VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Live from the bowels of Rogers Arena, here is a hat trick's worth of thoughts on Arguably The Coolest Event in Sports, a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final . . .
1. I think we all agree on this, so let's get it out of the way immediately: The key tonight for the Bruins is to score on Roberto Luongo early, to get that out of the way immediately. Remind him that they can turn him into a puddle here just as they did during the three games in Boston. Turn those "Looooooooooos" from the Vancouver crowd into boos. Deflate his tires. Then, ideally, deflate 'em again, to the point that Alain Vigneault has to have Cory Schneider warming up in the bullpen before the first period is halfway complete. The script worked so well in Game 6, right?
The mood of Canucks fans here today is overwhelmingly optimistic. Perhaps it's a New Englander's cynicism at work here, but I'm taken aback at their complete (blind? delusional?) faith in their goalie. Luongo is such an enigma, even by the generally goofy standards by those who play the position. He's calm in the net, but often frazzled in front of the cameras, an engaging, friendly guy -- no, really -- whose out-of-character shots at Tim Thomas revealed . . . well, insecurity for sure, and perhaps jealousy, too.
The Bruins must take advantage of this, and must take advantage of it early. Luongo depends on those comforts of home. If they can make him feel like he's on an island, that everyone has turned against him, that will go a long way to assuring that the Stanley Cup will be a hood ornament on a duck boat in a few days.
2. I adore this city -- seriously, if you're young, single, and willing to roam, move here and thank me later -- and the people are beyond friendly. But when it comes to their Canucks, they're so irrational that it makes you long for the relative sanity of Canadiens fans.
The latest example of seeing everything through green-and-blue colored glasses is the venom directed at Johnny Boychuk for his hit in Game 6 that left Canucks forward Mason Raymond with a compressed vertebrae in his back. Sample reader comment from the Vancouver newspaper The Province this morning: "At least they didn't call Raymond for embellishing. We got off easy there." Well-said, Ron from Kamloops.
It's awful what happened to Raymond, and Bruins fans who remember how concerned they were for Nathan Horton after he was leveled by Aaron Rome should be ashamed for cheering while he was down. But the plays were not close in terms of violence or intent: Rome took two clean strides before belting an unsuspecting Horton in the head. Raymond appeared to have lost an edge as he went into the corner with Boychuk, and it was not the hit itself but the terribly awkward angle that led to the injury. The real question is not whether Boychuk should have been suspended, but what the hell the Canucks trainers and medical staff were thinking in not bringing out the stretcher for Raymond, instead helping him off the ice while he was hunched over at an odd angle like a broken scarecrow.
Raymond is a gregarious kid -- upon the conclusion of a media session earlier in the series in which he wasn't asked a single question, he laughed, saluted the assembled reporters, and joked, "Thanks for coming! Glad to help!" More relevantly, he's one of the Canucks' more skilled and honorable forwards, and while he hasn't had a productive series, he's created his own chances with his speed, particularly in Game 2. He leaves a void on the second line, and while the capable Jannik Hansen will fill in for him, that weakens the Canucks' pesky third line. His absence is frustrating to Canucks fans. But the reason for his absence should not be. What happened to him was not evil, dirty, or devious. It was an awful reminder of the dangers of playing this wonderful sport.
3. Prediction? Score-wise, I can't get a feel for how it might go, or maybe I just don't dare. But considering how perpetually thrilling this series has been -- and how tight the previous three games have been in this barn -- doesn't overtime seem inevitable? You have to figure the hockey gods aren't going to let this one go without a few minutes of extra drama.
But I can tell you how I would like it to end. Patrice Bergeron beating Alex Burrows -- or Maxim Lapierre if you prefer -- to a loose puck, then beating Luongo, who for some reason has strayed, perhaps in a subconscious tribute to Tim Thomas, from the security of his usual perch between the two pipes. Why Bergeron? Because he embodies the all-around effort and discipline of Claude Julien's team. Because a Canuck nearly forced him to get a rabies shot. And because an overtime winner from a teammate who has endured what Nathan Horton is going through now would seem so appropriate.
And if it isn't Bergeron? Well, let it be Mark Recchi. I was blown away by his grace in disappointment last year in the immediate aftermath of the Game 7 loss to the Flyers when he answered every question with candor, and his class and leadership are the genuine articles by all accounts. Plus, anyone who was playing in the NHL when I was a senior in high school is cool in my book. It's pretty obvious that this is the final game of his decorated NHL career, and if anyone is deserving of a satisfying final scene, it's the admirable old man in front of the net.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.