Someone is going to win their first Stanley Cup in at least 39 years.
The NHL got lucky … AGAIN. The Vancouver Canucks are playing the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals beginning Wednesday. This is great for the NHL. A big hockey-crazy market in Boston which hasn’t won a Cup since 1972, versus a big hockey-crazy CANADIAN market in Vancouver which has NEVER won a Stanley Cup in its entire existence. Just like last year, when the Chicago Blackhawks, which hadn’t won since 1961 and the Philadelphia Flyers, which hadn’t won since 1975. It will mean good ratings for the NHL in two big markets for two years in a row. The Tampa Bay Lightning almost made the NHL Finals, which would have been a disaster for the league. While the Lightning are a very good team, no one pays attention to them in Florida and the TV ratings would have been terrible. The NHL has to get out of the South. It’s like trying to have NASCAR in Canada.
The Vancouver Canucks may have never won a Stanley Cup, but a team called the Vancouver Millionaires did win the Stanley Cup in 1915. But, they were not part of the NHL. The Canucks are part of the NHL’s early expansion, joining the league 41 years ago in 1970. The Canucks were real sad sacks of the NHL for many years (they sneaked into the Stanley Cup Finals in 1982, but lost to the Islanders, then lost again in ’94 in seven games to the heavily favoured New York Rangers), and had the ugliest uniforms in the NHL, but beginning in the 1990s, they started putting together some powerhouse teams. Several times the past few years, they followed strong regular seasons with poor showings in the playoffs. Finally, this year, they seemed to have put it all together.
The Boston Bruins are an Original Six team … one of a handful of teams that survived the Great Depression. It’s amazing to me that the NHL only had six teams from 1932 to 1967. Boston was never one of the strongest teams in the league, but they did win Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972 behind Phil Esposito, Gerry Cheevers and of course, Bobby Orr, one of the most famous players in history. Since 72, Boston has been up and down. They played in the NHL Finals in 1974, 1978, 1988 and 1990, but lost all four times.
So, neither team has been in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1994, and no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since 1993 — and Vancouver is heavily favoured. This is an exciting time for Canadian hockey. Not only are Canadians hoping for a Canadian team to win the Cup for the first time in 18 years, but Canada is getting a new team next year in Winnipeg, and possibly another new team the following year in Hamilton or Quebec City.
Unlike the Blackhawks and Flyers last year, which were incredibly playing a second-string and third-string goalie respectively in the Stanley Cup Finals, this year’s finals features two of the top goalies in the world.
Vancouver’s success seems to ride on the shoulders of Roberto Luongo (yes, with that name, he’s Canadian). He was the goalie for the gold-medal winning Team Canada in the Olympics last year. He’s been a Vezina Trophy winner (Goalie of the Year), but has never had much success in the playoffs until now. He was even shaky this year, having to be taken out of a couple of games in which he was playing poorly. Canadians are really hard on Luongo. A lot of Canadians call him “Hands of Stone” Luongo because the one flaw in his game is he is terrible with his trapper. Some people think he looks like Sasha Baron Cohen, but I don’t see it.
The stars for the Canucks and Daniel and Henrik Sedin, two Swedish twins who always play together. They are almost like one person, constantly passing to each other and helping each other score. This year, Daniel had 41 goals. Henrik is a little more of a passer and assist man. Another good player for the Canucks is Ryan Kesler, a big American who scored 41 goals.
The big star — and I do mean BIG — for the Bruins is Zdeno Chara, a defenceman from Slovakia. He is the largest and more feared player in the NHL. He is 6-foot-9 and weighs anywhere between 270 and 290 pounds, depending on who you believe. He also holds the World’s Guinness Record for hardest slap shot –at 105.9 miles an hour. He is very, very physical and crushes players who don’t keep their heads up. He also gets in a lot of fights (though you rarely see fights in the Stanley Cup Finals and you rarely see good players like Chara who will fight — especially Europeans), however, I have noticed that whenever he gets in a fight, it’s the other player who usually picks it. And the other player usually gets beat up. I think everyone feels compelled to take on Goliath. The Bruins’ best scorer in the playoffs has been David Krejci, a Czech, but unlike Vancouver, the Bruins don’t really have any big scorers (their best player, Marc Savard, has actually been hurt all year with a concussion.). They just tend to come at you waves.
The Bruins are riding American Tim Thomas in goal, like Luongo, a Vezina Trophy finalist. Thomas arguably made the greatest save of the year against Tampa Bay a couple of weeks ago.
With Luongo and Thomas in net and lots of chippy action around Chara and Kesler, expect the games to be very, very physical and low-scoring. And also expect wildly enthusiastic fans in Vancouver and Boston.
- Stanley Cup Finals 2011: Can Vancouver Canucks Finally End Canada’s Cup Drought? (sbnation.com)
- Nathan Horton Sends Boston To The Stanley Cup Final (thebiglead.com)
- Vancouver is Happy, NBC Not So Much (thesportsbizblog.blogspot.com)
- Stanley Cup Finals Schedule 2011: Complete Listings for Stanley Cup Finals (bleacherreport.com)