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The Verdict: Bowman no stranger to 2011 Cup finalists

Tuesday, 05.31.2011 / 1:00 AM / The Verdict
By Bob Verdi  - Blackhawks Team Historian
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The Verdict: Bowman no stranger to 2011 Cup finalists
Scotty Bowman poses with the Stanley Cup after coaching Montreal to the championship over Boston in 1978.

While building his Hall of Fame resume, Scotty Bowman opposed the Boston Bruins in many an important game. Now, as the Blackhawks’ senior advisor for hockey operations, he sees striking similarities in the Prince of Wales trophy winners who will meet the Vancouver Canucks for the Stanley Cup starting on Wednesday night.

“Through all these years, the Bruins have maintained that same personality,” said Bowman. “They have that sandpaper style, a lot of tough guys who are difficult to play against. Even when they had Bobby Orr, they were that way. He had 39 fights in 10 seasons, a lot for a superstar. If they’re careful, they could give the Canucks all they can handle.”

THE VERDICT

Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001.

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The Bruins were quite careful while beating the Tampa Bay Lightning, 1-0, in Friday night’s penalty-free Eastern Conference Game 7 clincher, and Bowman’s believes that Boston must replicate the effort against the Canucks, who are more skilled offensively, particularly on the power play. If so, the final could evolve into a battle of veteran goalkeepers, Tim Thomas of Boston and Roberto Luongo of Vancouver. That would represent a change from last June, when the Blackhawks triumphed with Antti Niemi in the nets against the Philadelphia Flyers’ Michael Leighton, neither of whom began the regular season as a No. 1 masked man.

“Now,” Bowman said, “you have two of the three goalies who are up for the Vezina Trophy. It goes in cycles, like everything else in hockey.”

For this year’s matchup, the cycle produces two hungry franchises. The Bruins won the Cup in 1970—recall the classic photo of an airborne Orr scoring the winner against Glenn Hall of Bowman’s St. Louis Blues—and again in 1972, over the New York Rangers. But Boston has lost in five subsequent finals: to Philadelphia in 1974, Bowman’s Montreal Canadiens in 1977 and 1978, and the Edmonton Oilers in 1988 and 1990.

The 1988 series was a sweep, and an odd one in that it encompassed five dates. Game 3 in craggy Boston Garden was tied, 3-3, when the lights went out late in the second period. Power could not be restored, so the game was suspended and completed two nights later in Edmonton, where Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers finished off the Bruins, 6-3. By 1990, Gretzky was gone via a trade to the Los Angeles Kings, but the Oilers still prevailed in five games. In the opener at Boston, electricity again was a problem. Three minutes into the third overtime, lights dimmed and play was halted. After a delay, the game resumed and Petr Klima talled 55 minutes and 13 seconds into sudden death to bring the Oilers a 3-2 victory at 1:22 a.m. The Oilers were off to their fifth Stanley Cup, and first without The Great One.

The Canucks have advanced to two finals, dropping both. In 1982, after spilling the Blackhawks in a storied preamble during which coach Roger Neilson waved a white towel toward officials as mock surrender in the Stadium, the Canucks lost four straight to the New York Islanders, who registered their third of four Cups in a row. In 1994, the Canucks went the limit before succumbing, 3-2, in Game 7 against the New York Rangers, who hoisted their first Cup since 1940.

That tournament concluded on June 14, but the Bruins-Canucks contretemps could surpass it in length and frequent flyer miles. After two games in Vancouver and two in Boston, the teams will alternate home games until, and if, Game 7 unfolds on June 15. Given the wear and tear of travel, this would seem to be a worthy occasion for a 2-3-2 format. But Bowman, with all that coaching in his blood, would want none of that.

“Oh, no,” he said. “Look at it this way. Vancouver worked all year for the No. 1 overall seed and home-ice advantage. You don’t like the possibility of playing three straight on the road and having a Game 5, which could be pivotal, not on your own ice. It will be difficult for both teams, but there is an extra day in there for the turnaround between Game 5 and 6. Vancouver will be rested for sure. Boston had two seven-game series, but they’re off from Friday to Wednesday’s opener, and Game 2 isn’t until Saturday. It will be an interesting series. We gave the Canucks their toughest series yet. Maybe it’s their time.”

If it is, Canada will have its first Stanley Cup champion since the 1993 Canadiens. How huge might that be in a land where hockey is so revered?

“It will be important, but maybe not as much as you think,” Bowman said. “In the eastern provinces, there are still a lot of Original Six fans. In Montreal and Toronto, the Bruins are still a big draw because of the history. There are a lot of Bruins fans, period, in Canada.”

Bowman maintains a residence near Tampa, so he attended a number of Lightning games this season and was impressed by the revival of the franchise under general manager Steve Yzerman.

“When I coached him in Detroit, you could see he was a thinker, well aware of what was going on,” Bowman said. “He hired a really good young coach, Guy Boucher, and did a great job. I’m not surprised. What surprised me was that Steve went to Tampa. I had dinner with their new owner, Jeff Vinik, when he took over. He’s really sharp, too, and he wanted new faces to run his team. He asked me about Yzerman, and I told him to forget it. Steve is one of Detroit’s favorite sons. I told him the Red Wings would never let him go, and Steve would never leave the Red Wings. But Vinik was persistent and he must have made Steve an offer he couldn’t refuse, which was terrific for that franchise. I thought they might do it, but after Boston lost Game 6 by 5-4, I also thought that Tim Thomas is the kind of goalie who can come up big in Game 7. He did. Pitched a shutout.”