COACHING CHANGES TRANSACTIONS POWER POLL DEPTH CHARTS CURRENT ODDS
By Dan Di Sciullo
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Knowing what home ice has meant so far in this series it's hard not to envision the Canucks hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup after Wednesday's Game 7 in Vancouver.
That being said, wouldn't you feel better if you were the Boston Bruins heading into the upcoming decisive contest? After all, the B's notched another lopsided victory in Boston on Monday, and despite not winning a game in Vancouver, Claude Julien's club has been very competitive on the road in this series.
Of course, the change in venue from Beantown to B.C. could make all the difference for Vancouver. The Canucks have won their three home tilts by a combined 5-2 score, while the Bruins simply destroyed Vancouver, 17-3, over the three meetings at Boston's TD Garden.
The biggest question heading into Game 7 is the same one the Canucks answered in Game 5: Can Roberto Luongo bounce back from a terrible outing to lead Vancouver to victory?
Luongo was battered for 12 goals over Games 3 and 4 in Boston, but he rebounded to make 31 saves in a 1-0 shutout victory for the Canucks in the following test at Rogers Arena. It marked his second 1-0 shutout of the series.
While Boston netminder Tim Thomas, who, like Luongo, is a Vezina Trophy finalist this year, has been sharp in all six games played so far, Luongo's home-and-road discrepancies in the Cup Finals are almost too jarring to believe. He has a 0.67 goals-against average and a .979 save percentage on home ice compared to an 8.05 GAA and .773 save percentage in Boston.
"I'm not going to make any excuses," Luongo said of his road struggles after Game 6. "It just didn't happen for me obviously, in all three games. I'm just going to move on right now and we have one game at home to win a Stanley Cup. We've had some success there as a team so that's what we're looking forward to right now."
The Canucks earned the right to host Game 7 of the Cup Finals after posting the NHL's best record in the regular season, but even they couldn't have imagined it would mean this much. Vancouver didn't even look like a playoff team, let alone a Stanley Cup contender when playing in Boston, but here the Canucks are with one home game left to secure the franchise's first-ever championship.
Boston's best chance to win Wednesday's final showdown is to get to Luongo early. The Bruins scored four times in a span of 4:14 in the first period on Monday and they need to figure out a way to take even a fraction of that offense with them to B.C.
An early goal -- like the one Boston's Brad Marchand scored on Monday to give his club a 1-0 lead at 5:31 of the first period -- could put a seed of doubt not only into Luongo's mind, but also into the thoughts of the over 18,000 fans in attendance at Rogers Arena.
CONN SMYTHE WATCH
It's looking more and more likely that Thomas will claim the NHL's postseason MVP trophy, even if his club winds up losing the series in seven.
Through 24 games in the 2011 playoffs, Thomas is sporting a 15-9 record to go with league-leading numbers in both GAA (2.06) and save percentage (.937). His three shutouts are second only to Luongo. The 37-year-old Michigan native has yielded one goal or less in four of six games so far in the Cup Finals and has turned aside 201-of-209 shots over the span of the series.
Thomas' Conn Smythe chances are also aided by the fact that Vancouver hasn't had one of their players emerge as dominant in the Cup Finals. Even if the Canucks win on Wednesday, it would be difficult to find a Vancouver player more worthy of the award than Boston's netminder.
With the playoff lead in both goals (12) and points (23), Boston forward David Krejci seems to be Thomas' best competition for the prize, but my guess is Krejci would need to have a big Game 7 and for the Bruins to win in order to supplant his goaltender as the Conn Smythe favorite.
If Thomas does win the Smythe he would be only the second American to ever claim the prestigious trophy. The only other U.S.-born player to be named playoff MVP was New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch, who helped his club beat Vancouver in seven games during the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals.