Thursday, June 2, 2011

Game One : Then and Now

It is the event hockey fans look forward to all-year long. After a gruelling regular season and even tougher playoff, the end is almost near. Last night, the Canucks and Bruins kicked-off the 2011 Stanley Cup final in Vancouver.

For Boston, it is their first Cup appearance since facing the Edmonton Oilers in 1990. On the other side of the ledger, Vancouver's last date with Lord Stanley came in 1994. Their opponent was the New York Rangers.

In most playoff series, game one is a "feeling out" process, where both teams are hesitant to take chances. Neither club wanting to give-up the all-important first goal. The goaltenders are eager to get a first save under their belt. Coaches on both benches, getting a sense for how their players are reacting to the pressure-cooker situation.

In 2011, the process remains unchanged. The first two periods between Vancouver and Boston was a typical first-night performance. Neither team could score 5-on-5 or with the man-advantage. The sharpest players were Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas. Late in the third, at 19:41, Raffi Torres scored the only goal of the night, giving Vancouver a 1-0 win.

So, how did these two club's fare in game one of their last visit to the Stanley Cup final party? Well, to evoke a classic sports line, it was a case of Boston experiencing the agony of defeat and Vancouver the thrill of victory.

On May 19, 1990, Boston played host to Edmonton in the Boston Garden. This epic battle turned out to be one for the National Hockey League Record Book. Edmonton took a 2-0 advantage into the final frame on by goals by Adam Graves and Glenn Anderson. Boston scored an early and late tally in the third to even-up the game. Both markers were scored by defenceman Ray Bourque. The second goal, with 1:29 left on the clock, sent the affair into overtime. On the play,  Bourque moved in from his point position and took a pass from Cam Neely. He buried his shot past Oilers goalie Bill Randford.

The matter wasn't settled until the 15:13 mark of the third overtime period. An unlikely player emerged as the hero for Edmonton. Limited to a couple of shifts during O/T, Petr Klima was summoned by Coach John Muckler. Klima, was in Muckler's doghouse for failing to capitalize on scoring chances throughout the playoffs. With most of his roster on the brink of exhaustion, Muckler knew the importance of employing fresh legs at some point in the extra-time. Klima took a drop pass from Jari Kurri and fired a shot past Andy Moog in the Bruins net. At the time, it set an NHL record for the longest game in a Stanley Cup final.

After defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs and having a week's rest, Vancouver travelled to New York to begin the 1994 Stanley Cup final. Game one took place on May 31, 1994 in Madison Square Garden.

 The Rangers took a first period lead when Steve Larmer banged in a rebound off an Alexei Kovalev scoring attempt. The two teams exchanged goals early in the third period. Bret Hedican tied the score for Vancouver at 5:45, but Kovalev pulled the Rangers ahead at 8:29, giving his team a 2-1 margin. New York, coming off a seven game series versus New Jersey in the Eastern Conference Final, was playing on three day's rest. Perhaps, running out of gas, they couldn't hold off the surging Canucks. With sixty-seconds remaining in the final frame, left winger Martin Gelinas notched the equalizer. Stationed in front of goaltender Mike Richter, Gelinas was in the right spot, at the right time. Richter, who appeared to make a stop on a shot by Cliff Ronning, lost the puck in his equipment. It popped loose and fell to Gelinas, who sent the puck over the Rangers goal line.

The game winner in overtime was scored by the Canucks Greg Adams at 19:26. Adams shared the spotlight with goalie Kirk McLean. The Canucks puck-stopper all but stood on his head in the O/T. His 52 saves was the highest in the finals since Ken Dryden pushed aside 56 against Chicago in 1971.

In 2011, the outcome was similar to 1990 and 1994, with Boston singing the blues and Vancouver hitting the high notes!

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