VANCOUVER- The soaring sun casts its warm light on a day when a roaring storm of emotion rages within 40 men set to compete on hockey’s grandest stage.
Tonight’s decisive game of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks means there will be no next game, no carry-over and no margin for error.
For the Bruins, it will be the first Stanley Cup Finals Game 7 in their 87-year history. For Vancouver, it will represent another opportunity to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
“A wise man once told me, ‘You can either feel the pressure or go out there and apply the pressure,'” Bruins left winger Milan Lucic said.
Each side will be without players due to injury or suspension. Many of the remaining competitors will be persevering through pain built up over more than 100 games this season.
“For a game like tonight, you can play on a broken leg. This is what we play for, to play in a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final,” Vancouver forward Jannik Hansen said.
Hansen saw his offensive role expanded in Boston’s 5-2 win Monday after his teammate Mason Raymond left the game almost immediately after the opening faceoff.
Raymond sustained a vertebrae fracture after he crashed into the boards while being tied up by Johnny Boychuk. His recovery may require up to six months and Jeff Tambellini will slide into the lineup tonight in his absence.
“Johnny certainly didn’t intend on hurting him and right now we feel for Mason Raymond, honestly,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “No matter what happens tonight, we hope he gets better quickly.”
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis had a different take on the hit.
“I thought the Boston player used a can opener and drove him into the boards with enough force to break his back,” Gillis said.
Gillis , who openly discussed the officiating during the Canucks’ first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, declined to comment on the officiating or supplementary discipline in this series.
Alex Edler, who did not skate Tuesday or Wednesday, will be in the lineup skating with Kevin Bieksa tonight.
One player that has been visibly limited as he has played hurt in the series has been Ryan Kesler.
Kesler dominated Vancouver’s six-game series against Nashville, getting in on over 80% of his team’s goals. Since, he has become gradually less prominent in these playoffs.
“If we win tomorrow, we become legends and I don’t think anybody worries about that I have one point in six games,” Kesler said.
While Kesler said his team would be “jacked” and the struggling Sedin twins expressed increasing satisfaction with their own recent games, the biggest wild card may be goaltender Roberto Luongo.
Luongo’s play has approached dominance in Vancouver in this series, where he has posted two 1-0 shutouts and earned a 3-2 overtime win as well. In the postseason, he has been superb at home, posting a 10-3 record behind a 1.71 goals-against average and a strong .943 save percentage.
On the road, however, his numbers have been markedly worse. His losing record has been due largely to three losses in Boston in the Finals, losses in which his goals-against average has been a grossly distended 8.05 with a feeble .773 save percentage.
His backup Cory Schneider said Luongo was better prepared than anyone for this critical game, expressing full confidence in Vancouver’s number-one guy.
“He’s been a competitor and a warrior from the day I’ve met him,” Schneider said.
“People might see (his demeanor) as arrogance but I see it as confidence in himself, in the belief he shouldn’t be beaten ever. I think you have to have that mindset as a goalie.”
Schneider also discussed Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who has allowed just eight goals in six games thus far. He said the journeyman Thomas not only makes obviously spectacular saves, but that he also subtly makes many difficult saves appear routine.
“Clearly the path he’s taken is one of obstacles and difficulties that’s overcome, he’s managed to find a way. That kind of seems to be the theme of his game, that he finds a way,” Schneider said.
Boston will face the task of solving Luongo in Vancouver. Their starts have not been strong at Rogers Arena, as remarked by Lucic who said his team started with a “deer in headlights” mentality in games 1, 2 and 5.
“The start will be key, it seems like we haven’t brought our physical game here to Vancouver,” Lucic said. “If we can just focus on that, moving our feet and playing a more relaxed game, I like our chances.”
Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona gave coach Julien a phone call, completing the trifecta of encouragement from title-winning Boston bosses. Bill Belichick attended a game in Boston and Doc Rivers tracked Julien down in the TD Garden tunnel to offer his support.
Rivers debuted in the NBA as a player in the 1983-1984 season, just one year before the 43-year-old Bruins forward Mark Recchi began his career in the WHL.
Recchi, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, has said that he will likely retire after this season, particularly if the Bruins were to capture the Cup tonight.
“I had a glass of wine with him yesterday and probably one of the last glasses before the game, ever,” forward Shawn Thornton said. “Everyone appreciates (Recchi) and everything he’s done for us here.”
For Vancouver, neither the opportunity to win in such dramatic in front of their home crowd nor the doubts swirling around their core players have changed their routine. To a man, they said they would approach this game no differently than any other playoff game.
Yet for the Bruins, there has been a decidedly more emotional tone to the series. They have been fueled by the potential retirement of Recchi, the long journey of Thomas, the severe concussion of Nathan Horton and the prolonged absence of center Marc Savard due to post-concussion syndrome.
Horton was in Vancouver today and looking in high spirits, although there remained no chance he could play.
While they may all be calm, collected professionals now, all these players were once playing this game as kids, when this moment existed only in fantasy.
“When we were in the garage or driveway playing as kids and you’re fantasizing, you’re saying to yourself, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, you’re not saying Game 6, you know?” Tim Thomas said.
“So this is really what every kid dreams about.”