Back in late December, just a few days after Christmas, the Flyers flew to Vancouver — perhaps the most breathtaking stop on the NHL circuit — a day earlier than normal to regroup after a 7-day holiday break and to get adjusted to the 3-hour time change.
Despite sitting a point behind Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division, the Flyers were about to start their tear through the standings that would ultimately leave them eight points up in the Eastern Conference and in the lead for 54 consecutive days. In fact, the Flyers were two points up on the eventual Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks before their Dec. 28 matchup.
The contest was slated to be a measuring stick for both teams, to compare two bonafide contenders from the East and West.
It left the Flyers a bit, um, lacking.
The Flyers were shellacked from start to finish by a deeper, faster and more talented team. The final score was 6-2, but the Canucks already had taken their foot off the gas pedal by the middle of the second period. That's precisely when the Canucks grabbed my attention. And they haven't given me any reason to think they won't dispatch a scrappy Bruins team in a battle between the NHL's eastern and western-most teams.
Plus, if you're a believer in numerology, how about this nugget: Montreal hosted the Summer Olympics in 1976, the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1977. Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics in 1988, the Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1989.
Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010, and I believe the Canucks will bring Canada its first Stanley Cup in 18 years.
The pick: Canucks in 5.
The Bruins' power play has stunk all spring. They didn't score a power-play goal in their first-round series against Montreal and still found a way to win, and they haven't been much better since then. It is going to be the difference here.
Yes, the Bruins are the more physical team. But as the old saying goes, you can't hit them until you catch them — and the Canucks are fast. People think the Bruins might have an advantage in goal with Tim Thomas, but Roberto Luongo has been very, very good since the first round. Zdeno Chara, the Bruins' giant on defense, might be able to keep the Sedin twins tied up at even strength — but the problem, the insurmountable problem, is going to be the special-teams differential.
The Canucks' power play moves the puck quickly and well. By comparison, the Bruins stand around on their power play. The difference is as obvious as it is enormous.
The pick: Canucks in 5.
In so many ways, the Bruins remind me of last year's Flyers. They pry loose pucks, they've got a big, borderline-dirty veteran defenseman standing in front of their resilient veteran goalie, they block shots with great desperation. And above all, they can take a punch.
But the team they are up against is good, really good. They are so good it seems they can inflict their will on foes whenever they need to. The Bruins are playing with the backup Olympic goalie, the Canucks have the guy who replaced Martin Brodeur and helped them win gold. Vancouver comes at you in waves, and its defensive commitment, all season, has been admirable.
The Canucks were the NHL's most consistent team. After their seven-game scare in the opening round, that consistency has returned to their game. The Bruins will make this a lot of fun, but Vancouver will win.
The pick: Canucks in 7.