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The Stanley Cup finals kick off Wednesday with the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks looking to end long championship droughts. Vancouver has been a favorite since the start of the season, while the Bruins are playing their best hockey when it counts most. Here are five things to watch for in the 2011 finals.
1. Disco dandies
The last time the Bruins won a Stanley Cup, disco hadn't yet died and "The Godfather" was tops at the box office. It was 1972, and the Canucks had been part of the NHL for only two years. Since then, the Bruins have made it back to the finals five times, but haven't been able to return to center ice to reclaim the trophy. The Canucks have never won it all and have been to the finals only twice since entering the league.
2. Pipe dreams
The finals feature two of the three 2011 Vezina Trophy finalists, Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and Boston's Tim Thomas. After three playoff series, the netminders boast identical goals-against averages of 2.29; this year one of them will lift the Stanley Cup above his head for the very first time.
Zdeno Chara, Boston's monster of a defender, will be charged with slowing down Vancouver's twin stars, Henrik and Daniel Sedin. It doesn't seem fair to give one man the job of stopping two, but if anyone can do it, it's the 6-foot-9 Chara. The Bruins' success may very well hinge upon the dominance of their supersized Slovakian.
4. Well, isn't that special?
The Bruins have managed to make it to the finals despite an abhorrent power-play unit that has a postseason efficiency of just 8.2 percent. They'll line up opposite a Canucks team that has connected on an impressive 28.3 percent of its power-play chances in the playoffs. The teams are evenly matched on the penalty kill, so Vancouver's edge with the man advantage may give it the edge on the scoreboard, as well.
5. The summer of Stanley
At the end of every NHL season, one team gets the glory, while 29 others can't wait to get back onto the ice for their shot at history. By the end of this year's finals, the residents of either Boston or Vancouver will get to be a part of the biggest party in sports, and as a Chicagoan, I can tell them firsthand, there's nothing that can compare to a Summer of Stanley.