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the look ahead

Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic (17) tries to skate past Tampa Bay Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier (4) during the second period in Game 7 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference final series, Friday, May 27, 2011, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)Elise Amendola/The Associated Press

Someone will be scratching a long championship itch in the next fortnight or so - either the Vancouver Canucks, who have never won the Stanley Cup since joining the NHL in 1970, or the Boston Bruins, who last won in 1972 during the height of the Bobby Orr era.

Roberta Flack was topping the charts back on that May 11 day when the Bruins shut out the New York Rangers in the sixth game of the '72 final, a year in which the Canucks, a struggling second-year franchise, managed just 48 points, the lowest season total in team history.

It's been nothing but finals futility ever since. The Bruins have lost all five of their trips to the Stanley Cup final since then, and the Canucks could do no better in 1982 and 1994, losing the only two times they've ever advanced to the final.

If history counts for anything (and it usually doesn't), then the Bruins have a decided edge. Vancouver has won just 25 of the 108 meetings between the two teams, including a Feb. 26 date at Rogers Arena in which Vancouver-born Milan Lucic had three points in a 3-1 victory.

Lucic - who grew up in East Vancouver and played for the Western Hockey League Giants - will be a focal point in the lead-up to the series, as will Bruins president and legend Cam Neely, who was handed to the Beantowners by Vancouver along with a first-round draft choice for Barry Pederson in one of the most one-sided trades in NHL history.

Lucic was a bit of a gift, too. The Bruins took him with the 50th overall pick in the 2006 entry draft, a choice they acquired from the Edmonton Oilers for the right to rent Sergei Samsonov for that year's playoff run.

By tugging at a few other threads, here's how we think the 2011 Stanley Cup final shapes up:


The storyline in goal has completely flip-flopped year over year. In 2010, a pair of budget buys between the pipes, Michael Leighton and Antti Niemi, were the featured players. This year, a pair of high-priced Vézina Trophy candidates, Roberto Luongo for the Canucks and Tim Thomas for the Bruins, face off. It hasn't been a completely smooth journey for either to get here - Luongo struggled in the opening against Chicago and Thomas had a couple of bizarre, weak outings against Tampa - but both are coming off strong finishes in the conference final and have the confidence of their teammates. Their goals-against averages heading into Wednesday night's opener are identical - 2.29.


Playing the part of Shea Weber in this series, right down to the scary beard, is Zdeno Chara, the 6-foot-9 behemoth on the Bruins blueline that galvanizes Boston's back end and doesn't mind making life hard on opposing stars. The Sedins' ability to cycle down low against Chara and his greatly underappreciated defence partner, Dennis Seidenberg, will be one of the primary storylines in the series, unless coach Alain Vigneault can keep the Sedins away from him in the match-up game.


Mark Recchi, the 43-year-old from the interior of British Columbia already had one championship under his belt ('91 Pittsburgh Penguins) before teammate Tyler Seguin was born. He added a second 15 years later with the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes, and if the Bruins win this time, he would become the second oldest player after Chris Chelios to celebrate a championship.


The Bruins are trying to disprove one of the oldest truisms in the game - that you eventually need to score a power-play goal or two along the way to win a championship. Boston has played 18 games already in the playoffs and managed just five power-play goals on 61 tries. Vancouver started slowly with the man advantage, but has ramped it up lately and is now humming along at 28.3 per cent, fabulous numbers that were enhanced by a spate of five-on-three advantages in the San Jose series. If the referees go all whistle happy in the final, advantage to Vancouver. If it's a "let 'em play" series, that plays into Boston's hands.


Wide open at the moment. Chara, Thomas, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton are all in the conversation for Boston. Ryan Kesler and the Sedins lead the way for the Canucks.


Vancouver has won seven consecutive Game 1s over the past three playoff seasons. Boston by contrast lost the first game in two of their first three series this spring and needed to go seven as a result to emerge victorious.

Season series: 1-0 Boston (Bruins defeated the Canucks 3-1 at Rogers Arena Feb. 26).

HIDDEN STAT The Bruins' Nathan Horton is the only player in NHL history with two Game 7 winners in the same playoff year - overtime v. Montreal in the opening round, and then in the deciding 1-0 victory to eliminate Tampa. Horton joined the Bruins from Florida last summer for first- and third-round draft choices, along with defenceman Dennis Wideman. The Bruins targeted Horton in part because they identified a lack of scoring as a reason for last year's stumble against the Philadelphia Flyers. On some level, Horton filled the organizational void created when the Bruins traded Phil Kessel to Toronto two seasons ago.


Vancouver is well rested going into the final and is playing a Boston team that generally commutes up and down the eastern seaboard. Travel becomes more of a factor the longer the series goes and no team in the NHL is better prepared for the demands of ping-ponging back and forth across the continent than the Canucks, who annually log top three air miles and thus understand how to deal with travel issues, time zone changes and uneven sleep patterns.


The Canucks capitalize on the small personnel edges they hold in the series - a deeper across-the-board defence corps and more high-end scoring. Daniel Sedin won the scoring title, Henrik was fourth and Ryan Kesler 15th. Boston was led by Lucic and Krejci, who had 62 points apiece, tied for 39th overall.


The Bruins' discipline is as sharp as it was in the finale over Tampa, which became the first playoff game in 21 years to be played without a minor penalty. Statistically, Boston was the NHL's best five-on-five team in the regular season and they are tops again in the playoffs. The Bruins scored only 43 power-play goals this season, while Vancouver's Daniel Sedin and Kesler combined for 33 of Vancouver's 72 between the two of them.


Vancouver wins Stanley Cup in six.