Hype builds for Cup rematch as teams surge
Friday, 01.06.2012 / 2:33 PM / NHL Insider
By Matt Kalman - NHL.com Correspondent
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- While most Boston Bruins players are sequestering themselves from any media hype in advance of their Stanley Cup Final rematch Saturday with Vancouver (1 p.m. ET, NHLN-US), Milan Lucic has other excited sources he can't avoid.
There are plenty of people close to the veteran power forward in his native Vancouver that have had Jan. 7 circled on their calendars for a long time.
"I've had a couple buddies text me and say they're excited for this game and looking forward to it," said Lucic after he and the Bruins prepared for the Canucks with a practice Friday here at Ristuccia Arena. "More so just from they're the best in the West so far, so they want to see them play us again because they still remember what happened last year. So they're looking forward to the game, that's for sure."
The Bruins and Canucks, who staged an epic seven-game series that didn't feature a road-team win until Boston prevailed in Game 7, both have overcome rocky Octobers to soar toward the top of the NHL standings in 2011-12. The teams were tied entering play Friday for the second-most points in the League, just one off the pace set by the New York Rangers.
"Obviously both teams, I think, are excited going into this game, as we should be. Obviously we both didn't really have the starts that we wanted and both teams have picked up their game and are on top of the League. So it makes it more interesting that there's a lot that we're playing for." -- Milan Lucic
Boston and Vancouver are Nos. 1 and 4 in goals per game, respectively, as well as first and eighth in goals-allowed per game, and first and sixth in 5-on-5 goal differential. While the Bruins have won nine of their past 10 games, the Canucks have won seven of their last 10.
Bruins coach Claude Julien, however, isn't looking at this game as some sort of midseason championship fight.
"I don't think it's as much as people think it is," he said about the hype. "The Final was last year and we did what we had to do and we succeeded in that. They come back this year and it's a League game and I'm not going to stand here and say it means absolutely nothing. There was a rivalry that was built there that I'm sure both teams are going to go into (Saturday's) game knowing that.
"But I don't think it's any different than the rivalry that we have with Philadelphia or other teams that we've played (like) Montreal. It's just going to be one of those intense games. But certainly I wouldn't read more into it than that. There's no Stanley Cup at the end of this game. But certainly it's a battle of two teams that feel they're good teams, and certainly we'll want to measure ourselves to each other."
The Bruins have been proficient at preventing complacency from knocking them off course since they began to turn their season around Nov. 1. Coming off a 6-1 win Wednesday in New Jersey and a 9-0 victory Thursday against Calgary, Boston's focus could be waning were it not for the Canucks test coming up.
"It could keep us more grounded, I guess -- and excited, probably," forward Shawn Thornton said. "I think there will probably be some energy in that building, which is a good thing. Any time you play teams, when there's a test like this, you should be able to get up and definitely I think our team responds pretty well in those situations, most times."
Ever since the Bruins hoisted the Cup on their home ice, the Canucks have heard about how Boston not only beat them on the scoreboard but took care of them physically. The lasting images of that series, as much as the great saves by goaltender Tim Thomas and goals scored by Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, are of Marchand punching Daniel Sedin after a whistle and Thomas checking Henrik Sedin in pursuit of a loose puck in the slot.
Regardless of whether last year's antics will play a motivating factor Saturday, Lucic expects the bodies to be flying as much as the shots on net.
“We had a chance to watch them last Monday because they were the NBC Sports game, and they played well against a physical team like San Jose," he said. "So they're definitely a team that's not shy of the physicality of the game and we expect them to bring their best."
Lucic can't hide from the hype, so he's embracing it. He's enjoyed his share of huge moments in the glare of the spotlight, so he's ready to thrive on a big stage again.
"I think it's great that there is a build-up towards it," said Lucic, who has 14 goals and 30 points this season. "Obviously both teams, I think, are excited going into this game, as we should be. Obviously we both didn't really have the starts that we wanted and both teams have picked up their game and are on top of the League. So it makes it more interesting that there's a lot that we're playing for."