A common theme in my post-game analysis at the Vancouver Canucks throughout the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals has been their level of play, or lack thereof. More specifically, the Canucks seemed to be a shoe-in to win the Stanley Cup following their first two wins at home -- they got halfway to the championship without even showing up with their best outing yet. This seemed to be even more in grasp following a Game 5 victory where the Canucks outhit the Boston Bruins, but still failed to control the tempo of the game the way they can.
And those three games in Boston? Well, it's safe to say that the Canucks can still win the Stanley Cup despite being heavily outscored in the series thanks to three lopsided disasters in New England.
Which leads us all to Game 7 -- a special moment for not only hockey fans, but all sports fans in general. It's also nerve-wracking as hell for both teams: Vancouver is the team that has squandered the series lead twice, while the Bruins can't score once they leave the safe confines of the Boston metro area.
For Vancouver, they can continue to rely on the fact that they have yet to play a complete game. And with one game left in the NHL season, well, now would be as good a time as any to show up for that.
When you build a champion, GMs look for different parts to step up at different times. There's no way that the entire team can be pumping on all cylinders for 16 straight wins. With different defensive and goaltending match-ups coming each series, sometimes it's a battle of depth, sometimes it's a battle of skill, and sometimes it's a goaltenders duel. The first round saw a Jeckyll-and-Hyde performance with the team taking sharp turns between outstanding and frantic. The second round played out like the Junior Varsity version of this series, and with the Nashville Predators nullifying the Sedins, Ryan Kesler stepped to the forefront. The Conference Final saw Roberto Luongo step to the forefront, along with some dynamic power play performances by the Sedins.
This series? It's almost as if the hockey gods took all the good and bad extremes of Vancouver's first three rounds, then played bingo with them for six games.
There's only one game left. At their very best, the Vancouver Canucks are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league. From their blueline attack to their dominant cycle game to their gold medal-winning goalie, this team has the potential to control a full 60 minutes against just about any team -- especially one that has had trouble scoring in every away game in the series.
The salary cap will break up the vaunted Canucks blueline next year, and that may change the makeup of this team as 2011 rolls into 2012. So if there's one moment this squad has truly been built for, it's Game 7 at home in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Will they finally play their very best with everything on the line? No time like the present.