Tonight Vancouver will host the Boston in Game 2 of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals. Canucks and Bruins fans have been waiting a combined total of 79 years for their teams to win the National Hockey League’s ultimate prize.
The Canucks joined the NHL in 1970. They’ve only made the finals twice and lost both times, most recently in 1994. The Bruins last won the Stanley Cup in 1972. To Allston, Massachusetts resident Dan Walker, a victory this year would be just as memorable as the end of another well-known Boston winless streak.
“I think it’ll be on par with the ’04 Red Sox because I think there are a lot of Bruins fans that have quietly suffered for 39 years,” Walker said. “It hasn’t been as vocal as with the Red Sox. We’ve had the same kind of curse on us, I feel sometimes, just the stupid bounces, the stupid breaks.”
Ed Willes is a sports columnist for The Province newspaper in British Columbia, Canada. He says Vancouver fans feel the same way.
“Canucks fans like to think of themselves as low-rent versions of Red Sox fans. They’ve suffered with this team. They’ve been close so many times and a series of calamities have conspired against them in the last minute,” Willes said. “Consumed is an awful strong word, but the fans are so emotionally invested in this team.”
Of New England’s four major sports franchises, the Bruins are the only one without a championship in the relatively new millennium. And the Canucks have some national pride at stake. No Canadian team has won the Cup since 1993.
Toronto Star sports columnist Damien Cox is in British Columbia covering the finals. He says Canada tends to pick on Vancouver for not being Canadian enough, but that started to change after the city hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics.
“But I still don’t think it’s going to be easy for Vancouver to been seen as Canada’s team in quite the same way [as Montreal or Toronto might be],” Cox said. “Although I would say, that getting the Cup back, I think Canadian hockey fans would be happy whether it was Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa, whatever it would take.”
The way Boston and Vancouver have been playing, fans might have expected some instant offense Wednesday in Game 1, but they’d have to wait a little longer. There were 69 shots on goal and more than 59 minutes of regulation before the game’s first and only goal.
With just under 19 seconds left, Canucks winger Raffi Torres scored what would be the game winner. In a press conference Thursday, Bruins head coach Claude Julien said limiting the NHL’s top offense to one goal clearly isn’t enough.
“I would say that our team is and will play better, is capable of playing better and will definitely play better next game,” Julien said. “That’s a thing that we believe in and we also understand that we have to play better if we intend on winning some games here.”
Vancouver and Boston don’t have much of a rivalry, but they do have some connections. Former Bruins star and current team president Cam Neely spent 3 years with the Canucks before being traded to Boston in 1986. Current Boston winger Milan Lucic is a Vancouver native. And British Columbia is home to Boston Pizza, a restaurant chain that decided it would be best to rename itself “Vancouver Pizza” … at least for the Finals.
But even without a lot of history, things still got testy in Game 1. In a scrum in the first period, Bruins center Patrice Bergeron’s gloved hand ended up in Vancouver forward Alex Burrows’ mouth and Burrows bit down. Kevin Paul Dupont covers the NHL for the Boston Globe.
“It just takes the game to a place nobody likes to see, whatever the sport is. What comes to my mind, when people are out there biting, it’s either a baby in diapers or it’s some studio set rehearsed mockery of whatever sport you want to pick, wrestling or boxing,” Dupont said. “Hey, we did see it in boxing with Mike Tyson, didn’t we?”
The NHL reviewed the incident, but after chewing it over, declined to suspend Burrows, and Bergeron said he was just focused on trying to win Game 2 tonight in Vancouver. That’s probably for the best, because the incident might have overshadowed some remarkable stories – like the Bruins 37-year-old goalie Tim Thomas, who took his skills to Finland while waiting eight years for an NHL team to give him a chance.
“Two twins win consecutive Art Ross trophies for leading the NHL in scoring. Henrik was the MVP of the league last year. Daniel’s a finalist this year,” Willes said. “I don’t think people really grasp what it is they’ve accomplished and just how great these two guys are.”
The Sedins and Thomas took a long time to come into their own, but now the Stanley Cup is in reach and two cities are anxiously waiting to see who will win … and who will have to wait some more.