Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can We Skip Game Seven?

We are mere hours from the start of Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. No matter the outcome a team will be lifting Lord Stanley for the first time anyone under 35 can remember. Does either team really deserve it?

The Boston Bruins have the chance to lift their first Cup in 37 years. An historic franchise saw the likes of Neeley and Bourque go without lifting the Cup in the spoked B and yet it's extremely easy to dislike the Bruins.

It starts up front with the city of its home. Boston is a city steeped in history and annoyance. Once upon a time the New England area was known for suffering. Only the Celtics, they of Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Red Auerbach won numerous titles in the '80s. Then the seeming curse began. After the unexpected death of draft pick Len Bias the downfall started.

They became a wholey suffering city that was home to four teams that couldn't get over the hump. The 90s saw the Bruins make the Conference Finals, and lose, the Red Sox watch the Yankees win title after title, the Patriots lose the Super Bowl to the Packers, and the Celtics greats slowly retire. The already annoying fans became the most obnoxious suffering fans in the world. Then came The Hoodie.

The rise of Belichick brought about a surprise Super Bowl win for the Patriots, the dink and dunk Pats using a formidable defense and an unlikely heroes arm to best the high flying St. Louis Rams and the "Greatest Show on Turf".

An empire followed soon after. The Patriots would go on to win two of the next three Super Bowls as well as lose another. They just so happened to lose that Super Bowl after an defeated regular season (18-1 still makes me laugh).

In that time the Red Sox made the ALCS, only to lose in brutal fashion to the hated Yankees off of a home run by Aaron #*%@!$ Boone. Things seemed right until the next season when the Sox came back from a 3-0 series hole to beat the hated Yankees 4-3 in the 2004 ALCS and sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. The first title for the franchise in more than 80 years. They would follow it up by another ring in 2007.

Almost on cue the Celtics shed salary and draft picks to take the team out of the basement. Surrounding the Celtics franchise face Paul Pierce with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett they expected to compete right away. The original Big 3 wasted no time, winning the 2008 NBA Finals by beating the equally hated Lakers.

Insert the Bruins. Piddling along as the team that hasn't won in the city of Boston. They were up 3-0 on thr eventual Stanley Cup finalist Philadelphia Flyers before karma caught up to them for 2004. The Flyers stormed back, won the series 4-3 but lost the Finals. The Bruins exacted revenge this season and now stand three periods (maybe more) from making it a clean sweep in Boston over seven years. If their fans weren't bad enough, imagine the effect seven championships in nine tries among four teams in 10 years have on them.

The Canucks, the demure Canucks. Heading in to the season they were so bland. Dangerous but more apt to fall on their face than stick it in yours. Something has changed.

Going in to the Finals they were easy to like. American hero Ryan Kesler was one of their best players. The oddity of the Sedin Twins is one of the more interesting and under appreciated stories in sports history. And then the series started.

The Bite set the tone for things. When Alex Burrows gnawed on the digit of Patrice Bergeron, things seemed off. Then came the flopping. A mere tap of the stick on the leg of any Canuck sent them going down like you punched them in the back of the head with brass knuckles.

Game 3 added more fuel to the fire. A late hit to the head of Nathan Horton by Aaron Rome concussed the Bruins Horton severely and sat him out the rest of the series if not longer. While Rome was suspended the remainder of the series it dug the hole deeper and deeper.

As the flopping and diving continued so began the questions regarding Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. Always considered one of the best in the game he began gaining a reputation as a choke artist. His performance in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver helped dispell the notion slightly but his play against the dreaded Blackhawks in the first round resumed the talks.

Fast forward to the Finals and he changes temperature as unpredictably as Icy Hot. While in Vancouver he is stellar, 3-0 .663 GAA .977 Save%. While in Boston he plays like a beer league goalie, 0-3 11.50 GAA .738 Save%. What has he done to earn the right to lift Lord Stanley?

Once the favorite by the casual fan, the behavior has been an embarrassment to the sport of hockey and suddenly reminds one that they are the team, though far removed, which employed Todd Bertuzzi when he authored one of the NHL's darkest moments.

While there are great stories on each squad, like the Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and his workman-like rise to the top when once thought of as nothing, or Canucks forward Manny Malholtra and his return from a serious eye injury, the overall story remains uninspiring.

When all is taken into consideration it's a rather nasty affair. For the average fan the thought of the should-be-suspended Burrows or the neck breaking Zdeno Chara lifting the Cup is enough to make you wish that one of the Keepers of the Cup, Mike Bolt or Phil Pritchard, would light Lord Stanley ablaze before the B's or the C's sets finger on it.
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