For the 31st straight season, the dream Stanley Cup Finals matchup between two “Original Six” teams will elude the National Hockey League. But the second-best scenario for the NHL — as well as ticket brokers — might continue to unfold this weekend in the conference finals.
The Boston Bruins, the only “Original Six” team left in the playoffs, took a two games to one lead in the Eastern Conference finals by blanking the Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-0, Thursday, May 19. In the Western Conference, meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks lead the San Jose Sharks two games to none and will try to take a commanding lead when the series resumes tonight, May 20, in California.
If the Bruins and Canucks hang on, it would create a tasty bi-coastal Stanley Cup Finals matchup between two of the biggest draws in the game as well as two hockey-mad cities starved to drink from the Cup. The Canucks have sold out 358 straight home games at 18,860-seat Rogers Arena, the longest active streak in the NHL, while the Bruins have played in front of 79 consecutive capacity crowds at 17,565-seat TD Garden.
The Bruins haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1972, the second-longest drought among NHL teams that have won at least one championship, while the Canucks haven’t won it all since joining the league in 1970.
“Vancouver’s a very strong market,” Jim Holzman, the president of Boston-based Ace Ticket, told TicketNews “The people in Vancouver are pretty excited. If their team does anything short of winning the Stanley Cup, there’s going to be riots there.”
The Bruins, meanwhile, are Boston’s last link to the city’s lovable loser past. The Red Sox, of course, snapped their 86-year drought in 2004 and won it all again in 2007 while the NFL’s Patriots have won three titles between 2001 and 2004 and the NBA’s Celtics went a franchise-record 22 years between titles before finally winning again in 2008.
“A certain percentage of the people are huge hockey fans — we haven’t had the Stanley Cup since 1982,” Holzman said. “There’s a lot of excitement about this team. They’re the last ones to do it. The Patriots have won a couple, the Celtics have won, the Red Sox have won a couple. The Bruins are the only ones left. It’s been a long time.”
If the Bruins advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, it will mark the fourth straight year an “Original Six” team — the term used to describe the Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs, who are the only teams to pre-date the NHL’s expansion era — will play for hockey’s holy grail.
It would mark only the third time in the expansion era — and only the second time since the NHL absorbed the World Hockey Association following the 1978-79 season — that an Original Six team has battled for the Cup in four straight seasons. The odds of an Original Six matchup are further reduced by the fact four of those teams (everyone except the Blackhawks and Red Wings) are in the Eastern Conference.
“I think ideally I would love to see Boston-Detroit — if it came down to Boston-Chicago, it would have been fantastic,” Holzman said. “But I think that if it’s Vancouver-Boston, it’ll be gigantic.”
It would be even bigger in the two cities because of the precious few opportunities the Bruins and Canucks have had to even compete for the Cup. The Bruins haven’t been to the Finals since 1990 and this year marks the first time they have gotten as far as the conference championship since 1992. The Canucks are 2-for-2 in conference finals appearances thus far but lost to the New York Islanders in 1982 and the New York Rangers when the Blueshirts snapped the most famous drought in sports in 1994.
Their experiences in the playoffs the last two years have made the Bruins and Canucks — as well as their fans — even more desperate to celebrate a championship. The Bruins became only the fourth team in the history of the four major sports to blow a three games to none lead in a best-of-seven series when they fell to the Philadelphia Flyers in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals while this year’s Canucks — who led the NHL by far with 117 points during the regular season — squandered all of a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Blackhawks and needed an overtime goal to win Game Seven and avoid joining the Bruins in ignobility.