Wednesday, June 1, 2011

About the Finals

Tonight the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins will face off in Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals, and the battle will be on to win the most sacred trophy in sports. When it comes to writing about this match-up, there are so many ways to approach it that it’s hard to know where to start.
As a Lightning fan, I ended last Friday boiling with anti-Bruins rage. But my cooler head has since prevailed, like cream rising to the top, and now I am looking at the SCF intelligently instead of emotionally. For what they are worth, here are some of my thoughts.

Canada vs. U.S.
Conventional wisdom says Canadians will cheer for the Canucks and Americans for the Bruins, and there is probably some truth to that. However, in reading comments left on some Canadian blogs I have encountered a surprising (to me) amount of anti-Vancouver sentiment. From what I can gather as an outsider, it appears that some Canadians, especially from the interior provinces, look at Vancouver as a city populated by latte-sipping sissies living in a climate that is too mild to really be considered part of the Great White North. Some people even use the phrase “ABC,” meaning “anybody but the Canucks,” when asked who they want to see win the Cup.

Canada vs. U.S., continued
In any event, the idea of national rivalries among NHL franchises seems overblown because every NHL roster is multinational. Vancouver’s highest profile players are the Sedin twins, who are from Sweden, while Boston’s highest profile player is Zdeno Chara from Slovakia...And Vancouver has eight fewer Canadians on its roster than Boston has…And when you look at the most effective performer on each of these teams during this post-season, you will find that both of them (Ryan Kesler for Vancouver and Tim Thomas for Boston) are Michigan natives…Need I say more?

East vs. West
There is a school of thought that Western Conference hockey is wide open and freewheeling while Eastern Conference hockey is defensive and hard-hitting. That same school of thought holds that Western Conference teams lack the toughness that is needed to win against the more physical teams from the East. People who subscribe to this school of thought tend to overlook the fact that the last ten championships were divided evenly between the conferences, and that three of the last four were won by teams from the West. They also tend to overlook the fact that Vancouver gave up fewer goals this season than any other team in the NHL. I can not wait to see how it plays out in the finals.

The Netminders
Tim Thomas was a journeyman who spent most of a decade bouncing around foreign leagues and the minors. But since reaching his mid-thirties he has become Boston’s starter, won the Vezina Trophy, and established himself as one of the NHL’s elite goalies.
Roberto Luongo backstopped Team Canada to Olympic gold in a pressure-packed situation, winning what was arguably the most important international game for his country in nearly 40 years. And that was after his stint with the Florida Panthers, during which he proved he can carry a team on his back. But despite that resume, people talk about him as if he is a basket case who can’t handle pressure.
For Thomas, a Stanley Cup championship would be a testimony to perseverance and to the reality that people can bloom late. For Luongo, it would silence his critics and vindicate his unfairly maligned career. No matter which team wins, the story of the man in net is sure to inspire.

“Original Six” vs. “Newcomer”
I have heard some people depict this as a kind of old vs. new final, with the Bruins playing the part of the old, storied organization and the Canucks the part of the yappy young gun. That storyline rubs me wrong.
Yes, the Bruins are one of the “original six” franchises, but the very concept of the original six is misleading because the franchises in question were not the NHL’s first six. They were simply the ones that happened to be playing in 1966, one year before the league’s famous 1967 expansion. Many others had opened and folded in the decades leading up to then.
Meanwhile, the Canucks are far from a new franchise since they have been playing hockey in Vancouver for 40 seasons now. Every time a Beacon Hill snob begins to rattle on about Boston’s hockey greatness, any Vancouver fan within earshot should point out that the last time the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, the personal computer had not been invented and Aerosmith’s first album had not been released.

If Boston Wins…
…I will be satisfied. The Bruins have been knocking on Stanley’s door for a few years now, so it would seem appropriate for them to break through this season. And it would not be a bad thing for me to be able to say that the only team capable of beating the Lightning in these playoffs was the team that won it all. And after 35 years of singing national anthems in Boston, I suppose Rene Rancourt deserves to see the Bruins win the Cup before he dies.

If Vancouver Wins…
…I will be satisfied. The Canucks are fun to watch, and their defense is just as stout as their offense is creative. Plus, I am sympathetic to fan bases that get dissed by fans of the original six. And even though I am an American, I have to admit that after an 18-year drought it would be nice to see a Canadian franchise win the Cup and take it “home” for its fans to see.

Of course, if the Lightning was playing in the SCF there is no way I could say “I will be satisfied” about the prospect of anyone else winning. And as the series unfolds and I see how Vancouver and Boston play each other, there is a better than average chance I will find myself choosing a side.
I hope you watch and enjoy it as much as I plan to. And although the Lightning are sitting home at this point, I have to close by saying this again: Go Bolts!

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