VANCOUVER - Daniel Sedin absently scratched his red playoff beard, thinking back on a decade of struggle and setbacks before the Vancouver Canucks reached the Stanley Cup finals against Boston.

Down the hallway, his identical twin rubbed his identical beard exactly the same way.

Henrik Sedin was considering a more pressing problem, though: Now that the Swedish superstars are finally close enough to touch the Stanley Cup, how do they get it away from hulking defenseman Zdeno Chara and the bruising Bruins?

"We've had a lot of challenges along the way to get here, but he's the biggest one yet - literally, I guess," said Henrik Sedin, last season's NHL MVP. "It's going to be exciting to see what happens, because we haven't played each other enough to know those guys very well. It's unpredictable."

The only sure bet is that one championship drought will end for one long-suffering, hockey-loving city. The Canucks face Boston in the Stanley Cup finals, starting in Game 1 tonight in Vancouver.

The Canucks have never won it all, falling in their only two finals appearances in four decades of existence - yet their ever-anxious city is buzzing with anticipation, judging by dozens of fans walking Granville Street in blue-and-green jerseys in the days before the finals.

The Sedin twins finally have justified their sublime talent with team success in Vancouver, winning the Presidents' Trophy during a dominant regular season before winning nine of their past 12 playoff games heading into the finals. The Canucks might be the best team ever assembled on Canada's West Coast, yet they realize they haven't done anything until they raise the Cup.

"With the parity that is in the league, you've got to do a lot of things right for a long time," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "I do believe you've got to get some bounces, you get the bounces because you've been doing things right for a long time. I believe that Vancouver is due for 40 years of good bounces."

The Bruins have lost five straight trips to the finals since Bobby Orr led them to their last title in 1972. With only moderate expectations this spring, Boston survived a rough Eastern Conference run in which it faced elimination twice in the past three rounds.

The Bruins coolly won two Game 7 showdowns, both on clutch goals by Nathan Horton, earning the right to travel thousands of miles from home to the opposite coast for a shot at their ultimate goal.

"We definitely earned the right to be here with everything we've gone through," Horton said yesterday after the Bruins' first practice in Vancouver. "I had never even been in the playoffs before, so maybe I don't know any better. I'm getting some real goosebumps now, though."

These teams know little about each other, meeting just once in the regular season thanks to the NHL's unbalanced schedule. They've had several days to study, but they know they won't fully appreciate the Sedins' brilliance or Chara's ice-clogging force until they see it up close.

"It's a lot more time in the film room, but it pays off," Henrik Sedin said.

Henrik Sedin is the league's leading playoff scorer with 21 points, while Ryan Kesler has 18 - and Daniel Sedin a mere 16.