What a difference one win can make. Since the Canucks last played the Bruins at Rogers Arena on June 15th of last year, the Boston Bruins had the summer of their lives. Parades, parties and accolades went their way, as it should for the Stanley Cup champions. The Canucks, on the other hand, have had just about everything about them questioned (their goaltender, their toughness, their heart, their integrity, etc).
Saturday may just be just one game out of 82 for the Canucks, and in regard to the standings that’s true. But in terms of intangibles (team building, confidence), the game is huge. Winning the game will bring a new sense of pride to the team, losing (especially losing badly) will hurt the team’s psyche. It’s the biggest statement game in the history of the franchise. It’ll be an emotionally charged building, and the Bruins will certainly be motivated to stick it to the Canucks again.
There has been some debate among Canucks fans and media about which goalie will start for Vancouver, which I find surprising. Luongo is on a roll right now, playing well for a long stretch of time, including a shutout in his last game. Hiding him from the pressure does not scream confidence to me, and if he’s your guy, you need to play him in a big game like this. Yes, Cory Schneider is from the Boston area, but he’ll get another chance to start there some day. Luongo has had poor performances in the playoffs in Chicago in previous seasons, only to play remarkably well at the United Center the following regular season.
This is an important game for the Canucks. It reminds me a lot of when the Red Wings and Avalanche played each other the year after their conference final appearance in 1996. That’s the year the Avalanche beat the Red Wings in 6 games, and went on to win the Stanley Cup. Game 6 of that series was when Kris Draper had his face smashed in by Claude Lemieux. When they played each other the following season, the Red Wings had revenge on their mind. The game got ugly and a line brawl ensued. The Wings won the game on the ice and won it in the street as well. They also went on to win the Stanley Cup that season.
The most intriguing question going into this game will be how much the Canucks fight back against the Bruins. There’s no doubt that they will be hitting and giving it their all, but what will they do if challenged to fight by one of the Bruins? Will they do some challenging themselves? Will someone want retribution on Johnny Boychuk for breaking Mason Raymond’s back? Will someone go after Brad Marchand after all of his cheap shots in the finals? Will Aaron Rome play? If he does he will almost certainly need to fight. It goes against the mantra of the Canucks to drop the gloves, but I’m not so sure they will avoid fighting in this game.
Of course, the best way for the Canucks to handle this game is to win the game. They can’t get caught up trying to turn the game into a street fight. If they do, they will lose. They should be physical, but keep it between the whistles as much as possible. Stand up for yourself, but don’t lose your head.
I’m not sure there has ever been a more anticipated Canucks game in early January before, hopefully it’ll be a beauty.