston's defense and goaltending usually makes scoring against the club a difficult task, but the Lightning gave the Bruins more than they could handle at times in the conference finals. Even with two shutouts by Boston goaltender Tim Thomas, Tampa still managed 21 goals over the seven-game series.

Thomas won the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender in 2009 and is considered to be the favorite for the award this year. The 37-year-old is 12-6 this postseason with a 2.29 GAA and .929 save percentage. Thomas set an NHL record with a .938 save percentage over 57 games during the regular season.

The Canucks won the Presidents' Trophy as the club with the best record in the regular season. Presidents' Trophy winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup seven times since the award was introduced in the mid-1980s, but the last time was in 2008 when Detroit won it all.

Vancouver also has a bit of interesting history going in its favor in this series and it has to do with the city hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. The only other two Canadian cities to host Olympics -- Montreal and Calgary -- went on to win Stanley Cup titles the following year. The Canadiens hosted the Summer Games in 1976 and won the second of four straight Cups in 1977, while Calgary claimed its only championship in 1989, a year after hosting the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Of course, the Canucks are not only carrying the hopes of a city, but also a nation considering a Canadian team hasn't lifted the Cup since Montreal defeated Wayne Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings in 1993.

Boston, meanwhile, has lost its last five trips to the Finals since defeating the Rangers for the Cup in 1972. The Bruins have a 5-20 record in the championship round since their last title.

The Canucks and Bruins have never faced each other in the playoffs and the clubs only met once this season with Boston notching a 3-1 decision at Rogers Arena on Feb. 26. The B's have taken three of four and four of the last six games these clubs have played against each other.

Neither club's goaltender has Stanley Cup Finals experience, but Luongo and Thomas have 52 and 36 games, respectively, of playoff action under their belts.

The Canucks, who will also host Game 2 on Saturday, have home-ice advantage to start this series as a result of their superior regular season record and Vancouver boasts a solid 7-3 record at Rogers Arena this spring.

Boston has a 5-3 record as the visiting team in the postseason.

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