BOSTON -- And so the hockey world goes one more time to Vancouver, where the locals have seen their share of big, pressure-packed games in the last 16 months.
Oh, to be an usher at Rogers Arena, where there was a Game 7 and overtime win for the Canucks in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and last February one of the greatest games in hockey history finished with a gold medal for the host Canadians in OT of the Olympics. The locals will gladly settle for silver this time.
The Stanley Cup will be in the building on Wednesday night, and unlike Monday at the TD Garden in Boston, it will be handled by more than just one of the Hockey Hall of Fame's four, white-gloved keepers of the hallowed chalice.
The Bruins never gave the Cup a chance to get out of its case, not with another resounding rout of the Canucks, 5-2, in Game 6 before another giddy Garden throng. It's only fitting that these wonderful playoffs go the distance, all 2,400 miles of it from Boston to Vancouver.
"Our guys have responded well, and now we have to make sure we don't get comfortable with our game," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We're willing to bring it to Vancouver with us, because that's what it's going to take to win."
This has been the Cup final that would make a real estate salesperson proud, because it's been all about location, location, location. In dusting the Canucks again, the Bruins outscored Vancouver 17-3 in the three games in Boston. But in the three at Rogers Arena, Vancouver has a 5-2 edge. How can a series be tied three games apiece where one team (Boston) has outscored another (Vancouver) by a 19-8 margin?
"To tell you the truth, it doesn't really matter," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "At the end of the day ... we're going back home in front of our fans. One-game showdown to win the Cup. That's it."
It has been fashionable to want to write off these Canucks in the playoffs, starting with their need to go to a Game 7 in the opening round against Chicago, which they won 2-1 in overtime. Coming home for Game 5 against Boston last Friday, many who could have gone by the pseudonym "Chicken Little" were treated instead to a shutout win by Roberto Luongo. One thing is for sure: Luongo goes into Game 7 well rested. For the second straight finals game in Boston, "Bobby Loo" was chased, this time with only 8:35 having been played.
Luongo, who will start Game 7, was lifted by Vigneault at that point after Andrew Ference scored thanks to a nice screen from 43-year-old Mark Recchi for a 3-0 Bruins lead. Previously, Luongo allowed goals to Brad Marchand (5:31) and Milan Lucic (6:06) -- both from the short side.
Vigneault, whose gum-chewing facade has never betrayed a hint of panic in these playoffs, had a message to all of Luongo's prove-it-to-me-one-more-time skeptics: "He's going to be real good," the coach said.
A couple of things hurt the Canucks at the start of the game. One was the unfortunately literal pain of underrated winger Mason Raymond, who left 20 seconds in after being hit awkwardly into the boards by Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk.
Another was Vancouver's sloppy play through the middle of the ice. On Marchand's and Lucic's goals, the Canucks were caught outnumbered coming back defensively. Luongo could have negated both breakdowns with reasonably able saves, but he never had it in this one. He didn't have it in his two previous losses in Boston, either, but he came back with the shutout effort in Game 5.
Which Luongo will show up for the final showdown? It's a question that will hang in the vapory Vancouver air for another 48 hours. Boston goalie Tim Thomas has played every second of the series for his team and could pull another Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2003, Anaheim) and win the Conn Smythe Trophy even if the Bruins lose Game 7. Of course, Thomas wants that other trophy, too. It will be Boston's first Cup final Game 7 in the Original Six team's long history.
"I'm very happy to be here and have this opportunity," Thomas said. "I'm going to try and embrace that opportunity and take the same attitude that I've taken the whole playoffs. Hopefully, that will get me through that one last game, to get the goal that we've been shooting for all year long."
For Recchi, this could be the last game of his 22-year career.
"I'm going to lay it on the line one more time and see where it takes me after that," Recchi said.
What's another 2,400 miles, for a chance at a Cup?