The hangovers have been cured.
After slow starts to their seasons, the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins will collide Saturday at TD Garden as two of the NHL’s best teams. The Bruins’ victory over the Canucks in Game 7 of last spring’s Stanley Cup final adds extra drama to a rematch full of plot lines.
“There’s a lot of history now between us and them,” Vancouver forward Jannik Hansen said. “It’s a game we have been looking forward to.”
The stakes won’t be as high in January as for a final in June. But with the teams battling for the lead in their conferences, and first place overall in the league, both clubs want the win.
“We’re going out there with one thing in mind, to win the game,” Boston forward Patrice Bergeron told the Bruins’ website. “Obviously emotion, intensity and energy are all key words to winning games.”
Neither team has changed its style much from last season.
Vancouver’s game is built on speed and skill. The Canucks are a high-scoring team that uses the league’s top-ranked power play to punish other clubs. Daniel and Henrik Sedin remain among the league’s top five in scoring.
Vancouver’s power play has struggled lately, managing just two goals in the last 23 attempts. Questions also remain about the Canucks’ toughness. For many Canuck fans, one of the defining moments of the Stanley Cup loss was Bruins pest Brad Marchand repeatedly punching Daniel Sedin in the head and none of the Canucks retaliating.
The Bruins use their size and strength to muscle opponents. Boston can also score in buckets and leads the league in goals a game. The Bruins beat the Calgary Flames 9-0 Thursday night and have won their last two games by a combined score of 15-1.
Boston’s top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton can be inconsistent. The second line of Marchand, Bergeron and Tyler Seguin has proven deadly.
Seguin leads the Bruins with 16 goals and 36 points. Marchand has 15 goals and 31 points.
Backup goaltender Cory Schneider, who grew up near Boston, will start for Vancouver. He’s played well for the Canucks this year, posting an 8-5 record and 2.16 goals-against average.
Boston was a nightmare for Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo during the playoffs. The Bruins won all three games in their home building by a combined score of 17-3 and twice chased Luongo out of the net.
Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who won both the Vézina and Conn Smythe trophies last year, has shown no signs of aging. The 37-year-old has a 17-6 record and 1.90 goals-against average. Backup Tuukka Rask has a 9-5 record and 1.49 goals against.
Canuck forward Mason Raymond will return to Boston after suffering a vertebrae compression fracture when driven into the boards by the Bruins’ Johnny Boychuk in Game 6 of the final. That injury caused Raymond to miss the first 24 games of this season.
The Canucks are only slightly behind the pace that made them the best team in the NHL last season. Vancouver has a 25-13-3 record for 53 points after 41 games. Heading into Friday night, the Canucks were first in the Western Conference and tied for second overall in the NHL with Boston. The Canucks have won six of their last nine games, two of them shutouts.
After 41 games last season, Vancouver had a 27-8-6 record for 60 points.
Boston has a 26-10-1 record for 53 points. The Bruins are 9-1 in their last 10 games and have outscored their opponents 49-13.
Both teams started the season like drunks staggering out of a bar.
The Canucks lost four of their first six games and scrambled to finish October at .500. A 5-1 loss to hated rival Chicago on Nov. 16 was a wakeup call. Since then Vancouver has lost only six of 22 games.
The Bruins won just three of their first 10 games and ended October dead last in the Eastern Conference. Since then the Bruins have won 23 of 27 games.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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