BOSTON (AP) Daniel and Henrik Sedin were drafted in the very same building where they’ll try to clinch the Vancouver Canucks first-ever Stanley Cup on Monday night.
The Swedish twins joined the Canucks at TD Garden in 1999, simultaneously pulling on Vancouver’s old Orca sweaters. Nearly a dozen years later, they’ve got their first chance to win Vancouver’s first championship in Game 6 of the finals against the Boston Bruins.
And if the NHL’s highest-scoring duo can manage to score more than the single goal they’ve produced in the entire series against dominant Boston goalie Tim Thomas, it would help the Canucks’ cause immensely. The Canucks might be on the brink of a title, but they still see ample room for improvement in their sprint to the finish.
“We’re still confident,” captain Henrik Sedin said Sunday. “You lose confidence when you’re cheating or doing things wrong, but this is a tough team. … We’re battling hard. They’re a good team. We know we aren’t going to get the chances maybe we get usually. That’s the way it is. We have to bear down and get chances, and find a way to beat Tim Thomas.”
The confounding struggles of the NHL’s past two scoring champions – Henrik has been shut out, and Daniel scored his two points in an 11-minute span of Game 2 – are just one strange aspect of these compelling finals, which began with a bite and grew to include taunts, a devastating late hit and plenty of media sniping from both dressing rooms.
They’ll go to Game 7 in Vancouver on Wednesday if the Bruins defend the Garden ice again in a series dominated by the home teams.
“We don’t want to see anybody raising the Cup on our home ice,” Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. “We can’t focus on the future or on the past. We have to be in the moment in Game 6.”
Boston has outscored Vancouver 14-6 in the series, and Thomas has flummoxed the Canucks with a performance that seems likely to win him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP even if the Bruins lose the series.
The 37-year-old veteran sees ample reason to believe the Bruins can extend their season to its limit.
“You try to get the same focus that you had as a kid when you were out playing on the pond and you’re just enjoying the game,” Thomas said. “Really, if you approach it like that, it can be really fun.”
But all spring, Vancouver has shown a resourcefulness borne out of years of playoff failures for the Sedins, who have spent a decade working to get the Canucks to the brink of the first title in their 40-year history.
After racking up the regular season’s best record and then surviving several playoff scares, the Canucks don’t want to wait another day for their first Cup.
“We’re in a great spot,” Henrik Sedin said. “We’re one win away from winning it, so we’re excited. But we know if we get out of our comfort zone and start getting overly excited, it’s going to take away from our game. That’s a key for us, to come in here tomorrow and play the way we have all year.”
Although New England has rallied behind the Bruins in their quest for their first Cup since 1972, the streets of downtown Boston are unlikely to be filled Monday night with more than 100,000 screaming hockey fans and revelers, as Vancouver was last Friday when the Canucks moved to the brink with a 1-0 victory in Game 5.
Vancouver might be ready for a party that will make last year’s Olympic festivities look like a high school prom, but nothing in the series’ first five games suggests anybody will be dancing before Wednesday.
The home teams are unbeaten in the finals, and Boston has won nine of its past 10 at the Garden after losing its first two to Montreal in the first round.
Defenseman Kevin Bieksa said the Canucks have tried to avoid thinking about the pressure on their shoulders as they attempt to close out a landmark championship for Canada’s westernmost franchise. Vancouver has persevered despite key injuries, a brutal travel schedule and a fan base that’s both adoring and hypercritical.
“When they say it’s the hardest trophy to win, they’re absolutely right,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “It’s so taxing physically on the players, so demanding with the travel, that it makes it a challenge. But our group, we said all along since Day One that we were ready for this, and we’re trying to prove it.”
But can the Canucks prove it without going to Game 7? Boston outscored them 12-1 in the series’ first two games at the Garden – and nobody exemplifies Vancouver’s road struggles better than goalie Roberto Luongo, who turned in three stellar performances at home and laid two eggs in Boston.
The Canadian Olympic star is just 5-5 in the postseason with a 3.49 goals-against average and an .885 save percentage away from Vancouver, compared to a 10-3 mark with a 1.70 GAA and a .943 save percentage at Rogers Arena. All four of Luongo’s playoff shutouts were at home, too.
“I don’t want to start making excuses for what happened here in the first two games,” said Luongo, who gave up 12 goals in just over four periods before getting pulled from Game 4. “Maybe they got the first goal, a couple of lucky bounces, whatever it was, and as a team we got away from the game plan, myself included.”
Although the series has been a fascinating contrast of styles on the ice, it also has featured more than its share of bad sportsmanship, posturing and questionable behavior – from Alex Burrows’ bite in Game 1 and the ensuing taunts to Aaron Rome’s late hit on Nathan Horton in Game 3.
Luongo sparked another minor fire after Game 5 while explaining that his goaltending style might have given him a better chance than Thomas to stop Maxim Lapierre’s game-winning goal.
The Bruins mostly brushed it off, and Luongo didn’t apologize Saturday while noting he had been praising Thomas throughout the series – “pumping his tires,” Luongo called it – while Thomas hadn’t said anything complimentary about him.
“I know we’re in the Stanley Cup final, and everything is under the microscope and going to get blown out of proportion,” Luongo said. “My whole comment, I don’t think was a negative comment if you take the whole comment. But at the end of the day, you know what? I’m one win away from winning the Stanley Cup, and that’s all I really care about right now. All the other stuff is noise to me.”
The 37-year-old Thomas chuckled Sunday about the entire brouhaha.
“I didn’t realize it was my job to pump his tires,” Thomas said. “I guess I have to apologize for that.”
The Canucks blew three straight chances to close out the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, but they’re 3-1 in closeout games since, finishing off San Jose on their first try in the Western Conference finals.
Boston had two chances to close out series in Game 6 during the postseason, but failed both times. They’re playing their third elimination game at the Garden this spring.
The Bruins won Game 7 matchups with Montreal and Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but they can’t rely this time on Horton, who scored the winning goals in both games.
Horton is out for the series with a concussion, but he showed up in the Bruins’ locker room after Game 4 last Wednesday to give a boost to his teammates. Boston’s first line looked good with Rich Peverley in Horton’s place that night, but did relatively little in Game 5.
“We’ve always believed in ourselves, or we never would have made it to this position,” Peverley said. “We still believe we can win.”
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