FRANK SERAVALLI

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 put 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.

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RICH HOFMANN

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.

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SAM DONNELLON

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.

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SERIES AT A GLANCE

SCHEDULE

Tonight: at Vancouver, 8 p.m. (NBC)

Saturday: at Vancouver, 8 p.m. (NBC)

Monday: at Boston, 8 p.m. (Versus)

June 8: at Boston, 8 p.m. (Versus)

*June 10: at Vancouver, 8 p.m. (NBC)

*June 13: at Boston, 8 p.m. (NBC)

*June 15: at Vancouver, 8 p.m. (NBC)

* If necessary

Season series: The Bruins won the only regular-season matchup, 3-1, at Vancouver on Feb. 26. Boston has dominated the all-time series, winning 83 of the 108 games.

How they got here: No. 1 Vancouver beat No. 8 Chicago, 4-3, No. 5 Nashville, 4-2, and No. 2 San Jose, 4-1. No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Montreal, 4-3, No. 2 Flyers, 4-0, and No. 5 Tampa Bay, 4-3.

Slight edge: The Canucks have a slight edge to start the series, possessing home-ice advantage and they also are well rested. In the Western Conference finals, Vancouver defeated San Jose in five games. In the Eastern Conference finals, Boston defeated Tampa Bay in seven games.

Championship drought: The Cup champion will end one of the longest championship droughts in NHL history. The Canucks have never won a Cup since the franchise began in 1970. In their two finals appearances, they were defeated by the New York Islanders (1982) and New York Rangers (1994). The Bruins have not won a Cup since 1972. Since then, they have gone 0-5 in the finals, including a loss in 1974 to the Flyers.

Key return: Canucks center Manny Malhotra, who has been out since March 16 when he took a puck to the eye, has returned to the ice but did not practice yesterday and is unlikely to play in Game 1.

Gritty goalkeepers: The Bruins' Tim Thomas and the Canucks' Roberto Luongo have been terrific. They both are 12-6 in the playoffs with a 2.29 goals-against average. Thomas has a slight advantage with a .929 save percentage, while Luongo has a .922 save percentage.