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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Here is what is on our radar heading into Wednesday night's Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks:
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo is bound to be the story of Game 7 no matter which way the cookie crumbles. Having imploded in three games in Boston, allowing 15 goals in about 5½ periods of hockey, Luongo has reinforced the notion that he is as fragile as a piece of rice paper. Yet his play at home in this series, two 1-0 victories and a combined two goals allowed in three games, suggests he has the goods to be the Game 7 hero. Is he mentally strong enough to put his miserable road performances behind him, performances that have seen him yanked in two of the three games, including Game 6? Do his ill-timed comments about counterpart Tim Thomas after Game 5 haunt him for all time? One way or another, Game 7 is a defining moment for the Vancouver netminder.
On the other side of the coin is Thomas, the unflappable Boston netminder. He has allowed just eight goals in this series and has virtually locked up the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP without even stepping onto the ice for Game 7. But that's not where his focus is, and his joking, calm demeanor must be a powerful tonic for the Bruins as they head into Game 7.
"He's relaxed, and when the time for the game to happen comes, he's focused and ready to go," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "I think it's a great way to be as a player because you can't be tense and feel the pressure day in, day out, night in, night out. You have to be able to release at times and refocus and get that energy back."
Thomas has been especially good at keeping the Bruins in games after slow starts. That may be crucial in Game 7, when you can expect an early Canucks surge.
OK, this isn't really a Joe Namath moment, especially after Daniel Sedin clarified his original comments, but the Canucks forward did say his team would win Game 7.
"What did you expect him to say? Come on, we're in this to win," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday morning. "Daniel is one of our leaders on our group and he believes in the group, and he expressed it. I think it's a normal thing to do at this time."
Good point. But the Canucks have displayed an almost alarming lack of concern about how poorly they played on the road in Game 6 with the Cup there for the taking. Fair enough. But is it really about not getting the bounces or having better luck? Maybe it is.
The team seems to have done a good job of forgetting the past, good and bad, and focusing on the future. For the Canucks, the future is Wednesday night.
The bottom line for the Canucks will be getting maximum performances from their top players, including Sedin, who has been the better of the twins in the series with one goal and three assists. Brother Henrik has one goal (it came after Game 6 was decided), and Ryan Kesler has just one assist. That said, none of that will matter if the Canucks manage to win.
"Everything in the past is in the past," Kesler said. "If we win [Wednesday], we become legends and I don't think anybody worries about that I have one point in six games."
Because Mason Raymond is out with a fractured vertebra after an unfortunate encounter with Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk in Game 6, the Canucks must dig even deeper into their roster in the hopes of pulling off a Game 7 victory. Already without top defenseman Dan Hamhuis since Game 1 (injury) and top-six defenseman Aaron Rome since Game 3 (suspension), the loss of Raymond adds another layer of concern for a team that has managed just eight goals against Boston.
Whether it's Jeff Tambellini, who will rejoin the lineup for Game 7, or Vigneault breaking up his dynamic third line to add spark to a dormant second line, the Canucks' depth is being stretched to the breaking point at the worst possible time.
The team that has scored the first goal of the game has won all six of the Cup finals contests. The Bruins are 11-1 when they score first and will be determined to put a pin in Luongo's balloon and suck the life out of Rogers Arena as quickly as possible. They haven't been able to do that yet, but that will be the goal in trying to gain an early edge.
The Canucks, meanwhile, have been able to exert their will through physical play as the games have gone along. They will hope to do the same in Game 7, slowly taking over and using the crowd to their advantage. Whether it's on the power play or not, look for both teams to surge early in the hopes of gaining an early edge. They'll try to do it without going over the edge and drawing an early penalty that could tip the scales.