This is it. The Final Game of the 2010-2011 NHL season has arrived, and of course it's a Game Seven in the Stanley Cup Finals between two franchises suffering long Cup droughts.
The Boston Bruins have not won the Stanley Cup in 39 years.
The Vancouver Canucks have never won the Stanley Cup in their 40 years of existence.
One of these two franchises will hold the party of a lifetime tonight; the other will mourn their continued struggles.
Will Daniel Sedin Fulfill His Guarantee?
Canucks star forward Daniel Sedin guaranteed that his team would win their franchise's first ever championship in Game Seven, just hours after suffering their third straight rout in Boston. Perhaps it was a bit of coincidence that Mark Messier famously proclaimed the New York Rangers would win their series against the New Jersey Devils 17 years earlier. The Rangers ended up winning the Cup that year -- over the Vancouver Canucks.
Messier backed up his guarantee with a hat trick the very next game. Sedin? Well, the Vancouver fanbase will take any production from him in Game Seven. After leading the team with 104 points during the regular season, Sedin has been invisible on the sport's biggest stage. He tallied two assists in a meaningless Game Six -- his first two points of the series. The Canucks' offensive struggles have been well documented, and Daniel Sedin's glaring lack of production is at the epicenter, and deservedly so.
Sedin has guaranteed a victory; if he produces, it's a very likely outcome.
Can Boston Win On The Road?
It seems impossible that a team can hold a 19-8 goal advantage through six games, and yet be tied in the series. The Bruins have feasted on shaky Canucks goaltending in Boston, but have struggled to score anything in Vancouver. This schizophrenic behavior may cost the Bruins a championship they certainly deserve to win if they can't figure out the Vancouver crowd in their last chance of the season.
Coming into this series, the questions revolved around the Bruins' offense. Was it deep enough to compete with Vancouver? After Nathan Horton suffered the severe concussion in Game Three, would the Bruins have enough forwards? Veterans Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder have stepped up, and the continued blossoming of Brad Marchand and David Krecji should give Bruins fans plenty to hope for in the future. Even the Bruins power play has stepped up this series, scoring five goals this series after only scoring two total goals in the three previous series.
Boston has come very close in Vancouver, losing all three games in one-goal fashion. The championship is laying at their feet, but they need to find a way to get over that last hump. Stats no longer matter; this is a pure effort game.
Which Luongo Will Show Up?
The key to the series is Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. He has determined every single game in these Finals with his inconsistent play. In Vancouver, he looks like a Vezina Trophy candidate. In Boston, he might as well keep a seat on the bench warm.
For a series that has been impossible to understand, Luongo is the center of the confusion. How can a veteran goalie -- considered one of the best in the world -- have such dramatic shifts in quality of play? Some of the blame for his road play can fall directly on his defense, which has been very disappointing. But the sheer number of soft goals falls directly on Luongo.
Thankfully for the Canucks, they earned the President's Trophy this season. They have the home ice advantage. If Luongo continues his stellar home play, then the Canucks should lift the Cup by the end of the night. But there's now a lingering doubt that Road Luongo can show up at any time. It's well deserved.
Luongo doesn't have to be perfect in Game Seven if his star cast (Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler) show up. But if they continue to be shut down by the Bruins' Tim Thomas, who is already a shoe-in for the Conn Smythe Trophy win or lose, then Vancouver cannot afford any errors. It's the game of his life, and Luongo better play like it if he wants to get his name on the Cup.