A Tale of Two Series
By: George Gerbo
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”
Charles Dickens wrote those words over 150 years ago to begin his novel “A Tale of Two Cities”. He could have never imagined they’d be adopted to describe the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, but they fit pretty well in the context of this series, which will be decided with a game seven tonight in Vancouver. It’s currently the best of times for Boston goalie Tim Thomas, whose Conn Smythe-winning performance (regardless of the series outcome, Thomas is the runaway Smythe winner) has pulled his team from the brink of despair and elimination, rallying from down 2-0 and 3-2 in the series, to the precipice of hockey immortality. It’s the worst of times for Roberto Luongo, who can’t seem to find a friend or a save away from British Columbia, having been pulled in the first period of game six after allowing three goals. Luongo won’t be vacationing in Massachusetts anytime soon after giving up a ‘foolish’ 15 goals on the road in this series, which is in stark contrast to the two he’s only allowed in three games in Vancouver. In addition to their goaltender, the rest of the Canucks lacked much of a punch in their three games in Boston, and looked pretty foolish in the process, as the Sedins can attest.
Some of my BDL colleagues may look a little ‘foolish’ for thinking this series would not go the distance. Yours truly was the only BDL prognosticator to predict a seven-game series and the only one to take the Bruins, even with Bay State natives on the staff. Now, Boston still has a lot of work to do to actually take the Cup, but with as close as these teams are on offense and in net, and throwing in each team’s reputation for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in past playoff letdowns, there wasn’t any foreseeable way this couldn’t go to a seventh game.
Boston has whatever momentum you can quantify for a road team going into a winner-take-all scenario. The aforementioned Thomas is Conn Smythe-worthy and knows this may be his last chance at the Cup. Rookie Brad Marchand has taken the spotlight late in this playoff run, setting a new franchise rookie playoff scoring record. Mark Recchi is looking for his third Cup in what could be his final NHL game. For the Bruins, the key is to bottle what they’ve done in Boston and use it in Vancouver. For what they’ve accomplished at TD Garden, somehow the Canucks manage to get it back in their favor at Rogers Arena. Boston must bring the same intensity they used in game six and get to Luongo early. Luongo is quick to drop into the butterfly, so, if they can execute it, rising shots aimed for Luongo’s shoulders and the top corners of the net will find their way in eventually for the Bruins.
Vancouver, on the other hand, is reeling. Daniel Sedin, in perhaps a desperation move to rally his team, “guaranteed” a game seven win. Guess what, Daniel? You should try showing up on the scoresheet first. He has only one goal and four points, and hasn’t scored since game two. Brother Henrik isn’t much better, sporting a -3 rating and finally notching his first point of the series with a meaningless goal in game six. Add Ryan Kessler, who came into this series with 18 points in these playoffs, to the list of lethargy, as his only point in the series is his assist on the only goal in Vancouver’s game one win. Recent game seven history seems to suggest the unsung hero will help claim the Cup (see: Ruslan Fedotenko, 2004; Maxime Talbot, 2009), but for Vancouver, they need the stars to show up for this game more so than the role players. Throw in Luongo’s
mental demons issues into the pot, and things wouldn’t appear to be that great.
This, however, is game seven, and with that comes a clean slate. Don’t just throw out the tapes, throw out the old sticks and pucks while you’re at it. This is the great equalizer, where history will often be the judge, and history is on Vancouver’s side. Of the 15 game sevens in Stanley Cup Final history, the home team has won 12 times, and this is the first Stanley Cup Final game seven in the long ‘Original Six’ history of the Boston Bruins. To go even further, of the last 20 game sevens in a professional sport’s championship round (World Series, NBA Finals, and the Stanley Cup Finals), the home team has won an astonishing 19 times, the only caveat being the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins winning 2-1 at Detroit.
Before 2009, the last pro team to do it was another Pittsburgh team, the ‘We-are-familee’ Pirates in game seven of the 1979 World Series in Baltimore. Believe it or not, Vancouver can look not to the 79 Bucs, but another Pirates championship as an inspiration and hope for this game seven. The 1960 World Series pitted the rag-tag Pirates against the juggernaut New York Yankees. New York won games two, three, and six in the series by scores of 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0, outscoring the Pirates an astounding 38-3 in the process. Pittsburgh battled back, however, and put together three wins by scores of 6-4, 3-2, and 5-2. You should know what happens next: a kid from Rush Run, Ohio, stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth of game seven, and with one swing of the bat, the Pirates won the game 10-9, and William Stanley Mazeroski walked off into baseball immortality.
Boston has won their three home games 8-1, 4-0, and 5-2, outscoring the Canucks 17-3. Vancouver has won their three home games 1-0, 3-2(OT), and 1-0, all one-goal games. Tale of two series, indeed. This final for Vancouver somewhat mirrors that 1960 World Series, and history is on their side. The MVP of the 1960 World Series was Bobby Richardson — of the losing Yankees. In 2003, J.S. Giguere took home playoff MVP honors, but saw his Mighty Ducks fall in game seven to New Jersey, as the home team won every game of that Stanley Cup Final. In 2011, Tim Thomas will be the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, but history may already be stacked against his Bruins and for Vancouver to win the Stanley Cup. I picked Boston to win this series and I still think they’ll come through, but I will not be surprised if history has the final say. Who will be their team’s Bill Mazeroski? Can anyone rise to the challenge? This moment in sports history dictates that someone will. Lord Stanley’s silver chalice awaits the victor…