The date was Feb. 26, there were stars aplenty on both sides, and the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins met on "Hockey Night in Canada" in what turned out to be a dandy.
Little did they know that the Bruins' 3-1 victory in Vancouver would turn out to be a Stanley Cup finals preview, as well.
But don't talk to the Bruins about it. To them, it was just one regular-season game out of 82. Sure, it was a big win. Tim Thomas made 26 saves and Vancouver native Milan Lucic scored the game winner.
But that doesn't mean the Bruins will take the league's No. 1 seed lightly this week. Vancouver, after all, cruised to a Northwest Division title, and led the NHL with 117 points, 10 more than any other team.
After the Bruins practiced one last time in Boston yesterday, and before they took off for Vancouver, they were more than complimentary of their next opponent.
"Obviously, they're a President's Trophy winner, they're a great hockey team, deep and well coached, and we'll look at things we have to do," Bruins forward Mark Recchi said. "Any key to your team's success is how you play personally. I think we focus on what we do ourselves. Our coaching staff will give us their tendencies, and their coaching staff will give them our tendencies. It's who's going to want it more and who's going to play to their abilities the best."
Game 1 is tomorrow night. By the time the puck drops, the Canucks, who defeated San Jose in five games to win the West title, will have had 7 days off.
"Well, they are a great team, they have a lot of depth," Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said. "They are good on all positions and it's going to be a tough series and we are aware of that. Obviously, we are going to have to take it a game at a time and we are going to have to concentrate on Wednesday right now."
The Canucks have many weapons to focus on, most notably Daniel and Henrik Sedin, a pair of twin forwards who, along with forward Ryan Kesler and goaltender Roberto Luongo, have led this Vancouver renaissance. Together, the Sedins have 37 points this postseason, and Daniel has eight goals. In the regular season, Daniel had 41 goals, and Henrik had 75 assists.
"You want to try to not be over-aggressive, because once you do that, they spin off of you and that's what they want to try to accomplish, be one guy and then two on the next," Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "They're really good at finding each other, with the give-and-gos, and the blind pass behind the back. So that's a real challenge for us, to be aggressive but not be stupid about it. So, we have to be smart in our defensive play."
Kesler could be the x-factor, though. Too much concentration on the Sedins, and the rugged, 6-2, 195-pound center from Livonia, Mich., will pounce. In his breakout year this season, Kesler scored 41 goals. He's followed that up with seven goals and 11 assists in the playoffs.
"There is a lot of skill, there is a lot of speed," Boston coach Claude Julien said in reference to the Canucks. "Their back end has a lot of versatility, and they love to carry the puck up the ice a lot. So, they are a pretty potent team and obviously, they thrive on their power play. So, we are going to have to be a physical team. But we are also going to have to be a very disciplined team."
And Manny Malhotra also was cleared to play for the Canucks, 10 weeks after a deflected puck caused a career-threatening injury in his left eye.
* The Atlanta Thrashers' sale to a group which would move the team to Winnipeg could be complete this week, possibly as early as today. The Thrashers' owners are in negotiations with True North Sports and Entertainment, which would relocate the team to Winnipeg.