By Mike Miccoli, Boston Bruins correspondent
Before the puck even dropped on the 2011-12 NHL season, every hockey fan in Boston and Vancouver probably had Saturday, January 7 circled on their calendars. Why not, really? It would be the first time the Bruins and Canucks face one another since Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and the first game in Boston for Vancouver since the 5-2 thumping they received in Game 6 that tarnished their 3-2 series lead, and ultimately, chance at the Stanley Cup.
Seats weren’t even released to the box office yet, but it was predetermined that this would be the hottest ticket in hockey all season long. Last season’s Western Conference Champions against the Eastern Conference Champions—their only meeting of the year–played in Boston, underneath the Bruins’ newly hung championship banner. Poetic, and as marketable of a game as the Winter Classic could be.
But truthfully, I didn’t care about Saturday’s Stanley Cup rematch before the season started. I wasn’t excited. I wasn’t looking forward to it because it’s just another game–one of 82 that both teams will play this season.
That was before the season even began. My, how things have changed.
Let me explain.
Simply put, I’m not looking forward to this game because the majority of fans, media and players even, think of it as a rematch of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. In reality, the Stanley Cup was awarded last season.
The winner of Saturday’s game wins two points. That’s it.
See? Just another game.
Take into consideration the way both the Canucks and Bruins started the season and the rampant usage of the word “hangover” given to describe both teams. Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler started out the season slow, as did all Bruins not named Tyler Seguin in the first 10 games of the season.
There were some laughable moments too, like the editorial claiming Canucks GM Mike Gillis should trade Luongo for Vincent Lecavalier and the fan-made trade proposals of multiple superstars that the Bruins were looking to acquire, from Bobby Ryan to Zach Parise, only to give up Tuukka Rask or David Krejci in return.
Rumor mill message board threads aside, the hype of the contest lost steam for a short while. The teams were focused on getting back on track and to the top of the standings.
Months later, both Boston and Vancouver have made an impressive beeline to the top of the NHL standings. Since November 1, the Bruins are an outstanding 23-3-1. The Canucks haven’t been so bad themselves, boasting a record of 20-8-2 since the beginning of November, after starting the season 5-5-1.
So what makes Saturday’s game so big for both teams? They’re two of the best in the NHL right now and it has absolutely nothing to do with what happened last season.
The Canucks want revenge. Sure, they do. They were embarrassed in Boston on hockey’s grandest of stages, blowing an 0-2 series lead and being out-scored 23-8 in seven games. But Saturday isn’t the game that it happens. Vancouver could come into Boston and embarrass the Bruins but that wouldn’t a change a thing that happened last postseason. The Canucks best chance for revenge comes in the form of winning the Cup on their own, not in a Saturday afternoon matinee against the team they lost in the Cup Finals to.
For the Bruins, Saturday’s game is about validation. Win or lose, the B’s remain Cup champions but with a victory, the Bruins can only prove that last season’s playoff run wasn’t a fluke. By all means, the 2011-12 Boston Bruins are a better team than they were in 2010-11. Even though Boston has the league-best goal-differential (+69), Vancouver should serve as a great measuring stick to the team’s progress this season.
Saturday’s game will be excited, no doubt, but last year’s story has already been written. If anything, I’m looking forward to what could be the best game of the year because it’s between the two of the best teams in the NHL right now.
And who knows? With the way these teams are rolling, maybe this is more of a 2012 Stanley Cup Final preview than a rematch of the 2011 Final.
Follow Mike on Twitter for more Bruins news, updates and commentary.