Commentary

My, how this Cup finals has changed

Updated: June 10, 2011, 12:00 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- We recall a conversation with David Krejci early in this Stanley Cup finals series. The Boston center was being asked about Ryan Kesler, the dominant Vancouver center who had set up the winning goal in Game 1 with 18.5 seconds left in regulation.

Krejci didn't appear to enjoy the line of questioning, suggesting sarcastically that, gee, Kesler must be one of the best players in the world given how people were talking about him.

"That's how it looks. Everybody's asking me about him," Krejci said.

[+] EnlargeZdeno Chara and Ryan Kesler
Brian Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesRyan Kesler, right, and the Sedin twins have seen plenty of Boston D-man Zdeno Chara in the Cup finals.

Seems like a long time ago, no? A lifetime even.

But that's the nature of the playoffs, and the Cup finals series specifically. Time is distorted.

The time between shifts becomes elongated, the time between periods drawn out and the time between games vast given the dramatic twists of fate that can occur over even the smallest increments of time.

The Vancouver Canucks must certainly feel that way after being waxed by the Bruins by a cumulative 12-1 score in Games 3 and 4 in Boston. After the Canucks left Vancouver with a 2-0 series lead in which the Bruins scored just twice, there was already the beginning of the Conn Smythe Trophy debate.

Would it be Kesler, the dynamic if polarizing winger whose playoff performances had so often veered into the heroic this spring?

Would it be Daniel Sedin, the NHL's regular-season scoring leader and Hart Trophy candidate?

Would it be his brother, Henrik, last season's MVP hardware winner?

Or would it be netminder Roberto Luongo, who had been so good for so long in the playoffs starting late in the first round against Chicago?

Um, did we mention this seems a lifetime ago?

Now we wonder if Luongo has lost his mojo for good after being yanked in Game 4 after giving up four goals on 20 shots and allowing eight more the night before. But the former Canucks captain was sounding very captain-like as a handful of players and coach Alain Vigneault met with the media after a cross-continent flight Thursday.

"It's hockey. It's the playoffs and stuff happens," Luongo said. "If you let that affect you, that's when you're going to get in trouble. But if you're able to wake up the next day, it's a new day and a fresh start. Last time I checked, it's 2-2 in the series, so I don't see why we should be depressed or whatever it may be. We're in a two-out-of-three Stanley Cup finals. If I was told that before the start of the year, I mean, where do I sign? That's the bottom line for us."

Vigneault was emphatic in his support for Luongo, saying the veteran would without question be between the pipes for Game 5.

"You can bet on that," Vigneault said. "Roberto is the guy. He's my guy and he's playing. It's that simple."

Had the Vancouver coach not been less than truthful in the first round of the playoffs when he insisted the same thing and then started Cory Schneider in Game 6 of that series against Chicago, we might feel a whole lot more certain about Friday's Game 5. But for anyone who thinks the Canucks' problems begin and end with Luongo, they haven't watched the games in Boston very closely.

The two Sedins, players who combined for 198 regular-season points and have won the scoring title the past two seasons, have managed to come up with a goal and an assist in this series, both by Daniel. Henrik managed his first shots on goal of the series in Wednesday's 4-0 whitewash.

After a dominating first period in Game 4, during which the twins and Alex Burrows seemed to be a dangerous threat every time they were on the ice, they disappeared. Poof. Whether they will reappear anytime soon, let alone Friday night, is anyone's guess.

And then there's Kesler, a controversial figure given how difficult it is to balance his tremendous play against his penchant for trash talking, diving and hacking. For all his toughness and bravado, Kesler declined an offer to fight with San Jose captain Joe Thornton at the beginning of the West finals only to then end up fighting in the Cup finals against Dennis Seidenberg, who has a handful of fights in his career and admitted after he has no idea how to go about that element of the game.

Heroic? Uh, not quite, especially when he continued to try to punch away at Seidenberg after the two had fallen to the ice.

Kesler, whom Nashville coach Barry Trotz likened to Mark Messier after Kesler was a one-man wrecking crew against the Predators in the second round, has one assist against the Bruins. There are lingering suspicions he was nursing an injury coming into the finals and he was rocked by a big Johnny Boychuk hit in Game 2 and was a non-factor other than scrums and yammering in the two games in Boston.

Many people have drawn parallels to last season's Cup finals between Chicago and Philadelphia. The Blackhawks opened with two wins at home, and one wondered if the Flyers had it in them to win a game at all, let alone the series. But the Flyers, like the Bruins, held serve at home before losing the final two games of the series, the clincher coming off Patrick Kane's stick in overtime in Philadelphia.

But as good as Chicago was -- and they were full measure for their Cup win -- they were never humiliated by the Flyers in the way the Canucks have been humiliated these past two games. The Canucks insist it doesn't matter how you win or lose, you just count them up and hope you've got more wins than losses at the end of the day.

"We're excited about the opportunity that's in front of us," Vigneault said. "Geez, we're one of the last two teams playing for the Stanley Cup, two-out-of-three with home-ice advantage in this great city with these great fans. It doesn't get much better than this."

What else are they going to say? That their spirit has been broken? That their best players have been a grand disappointment and their top goalie looks like a shell of the one that started the series just a week ago?

In the end, Vigneault didn't hide behind any rhetoric, acknowledging his best players have to be better.

"They're elite players, and if we've gotten to where we are today, it's because our top players have been, on most nights, the best players on the ice," Vigneault said. "We're no different than anybody else. Obviously, we need those guys to play up to their standards and they will."

It's not rocket science to figure out he better be right.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.