By Matt Popchock
Recently, my colleague, CBS Pittsburgh “Shea-ved Ice” blogger Casey Shea, outlined his contempt for Boston and its hockey-loving populace in no uncertain terms, and explained why the Bruins would bow to the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Finals, which gets underway tonight at 8 p.m. at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena.
For those who don’t know, Casey and I agree on a lot. This is one of those times.
I realize it may have been heresy to pick Boston to advance past Tampa Bay, and I would have been perfectly at peace with a Canucks-Bolts Final; if anything, it would help me and some of the people I’ve spoken to since the Penguins were eliminated put this season into perspective. I just thought the B’s would be a bad matchup for Tampa.
But that’s where my affinity for Boston ends.
Casey’s horror stories opened my eyes. Apparently, the bizarre behavior depicted in the Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore romantic comedy “Fever Pitch” might not be far from the truth. They also reminded me of some that I experienced firsthand.
To many, the face of the Bruins is Bobby Orr, but for someone like me who, sadly, is a little too young to fully appreciate the legacy of the greatest blue-liner in NHL history, the first face that springs to mind when I think of the Bruins is Mike Milbury, who coached them for two seasons, 1989-90 and 1990-91.
How a man who, as an ex-jock, literally tried to beat a fan into submission with his own shoe, ever got hired as a national “expert” on anything, even hockey, is beyond me. Then again, his stupidity helped the Penguins rally past his Bruins in the 1991 Wales Conference Final and eventually win their first Stanley Cup, so I guess we kind of owe him one.
The second face that comes to mind is NESN/Versus broadcaster and former ESPN broadcaster Jack Edwards. I’ll never forget how, shortly after the Matt Cooke-Marc Savard incident last season, Edwards berated our own John Seibel and Joe Starkey in a live interview, then later called former evening host Gregg Giannotti, interrupting his show to make accusations against our radio station that were clearly out of order.
On YouTube exists an equally galling video of Edwards laughing like a Looney Tunes villain during a Bruins broadcast on NESN in which a Philadelphia player was victimized by a dangerous- and dirty-looking hit (thanks to my buddy Seth Rorabaugh from the Post-Gazette “Empty Netters” blog for digging that up long ago).
By the way, remember the time two hosts from sister station 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston escalated an interview into a heated confrontation, again with Seibel and Starkey, regarding the Savard incident, and inexplicably taunted them about past Steelers losses to the Patriots? I sure do. Never mind that our talent, including those two, had generally expressed solidarity with those calling for Cooke to be suspended.
If Casey is looking for folks to jump on his bandwagon, I will happily indulge him. Having said that, regardless of the dog I have in this fight, I picked the Canucks to win it all at the beginning of the season, and I’m sticking with them.
Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas will cancel each other out. Thomas has every reason to believe he can steal this series for Boston, and Luongo has officially shed the label of postseason choke artist with his performance this spring, especially in series-clinching victories over Chicago and San Jose.
Both goaltenders will be well supported on the back end. With such intimidating players as Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, the Bruins have held down the fort in these playoffs, and for them, the best way to beat Vancouver in this series might be to beat them literally. But the offensive clinic the Canucks have put on at times isn’t exclusive to the Sedin twins. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa has turned it on, providing the bizarre series-winning goal in OT against the Sharks, and Dan Hamhuis can eat up minutes while shadowing the best Boston has to offer.
The best Boston has to offer is Nathan Horton, who has worn the cape on multiple occasions for the B’s, and ex-Penguin great Mark Recchi, still sharp as tack in his forties, who helps round out their team toughness quite nicely. But talented winger Milan Lucic has struggled, and besides, none of these guys can hold a candle to the top line of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows. Furthermore, sophomore sensation Ryan Kesler has played responsibly at both ends of the ice, and Vancouver’s scoring depth transcends those four.
In addition, if the adage about special teams getting you far in the postseason is remotely correct, Vancouver can hammer Boston with its power play. Although it wasn’t as much of an issue for the B’s against the Flyers in the conference semifinals, it was the one phase of Tampa Bay’s game that seemed to give Boston fits.
A team like the Canucks that has similar raw skill up front will find ways to score against Tim Thomas, as did the Lightning, even in defeat…especially on the power play. Vancouver can out-finesse Boston, frustrating the Bruins into taking penalties and tempting fate against a group that is clicking at a 25 percent clip coming into these Stanley Cup Finals. If that is the case, this could be a shorter series than I anticipate.
Boston has the goaltending and the swagger to make Vancouver work for this one, but statistically the Canucks were the best team in hockey during the regular season, and in these playoffs they have arguably, in the bigger picture, played like the best team in hockey. They have an offense, top to bottom, that can overwhelm teams–and has, on multiple occasions–and Luongo seems to have a whole new lease on playoff life, which is why I’m picking them to end Canada’s Cup drought in six games.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)