Stanley Cup finals, Game 7, let's predict!
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- As we count down to Wednesday night's Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks, here are a few things to ponder in the Why Won't You Say Something Nice About Me series:
Going the distance
This is the third Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals since the lockout and all three games have involved different teams: Edmonton-Carolina in 2006, Pittsburgh-Detroit in 2009 and now Boston and Vancouver. Carolina won at home, while Pittsburgh won on the road. Call Wednesday's tilt the rubber match.
"We worked all year long to get home ice, to play in front of these great fans, to feed off their energy and that's what we're getting tomorrow," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said Tuesday. "I think our home record is pretty good, too," he added with a smile.
Prediction: Boston wins first road game of the series for the Cup.
Which Boston shot will beat Roberto Luongo for the first goal?
In Game 6, the Canucks goalie allowed Brad Marchand to beat him with a long snap shot on the second shot of the game and then a Milan Lucic five-hole goal on the fifth before Andrew Ference found the back of the net on the Bruins' eighth shot.
Perhaps the better question is whether "Mr. Feast or Famine" will allow any Boston shots to beat him after he pitched two shutouts at home and allowed two goals combined in the three home wins in this series. Regardless, will there be a more closely watched player on either team, especially through the first 10 minutes of Game 7?
Prediction: The second shot.
How much patience will they have?
Given that the Bruins are 11-1 when scoring first in the playoffs and the team that has scored first has won all six games in this series, just how long is Luongo's leash if he wobbles early as he did in Boston?
Cory Schneider has played well in relief of Luongo this spring and is considered a top-notch goaltending prospect. Still, this is Game 7; it's not a decision to be made lightly, especially after Vigneault said he replaced Luongo after the third goal in Game 6 because "I just felt it was the thing to do at the time."
Prediction: Luongo survives the game, but doesn't get the win.
Filling in the gap
With Mason Raymond out with a fractured vertebra after being taken awkwardly into the boards by Boston's Johnny Boychuk in Game 6, what does Vigneault do to fill the gap on the already toothless second line with Ryan Kesler and Christopher Higgins?
While Jeff Tambellini could slot in on that line, one of the most interesting players we've seen in this series has been Jannik Hansen, who has shown flashes of strong offensive play for the Canucks. But does Vigneault risk breaking up a line that includes Max Lapierre, Raffi Torres and Hansen, a trio that has been the most physical and consistent of any Vancouver unit thus far in the finals? They have combined for four goals, four assists and two game-winners in the series. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The problem is the rest of the Canucks' offense is looking like a three-wheeled cart.
"For us, injuries and adversity have been part of our daily routine throughout this season and we faced every one of them head on," Vigneault said. "It's very unfortunate for Mason not to be able to play in the seventh game, but the guys that we have available are going to jump on the opportunity."
Prediction: Look for Tambellini to get a look.
Conn Smythe Trophy is a lock
Tim Thomas has pretty much locked up the Conn Smythe Trophy regardless of what happens in Game 7. That is a testament to his strong play, but also to the mercurial effort put in by almost every Canucks player. Imagine if Luongo shuts out the Bruins for a fourth time in this series; we can pretty much guarantee from talking to other voters it won't be enough to get him within range of the playoff MVP hardware given his tawdry play on the road throughout the playoffs.
And even if the Canucks win Wednesday, who else is Conn Smythe-worthy? Alex Burrows? Lapierre? Kesler? The Sedin twins? Sorry, all have proven to be ineffectual throughout the Cup finals. As for the Bruins, win or lose, there isn't anyone who has shown a consistent level of performance like Thomas. Dennis Seidenberg has likely been the most consistent Bruin from start to finish in the postseason, while captain Zdeno Chara has shaken off a couple of soft outings early in the series to be a force in the latter stages.
Prediction: It's Thomas or bust.
Thomas in Game 7
Thomas has gone seven straight postseason games without giving up more than three goals. He's allowed two or fewer in six of those games. Can he keep it up for one more game or does he have a Luongo in him, one of those games when everything just goes in no matter what? The Canucks sure hope so, but then again, they also thought their power play was rounding into form the past three games.
Prediction: It's hard to imagine Thomas would take this moment to go sideways, but that's the same thing we thought of Luongo in Game 6.
Against which Bruins player will Maxim Lapierre feign a ghastly injury in Game 7 in the hopes of drawing a penalty? Having pretended to have been impaled by Chara in Game 5, we are guessing he will throw himself to the ice like a sack of potatoes when he brushes against Johnny Boychuk or fling himself into the end glass while passing Adam McQuaid.
Prediction: We'll see it.
Over/under on how many power-play goals we'll see
The Bruins have outscored the Canucks 5-2 on the power play through six games, including two more in Game 6, and seem to have more going on the man advantage than the talented Canucks. Still, a low-scoring special teams game should give the Bruins an excellent chance at stealing the Cup given their strong five-on-five play throughout the playoffs and a Canucks lineup that will now be missing regulars Dan Hamhuis (injured), Aaron Rome (suspended) and Raymond.
Prediction: Let's say two and we'll take the under.
Is this the end?
The oldest player in the NHL, 43-year-old Mark Recchi had three assists in Game 6 to add to his three goals and grab a share of the scoring lead in the Cup finals. He has done yeoman work throughout his career, but he has, not surprisingly, been a step behind for much of the finals. Recchi has said he will walk away a la Ray Bourque if the Bruins win Wednesday night.
Even if they lose, this has to be as good as it gets for a player who is the NHL's active points leader and should be given serious Hall of Fame consideration given his 577 goals and 1,533 regular-season points, not to mention 146 postseason points.
Prediction: Win, lose or quadruple overtime, you have to figure this is it for the venerable veteran.
Kaberle coming on just in time?
Is it possible we are actually seeing signs of life from much-maligned Boston defenseman Tomas Kaberle? Kaberle's ice time has gone up in recent games, from a paltry 12:25 in Game 2 to 18:56 in Game 6. It means Boston coach Claude Julien has either found more faith in Kaberle's play or has enjoyed the fact the Bruins have been ahead for the most part at home.
Nonetheless, Kaberle's accurate point shot was redirected by Michael Ryder for the Bruins' fourth goal in Game 6 and he has made fewer of the tentative plays that had earlier been turned into Vancouver scoring chances. Can you imagine if Kaberle actually turns in a heroic performance in Game 7? It certainly won't hurt his chances of a big payday on July 1, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Prediction: Kaberle doesn't embarrass himself, which is a minor miracle given his earlier play.
The coaching duel
One of the interesting storylines at the start of this series was the relationship between coaches Julien and Vigneault. They have followed similar career paths and were once teammates in the minor leagues. The two are good friends, but one wonders if this series, especially with all the undercurrents of nastiness and malcontent, will affect that relationship.
For example, the relationship between Todd McLellan and his former mentor in Detroit, Mike Babcock, is different now that McLellan's Sharks have ousted the Red Wings in two straight postseasons.
Prediction: We're guessing there might not be many cottage visits this summer.
Which of the Sedin twins will Brad Marchand use as a speed bag?
After repeated pummeling Daniel Sedin in Game 6, Marchand, who has established a franchise record with nine playoff goals by a rookie, said he did it simply because he wanted to.
Wonder if anyone from the Canucks will step up should it happen again? Will one of the Sedins actually defend himself in the face of such fury? Will an official at some point step in and make a call?
Prediction: Henrik, as Marchand goes 2-for-2.
So, which team wins?
The Bruins will win their first Stanley Cup since 1972 with a 5-2 decision over the Canucks.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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