Make the most of this start, kid. You've earned it. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
One of the phrases you've no doubt heard countless times this week is how fans and players of both of last year's Stanley Cup Finalists have 'had this date circled on their calendar'. Of course they have. Obviously the next time two finalists meet is a big game. It's baffling to me that both major networks passed on the opportunity to broadcast this game, not to mention the ridiculous start time. I am sure it has something to do with not going head to head against football, so apparently hatred of the Canucks to draw in viewers is outweighed by the Houston Texans playing in the NFL playoffs. Whatever. Today you're going to hear a lot of people who spend very little time focusing on the Canucks (unless they do something wrong, that is) try to remind you why the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. They're going to tell you the Bruins are better. They're going to tell you why they're better. It's time for you, Canuck Nation, to understand that tomorrow's game, win or lose will not give you that answer.
One of the things that last year's opponents wanted to remind the Canucks and their fans at every possible opportunity was that the regular season means nothing. And to a certain extent it's true. The regular season helps determine the seeding, but as we saw last spring, hockey in the playoffs is indeed a different animal. They tried to say that the Canucks's regular season success wouldn't translate in the playoffs, but indeed it did. The problem wasn't the Bruins toughness, the problem was Boston, a very solid team from top to bottom, took on a Canucks team that was a shadow of the team that dominated the league in the regular season. They tell you that injuries happen to all teams, and you can't use that as an excuse. It's absolutely misleading to try and say that the biggest factor in the Canucks performance was anything but the outright loss of players through injury (Dan Hamhuis and Mikael Samuelsson, Mason Raymond), suspension (Aaron Rome) and the number of Canucks hurt badly enough that it severely hampered their play (Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin). The losses by the Bruins? Virtually non-existent. They lost Nathan Horton. There were no other serious injuries.
That doesn't explain why the Canucks were able to play so well at home against the Bruins and so poorly against them in Boston. But by the time another Canuck was removed from the Canucks lineup after Aaron Rome's game misconduct and subsequent suspension, what the Canucks had left was simply not able to compete with the depth of the Bruins (Daniel Wagner has a great post that explores this further over at PITB this morning). The toughness was more salt in the wounds than anything else. Look at the path the Bruins took to the finals. Sure they went 7 against Montreal, but there isn't a soul alive who would think that was as physically challenging as going 7 games with Chicago. They swept Philadelphia, who looked embarrassingly tame compared to the Broad Street Bullies of old. And they went 7 games against another team that doesn't exactly terrify teams physically in the Tampa Bay Lightning. Compare that to the path of the Canucks. It starts to make a lot more sense. Depth.
Let's say the Canucks win tomorrow. Will you hear national journalists shout praises from the rooftops about the Canucks skill and depth? No. You will not. You will hear that this game means nothing. That it's just a regular season game, and what really matters is the playoffs. If the Bruins win, well it's merely reinforcing the fact that they are better. The shadow of doubt on the abilities of this team will be cackled by 'experts' like so many witches, stirring a pot of misinformation. Win or lose, this game is not going to tell you who is the better team. A good majority of the hockey world wrote this team off, saying the psychological damage of losing the Cup would be too much to overcome, that their window to win was now closed. Yet, here they are once again sitting atop the Western Conference.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am not trying to downplay this game too much. Yes, it's a big game, just like any other game against one of the NHL's elites. Yes there's an emotional aspect to it that could only come from having faced this team in the finals. You cannot convince me however that this solves anything. So many things can happen between now and the possibility of a rematch in June. Injuries, trades and yes, even slumps. The Bruins look invincible. A win over the Canucks tomorrow has ZERO impact on these teams meeting in June.
I'm also not trying to downplay the accomplishment of the Bruins. The Stanley Cup Championship is the hardest to win in sports. The Bruins did all the things they needed to do to win it. They got a once in a lifetime performance from their goalie. They did however get a lot of help, luck and otherwise. You can't be a 'Champian' without it. If anything, tomorrow's game lets us have a far more representative look at both teams. The accuracy will be off owing to the small sample size, but don't make the mistake of reading too much into a win by either team. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and like it or not, dessert (if it's deserved) will not be served until June.
The teams involved are doing their best to try and downplay the hype, understandably. They get it. The media trying to stroke the fires over this one seems even stranger when you consider CBC and NBCSN passed on carrying this game. And one of the focal points for tomorrow's matchup might miss the dance. Brad Marchand missed last night's 9-0 stomping of the hapless Calgary Flames, and is a no go at practice today with the team saying he has the flu. It must be pretty severe for him to not be preparing for the game, and even with missing yesterday and today one has to think unless he's doing a Linda Blair impression, he will be in the lineup tomorrow.
If Marchand is out, it's the only injury the Bruins are suffering. The Canucks had David Booth skating with them again today as they practiced at Harvard University, but it's unlikely we will see either of them tomorrow. Other than that, it appears the Canucks are healthy, far more so than their last visits to the TD Garden. The Canucks have announced that Cory Schneider will get the start tomorrow. That's a reward to the kid, who's sat for a number of games, getting just one on the California road trip after playing 7 in a row himself. The talking heads will tell you that the Canucks are afraid to play Luongo tomorrow. Unless Luongo is injured, if the Canucks should be lucky enough to roll back into Boston in June, he will be the starter. Once again, don't read too much into this. Not to mention the last time the Canucks played a 10am PST start, Luongo went down with an injury. Already twitter is exploding, with people saying the Canucks are sheltering Luongo and showcasing Schneider for a trade. Or, and stay with me on this one, that this game is about 2 points for the Canucks, they have two completely capable goalies and they are giving Schneider a chance to play at home. That's all this is. Nothing more, nothing less.
Tomorrow's game is certainly bringing back some incredible memories for me, being fortunate enough to be there and witness the Finals first hand. A roller coaster of emotions is a bit of a cliche, yet such an appropriate one. I will say though that seeing images of the Bruins raising the Cup doesn't bother me. It fuels me. This team was so close. And like the post on PITB pointed out, the Canucks went out and made changes to the make up of this team that make them a deeper threat across the board. If they stay healthy, they can beat any team in the league. That includes the Boston Bruins.
So, especially now that the Canucks have announced the starter, the onslaught of opinions from people who know this team inside and out all the way down to those who barely know the game are being unfurled. There's not going to be anything close to a consensus. People I admire and respect are going to disagree with what I have written here, and you know what? I am okay with that. This is a no-win situation for the Canucks. Unlike the rest of the hockey world, the Canucks, to me at least are focued on treating this game like any other against a top quality opponent. They are treating their goaltenders as they said they would, as 1 and 1a, and rewarding the hometown kid with the start. The optics of this are going to be what you want them to be. Much like the Canucks loss in the Finals, things aren't always what people tell you they are.
BAND OF THE DAY- WATCHTOWER
This Austin, Texas prog-metal band paved the way for bands like Dream Theater, mixing the 70's rock styles of Rush and Yes with the heavier elements of the NWOBHM. The band never really got the credit they deserved but their influence is heard in tons of prog, thrash and death metal acts.