Kevin Bieksa rubs Brad Marchand into the boards. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
If someone had told me two weeks ago, on the eve of Game 1 of the Cup final, that a fortnight later we’d be hunkering down for Game 7, I wouldn’t have found it that far-fetched. I would have expected that person to tell me we landed at the decisive game because one team was able to squeak out three one-goal wins, despite being blown away in three inglorious defeats. Sounds about right – and good for the Bruins for hanging tough and taking those close ones despite getting smashed in the other contests.
OK, so there were some cracks in the crystal ball.
But here we are, at the conclusion of the oddest final series anybody can remember, drowning in storylines before the fifth Game 7 in the past eight Cup finals. With an end to the intrigue finally in sight, here are some fast, final questions to ponder before the 2011 Cup is raised.
• Will the antics end? There’s been no shortage of scuffling after the whistle in this series, featuring everything from finger chomps to Brad Marchand dishing out jabs like he’s the heavyweight champion of the world. But with so much on the line, will the boys reel it in and just play hockey?
• Who will be this year’s Max Talbot? Remember that huge save Marc-Andre Fleury made on Nicklas Lidstrom to preserve a 2-1 lead in the dying seconds of the ’09 final between Detroit and Pittsburgh? That only happened because Max Talbot jumped up from the shadows to bag both Pens goals. Candidates for making the hump-to-forever-hero leap this time? How about Chris Kelly for Boston and Jannik Hansen for the Canucks.
• Can Ryan Kesler have the game of his life? Somebody with skill has to fight through his ailments and make something happen offensively for Vancouver. Kesler still feels like the best bet.
• Can you overstate how important this game is to both sides? No. Winning three rounds to get to the final is so hard with the league’s current competitive dynamic. It’s so rare to get there, meaning it’s all the more devastating when you don’t finish the job.
• Overtime, anyone? The last Cup-deciding seventh game to require extra time occurred in 1954, when Tony Leswick’s winner allowed Detroit to down Montreal. A six-year-old Bobby Orr probably had to go to bed before the game was over.
• Can the Conn Smythe be won by anybody but Tim Thomas? Maybe. But win or lose, the Boston stopper has made one heck of a case. The working theory around THN is you win the Conn Smythe based 50 percent on what you did in three rounds leading up to the final and 50 percent based on what you do in the big show. Thomas scores well in part one and fantastic in part two.
But there’s still a little hockey left to be played. And God knows nothing is out of the question in this series.
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