Stanley Cup finals: The day the Canucks and Bruins have dreamed of
With a respectful nod to the late, great coach "Badger" Bob Johnson, who considered every day a great day for hockey, Wednesday dawned as a great day for the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks, who will bring the NHL season and the Stanley Cup finals to a dramatic close.
"Every day, you don't wake up playing for the Cup, playing in a Game 7," Canucks center Ryan Kesler said. "It's awesome."
For both teams. "It doesn't get any better than this," said Bruins winger Milan Lucic, a Vancouver native.
The teams will meet at 5 p.m. PDT at Rogers Arena, with the Bruins seeking their first title since 1972 and the Canucks their first Cup since they joined the NHL as an expansion team for the 1970-71 season. A victory for the Canucks would also be the first for a Canada-based team since the Montreal Canadiens beat the Kings in 1993, a long and painful drought for a country where hockey isn't just a game -- it's a part of the fabric of life.
Both teams have players from various countries, but for Canada this is a seminal moment. Bruins Coach Claude Julien recognized that.
"I'm a Canadian. I know what Canadian cities are all about. And this is an opportunity for Vancouver to win their first Stanley Cup, so you can understand the excitement here," he said.
Here's proof: a look at the front pages of the major newspapers of the two cities involved.
This has been an odd series. Each of the first six games was won by the home team, and the Bruins have outscored the Canucks, 19-8. Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo has been brilliant, recording 1-0 shutouts in Games 1 and 5, and he has been awful, getting pulled twice in Boston.
But all that isn't likely to mean a whole lot Wednesday when the teams take to the ice.
"It's two good teams. It's Game 7. Both teams are going to battle extremely hard," Kesler said. "It's going to be a great game tonight."
A couple of lineup notes: Winger Jeff Tambellini, a former first-round draft pick by the Kings, will replace the injured Mason Raymond for the Canucks. Raymond suffered a vertebrae compression fracture as the result of being shoved into the boards by Boston's Johnny Boychuk in Game 6 and faces months of recovery and rehabilitation. Canucks Coach Alain Vigneault said he expected Raymond to be released from a Boston hospital Wednesday or Thursday.
Tambellini grew up in the Vancouver area and said he used to pretend he was Trevor Linden or Pavel Bure when he played street hockey near his home and imagined playing in the Stanley Cup finals. He said he’s thrilled to be playing for real.
"It's a great opportunity, the chance of a lifetime, so I might as well make the most of it," said Tambellini, whose father, Steve, won the Cup with the New York Islanders in 1980.
"It's as good as it gets. We're 60 minutes away from exactly what we've worked for all year. It's a group of 26 guys that's had to find a way after a lot of adversity this year. We’re going to put our best foot forward."
For the Bruins, Julien was quick to crush speculation about a possible return by winger Nathan Horton, who suffered a concussion in Game 3 after a late hit by Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome. Horton accompanied the Bruins to Vancouver, and his teammates put his gear in his stall to signify that he's still part of the team, but Julien emphatically quashed rumors that Horton might play.
"Let me cut your question short. Absolutely no. It's ridiculous. So let's put an end to that," the coach said at a morning news conference.
Check back later for more coverage at www.latimes.com/sports.
-- Helene Elliott in Vancouver, Canada
Top photo: A statue of Lord Stanley is draped in a Vancouver Canucks sweater and holding a replica of the Stanley Cup trophy placed in its hands in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday. Credit: Andy Clark / Reuters
Bottom photo: A Boston Bruins fan holds a sign during Game 6 on Monday. Credit: Jonathan Hayward / Associated Press / The Canadian Press