Besides having an excuse to drink beer every second night, the best part about the Stanley Cup Finals are the many storylines that seamlessly unfold one after another and take on a mind of their own. It’s like the author is writing the book if front of us and everyday we get to turn another page to find out the next dramatic twist. I suppose this is why all sports are great, but there’s something especially great about the Stanley Cup and all that surrounds it.
I don’t think the fact I live in western Canada is the reason this year’s finals have been so intriguing, although there hasn’t been this much uproar north of the boarder since Calgary fell just short in 2004. Maybe, chalk it up to the explosion of social media, particularly Twitter. There is more online buzz and speculation than ever before. The minute someone lays a big hit, scores a big goal or bites another player’s finger, millions of people instantly have a forum to blog and tweet about it. Everyone is getting a piece of the pie, it seems this year. Whether it’s via journalists at the game or Joe six-pack in his basement apartment, there’s no shortage of content to speculate on after each game and during every day off.
Before the puck is dropped in less than 7 hours from now, I want to take a look at some of the most memorable storylines that got us to this Game 7. There is certainly no shortage of between-the-whistle entertainment with these two teams. Here are some of the memories I won’t forget anytime soon.
Bite-gate: Alex Burrows set the tone for the series in a Game 1 scrum when he bit down on the index finger of Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. While many thought Burrows should have been suspended, he went on to score the controversial overtime goal in Game 2 to put Vancouver up 2-0 in the series. The incident was instantly dubbed ‘bite-gate’ and took over hockey headlines for the following week. The overflow of the incident resulted in Vancouver’s agitator Maxim Lapierre tauntingly waving his finger in the face of Bergeron in Game 2. After that game, Bruins coach Claude Julien scolded the Canucks and assured hockey fans Boston’s players were fare too mature to get caught up in the hoopla. Well, during Game 3, we all saw Bruins veterans Milan Lucic and Mark Rechhi wave their fingers in Lapierre’s face. As bite-gate looked like it would dominate the entire series, the officials warned both teams that suspensions were imminent for the next finger-wagger. Thankfully, that was the end of bite-gate.
Vancouver’s split personality: I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a team put on this type of Jekyll and Hyde performance in the Cup Finals. While the home team has won every game this series, when Vancouver does lose in Boston, they do it with a capital L-O-S-E. When Vancouver plays in front of their home crowd, they’ve won: 1-0, 3-2 (OT) and 1-0. When in Boston, they’ve lost: 8-1, 4-0 and 5-2. Luongo has been pulled in one of those games but should have been pulled in two. The troubling thing I would imagine for a Vancouver fan, is that they haven’t won a single game in convincing fashion, even in Vancouver. The comforting thing is that they’re playing the final game at home, where they still haven’t lost to Boston.
Suspensions & non-suspensions: When Aaron Rome made the judgment call to finish his hit on Nathan Horton, everything changed. Horton dished the puck after gaining the Vancouver blueline and Rome stepped into him a couple seconds late. The result: a severe concussion for Horton and a 4-game suspension for Rome. The hit that was heard around the hockey world opened the floodgates to the head-shot debate and the conspiracy theories. Some think Rome’s hit was a hockey play worth no suspension and others think he should have got one or two games. The real ramifications of the hit and suspension would come after Game 6 where Johnny Boychuk drove Mason Raymond into the boards backwards, breaking a vertebrae in his back, and ending his playoffs. There was no suspension. Needless to say, Vancouver brass, coaches, players and fans are now screaming “two-sided officiating.”
A tale of two tenders: Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas. One has been solid from the word go, the other has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride. One might even say they have each looked exactly like themselves. Thomas, boasting a .937 save percentage and 2.06 GAA, has been an absolute rock. All the while he’s remained humble and seemingly happy to be there. Nobody expected anything different from a (maybe) soon to be 2-time Vezina winner and this year’s top Conn Smythe candidate. At the other end of the ice, Luongo has been his solid self at home but a disaster on Boston ice. He still carries a respectable .916 save percentage and 2.54 GAA, but has made it tough for non-Canuck fans to give him any respect. It really was a head-scratcher when Luongo called out Thomas’ goaltending style after Maxim Lapierre scored the Game 5 winner. Luongo basically said he would never let that goal in because he plays a smarter style than Thomas. Meanwhile, Thomas has surrendered 8 goals this series to Luongo’s 24. None of that matters for Game 7. One goal will likely separate these two when it’s all said and done.
Marchand: more than they bargained for: We knew the rookie was good when he played for the Canadian junior team. But did we know 23 year-old Brad Marchand would be this good in his first post-season? He’s killed penalties, scored power-play goals and dug his way under Vancouver’s skin. The most recent example, when he fed Henrik Sedin about 4 shots to the face in Game 6. He’s got 16 points this post-season, including a plus-9 rating and 9 goals, which broke the post-season record for goals by a rookie. Boston may have a better player than they bargained for when they drafted the Halifax native 71st overall in the 3rd round. Look for Marchand to be buzzing all over the ice in Game 7.
Canada’s team: Probably about a quarter of Canadians will deny it, but the other three quarters will tell you that these Vancouver Canucks are “Canada’s team.” It’s the same roll the Flames adopted in 2004. Hockey fans and non-hockey fans alike have been professing their love for Canucks since they finally got past Chicago in the first round. For every series they win, another throng of supporters jumps on the bandwagon. The more significant point here is that Canada is on the verge of reclaiming the Stanley Cup for the first time since Montreal did it in 1993. Yeah it’s true that most of the players are Canadian anyways, the significance is purely symbolic. Hockey is a sport we call Canada’s game and the general consensus up here is that it’s time for The Stanley Cup to return home.
Malhotra’s miracle: When one of Vancouver’s key faceoff men and leaders, Manny Malhotra took a puck to the eye on March 16, doctors warned that he might not play again. He underwent a series of eye surgeries and kept a low profile as his team prepared their quest for the cup without him. Meanwhile, all the fans could do was think about Brian Berard and how he was never the same. Depth perception is crucial in hockey. If you cant perceive depth, you can’t do much. Certainly, nobody ever considered the notion that Malhotra could return to these Stanley Cup Finals. When he did miraculously return for Game 2 with a full face-shield, the Rogers Arena in Vancouver filled with a thunderous roar. Manny! Manny! Manny! Although he hasn’t played huge minutes or made an impact on the score sheet, the Canucks got their quiet leader back and thus the miracle was complete.