2011 NHL Stanley Cup Finals Preview - Boston Bruins vs. Vancouver Canucks
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The storylines are set, and as the buildup begins for the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, it’s hard to think that Canada’s moment in the sun will be delayed any longer.
The Vancouver Canucks might be making their first appearance in hockey’s championship series since 1994; they might be competing against yet another Northeastern team in the finals (the New York Islanders opposed the Canucks in the 1982 finals while the New York Rangers stared down Vancouver in 1994); they might be trying to win Canada’s first Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens won one for the Great North in 1993 against the Los Angeles Kings. Yet, of all the years that are relevant to this series between the Canucks and the Boston Bruins, 1988 and 1990 seem to stand out the most. As Vancouver tries to win the first Stanley Cup in its 41-year history and Boston tries to win its first Cup in 39 years, one would do well to travel just over two decades into the history books.
Over the past 33 years (since 1978), the Boston franchise has made as many appearances in the Cup finals as Vancouver has: two. Despite owning an Original Six pedigree and a much more entrenched place in the league’s power structure, Boston has consistently failed on the big stage of the NHL postseason. In the 1970s, Boston was expected to make the final round of the playoffs each season and delivered more often than not. Vancouver, by contrast, never did develop a culture of winning. The 1982 and 1994 joyrides were special on the West Coast of Canada, but with powerful teams residing elsewhere in the nation’s Western provinces, it was hard to demand too much of the Canucks as the flag-bearer for the NHL’s Canadian-based franchises. This is all a longer way of saying that it’s much more disappointing for Boston to have made just two Cup finals in 33 years than for Vancouver to have done the same. These franchises weren’t created equal, and while Vancouverites have been manifestly frustrated by their team’s playoff flops over the past decade and a half, the weight of history falls more heavily on the shoulders of the Bruins.
This is what brings us to 1988 and 1990.
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Those are the two years since 1978 in which Boston did manage to make the Cup finals. Each time, the Bruins were met by a dominant force known as the Edmonton Oilers, a powerhouse from the Canadian West that hammered Ray Bourque, Cam Neely, and the rest of the Beantowners into submission. Yes, the only times the Bs were able to reach hockey’s ultimate stage over the past third of a century, a superior team from Western Canada was there to slam the door on a championship dream.
In 2011, the same theme is ready to emerge.
Vancouver just finished off the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference finals, taking only five games to march on to these finals. San Jose, it must be said, outlasted the Detroit Red Wings in what was clearly the best series of these playoffs. The Western Conference has consistently featured a level of hockey that has clearly surpassed the Eastern Conference in every respect. From skating to hitting to goaltending to puckhandling, the West playoffs dwarfed the East by a considerable margin. It’s hard to see how Boston, for all its pluck and resilience, will be able to thwart Daniel and Henrik Sedin plus other studs like Ryan Kesler and Maxim Lapierre. It’s hard to see how Boston’s 37-year-old goalie, Tim Thomas, will be able to outduel Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo, whose sole nemesis – the Chicago Blackhawks – has long since been removed from the playoff equation.
In 1988, Boston got swept by Edmonton. In 1990, the Bruins absorbed a five-game beatdown from the Oilers. It’s very likely that the same scenario will unfold in this series. Boston is a gritty team with survivalists like Nathan Horton and Johnny Boychuk plus elegant playmakers such as Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Michael Ryder has been a right-place-right-time player for coach Claude Julien as well, but Boston’s total abilities pale in comparison to what the bigger, deeper Canucks can do under coach Alain Vigneault. It’s going to take something very special for Boston to even take this series to a seventh game, let alone win.
The 1990 season, a happy memory for Boston fans because of an appearance in the Cup finals, is likely to end on the same note of disappointment at the hands of a Western Conference champion from Canada. If this expected narrative doesn’t emerge, the angst in the land of the maple leaf will be off the charts for the next 12 months.
No pressure, Vancouver. No pressure at all.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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