x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

One title drought will end in Stanley Cup final

Vancouver Canucks is loaded at every position, writes Sam McCaig, but no one should count out Boston Bruins just yet.

Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, right, is a leading candidate as the play-offs best player.
Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, right, is a leading candidate as the play-offs best player.

The NHL's play-off advertising campaign, featuring the catchphrase "History Will Be Made", is coming to fruition. And in the Stanley Cup final, no less.

The championship showdown between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins is historic because it features a 40-year-old NHL franchise, the Canucks, that has never won the cup, going up against an Original Six franchise, the Bruins, who have not won since 1972, Bobby Orr's heyday.

Either way, a championship drought four decades in the making is coming to an end.

The Canucks are considered favourites, as Vancouver easily captured the Presidents' Trophy as the league's best regular-season team. In the play-offs they vanquished their perennial nemesis, the Chicago Blackhawks, in overtime of Game 7, ousted stingy Nashville in six games and dispatched San Jose in five games.

The Canucks are rested, talented and deeper than the Bruins, and that depth could be bolstered by the return of centre Manny Malhotra from a serious eye injury.

Even without Malhotra, the Canucks have proven to be a dominant, dangerous team. Goalie Roberto Luongo has answered those who decried his ability to deliver in the clutch. The Sedin twins - Daniel and Henrik - are battling to be the play-off's leading scorer. Two-way force Ryan Kesler is a play-off MVP candidate. The agitator, Alex Burrows, has scored clutch goals. The defence corps is skilled, mobile, physical and goes eight deep.

But the Bruins are no pushovers. The Boston goalie, Tim Thomas, has carried his strong season performance into the play-offs. and Zdeno Chara logs 30 minutes of quality ice time per game.

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's answer to Vancouver's Kesler. The top-liners David Krejci and Milan Lucic have improved.

The winger, Nathan Horton, who scored two overtime winners in Round 1 against Montreal, had the lone goal in a 1-0 Game 7 decision over Tampa Bay in the East final. And players such as the 43-year-old veteran Mark Recchi and the 19-year-old rookie Tyler Seguin have contributed at key times. Boston has deservedly made it to the final, but the Bruins will have to be at their absolute best to beat a loaded Canucks team on the verge of its first Stanley Cup.


This week in the NHL

Players of the week

• Nathan Horton, Boston. The power forward scored the only goal in Boston’s 1-0 Game 7 win over Tampa, ushering the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup final berth in 21 years.

• Tim Thomas, Boston. The bearded goalie posted a shutout in a winner-take-all Game 7. It does not get much bigger than that.

• Kevin Bieksa, Vancouver. The hard-rock defenceman, below, has contributed in the attack, including the Game 5 overtime winner to spur Vancouver into the Cup final.

Teams of the week

• Boston Bruins. Boston survived their second Game 7 of the play-offs to make it to the final.

• Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have been off for a week since ousting the Sharks, so they will be rested, healthy and ready. Look out, Boston.

Duds of the week

• Atlanta Thrashers. It is finally official – the Thrashers have changed owners and will relocate to Winnipeg, meaning the NHL will have failed for a second time in Atlanta.

• Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay. Lecavalier had only one goal in seven games against Boston, and failed to score in their final five contests.

Games of the week

• Boston v Vancouver, Wednesday and Saturday. The fourth and final round of the play-offs finally gets going as Vancouver hosts a Stanley Cup game for the first time since 1994. The NHL is stretching out the final; if it goes the distance, Game 7 is scheduled for June 15.