"If we win (Wednesday), we become legends," Ryan Kesler said on the eve of Game 7 from Rogers Arena (June 15, nhl.com).
Game 7 Stanley Cup Finals, best event in all of sports. The dynamics of a Game 7 are so interesting. Elimination game for both teams. Now amplify the intensity. The Cup will be skated tonight. To borrow a tag line "History will be made." Who can handle the pressure and execute their game plan?
I am going to make a case based on observations from this series that Boston is the favorite tonight. Don't believe it? Read on.
This has been an odd series. The home team has won every game in a year where road teams were very successful. However, if you like back in history it seems like home teams perform very well in the Finals. Can Vancouver win a fourth game at home? Can they bounce back again at home after a drubbing by the Bruins? Boston has the momentum again, and feel they were unfortunate to not have a won a game yet in Vancouver. I agree with them. Tonight might be their night.
It also has been odd in that it has been a penalty-filled series and even nasty at times. Usually Finals don't have as much bad blood or rivalry. It didn't take long for these teams to dislike each other. The Burrows finger-biting incident ignited things along with Lapierre's taunting of Bergeron. The B's responded by shoving their gloves in the mouths of Lapierre and Burrows. Rome injured Horton in Game 3 and both players are finished for the year. Luongo chided Thomas about coming out of the crease too far. Great series for the media. Not so much for the coaches that have to stomach penalty kills.
The biggest oddity of the series to me, however, is that Boston is outscoring Vancouver 19-8 and 17-3 on home ice. Low scoring games out west, back east big time blowouts. Why is this happening? Usually teams that get to the Finals are good enough to keep it close, but the Canucks have been all or nothing, just like Luongo. It has to make Vancouver fans super tight for tonight's Game 7. What team will show up? The large difference in the number of goals in this series has to give Boston confidence. They have been the better team for much of the series. Vancouver will rest their belief on the fact that they will be home and Boston hasn't been able to breakthrough. However, Boston was very close in each game. Again, you can base your hopes on whatever you want, but Boston is coming off another beat down of the Canucks.
This series does remind me a little of the Detroit-Pittsburgh Finals of 2009. Home team won the first 6 games all by at least 2 goals. Detroit was dominate at home and won Game 5 5-0. But then in Game 7 Pittsburgh did something that had not happened since Montreal in 1971, the road team won a Finals Game 7. So, you may argue that Boston doesn't have Crosby and Malkin, this is true. They don't have the offensive stars. However, don't underestimate the face that Boston has two of the best defensive players in the world right now - Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas. Both of these guys have been brilliant. The Bruins can win the Stanley Cup on defense on the road. Thomas could steal this game, and Chara has the ability to shut down the Sedins. Boston has what it needs to win the Cup.
The Bruins are super dangerous right now. They are playing aggressive and winning puck battles. They are winning the special teams battle. If Boston continues to be aggressive, use their size, and make good decisions with the puck they will be very difficult to beat.
Back to the Canucks. I believe there are at least 3 mental barriers that they must overcome to win the Cup. None of these barriers are easy things to dismiss.
1. Vancouver's self-confidence has to be somewhat shaken. Three blowouts in Boston? Wow. How do you mentally deal with that? The Bruins have dominated the Canucks 3 of the last 4 games. They have to be comparing themselves to Boston and the thought must come in to their heads sometimes, "If Boston plays like they did at home, we are in deep trouble. We haven't stayed with them when they play their best offensively". The good news for Canucks' fans is that rarely do teams play very offensive in a Game 7. Especially the road team.
2. Can Vancouver beat Tim Thomas enough times to win the Cup? Thomas has frustrated teams throughout the playoffs, but especially the Canucks. He goes on stretches where it doesn't seem like it is possible to score. The Canucks will have to stay committed to simple hockey and not try too hard to score and over commit. Easier said than done when the pressure is on and the home crowd is quiet and restless.
3. Can Vancouver count on Luongo? Can he rebound? He has shown the propensity for excellent games, especially at home, after being pulled. Marty Turco wrote a very insightful article about how Luongo must approach this game mentally - www.nhl.com/ice/blogpost.htm?id=1185&navid=mod-rr-headlines
It is likely that Luongo will be better tonight, but does his team fully trust that the great Luongo will show for Game 7? Philly knows the toll it takes on a team emotionally and mentally when the starting goalie is pulled multiple times in a series. That little bit of doubt can plant the seeds of anxiety and poor performance. Canucks forwards and D will have to remain stalwart in their belief of Luongo and trust that he will do his job so each man can just focus on his own role.
The pressure at home will be enormous for the Canucks. If you thought the exhale of relief and joy was intense after the Game 7 OT win versus Chicago, wait for the end of tonight's game. But, as I have listed, the Canucks have a number of mental barriers to deal with which in my mind puts the Bruins in a great position to win the Cup tonight.