Later today, the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks will face each other for the first time since game seven of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. It’s the only time this season the two teams will meet unless they both make their way back to battle for the Cup this year, which is a distinct possibility.
It’s not just a rematch; it might very well be a preview of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. The Canucks are currently first place in the Western Conference, while the Bruins are second in the Eastern Conference but have two games in hand on the first place New York Rangers. In terms of storylines, there are many: Daniel Sedin vs Brad Marchand, Tim Thomas vs anyone trying to score on him, and Cory Schneider getting the start over Roberto Luongo.
In all ways possible, this is a marquee match-up between two of the best teams in the NHL. And the NHL doesn’t seem to want you to see it.
I said “later today” but I don’t mean much later. One of the biggest games of the regular season is an afternoon game. Puck drop will be at 1PM in Boston, which means the game will be starting at 10AM for Canucks fans on the west coast. The game won’t be shown nationally, either: the game won’t be on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada or TSN and won’t be shown on either NBC or the NBC Sports Network (previously Versus) in the US.
Is it just me or is this absurd?
One of the most highly anticipated games of the NHL season will only be shown on local television. It’s the only time that these two powerhouses will play each other this season and essentially no one outside of New England and British Columbia will be able to watch it. And with the game starting so early, they’ve made everything just a little bit more difficult.
Not only are afternoon games generally a pain for fans, but they’re also difficult for the players. A player’s normal pre-game routine is thrown out the window, frequently resulting in two teams that are not at the top of their game. If there’s any game where you want to see both teams at their best, this is the game.
The Bruins are in the midst of dominating the league, accentuated by their 9-0 drubbing of the Calgary Flames on Thursday. They are first in goals per game and goals against per game and fifth on the powerplay and penalty kill. Their current goal differential is an ungodly plus-69.
When the Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy last season, they led the league in goals, goals against, and the powerplay, and were tied for second on the penalty kill. They still only had a goal differential of plus-77 over a full season. It was considered one of the best regular season performances by a team in the modern NHL and the Bruins could best it this year.
The Canucks aren’t too shabby this season either. They are currently fourth in goals per game, eighth in goals against per game, first on the powerplay, and seventh on the penalty kill. They boast a perfectly respectable plus-35 goal differential and two of the top-four scorers in the league.
And their one meeting of the year with the team that sent them packing in the Stanley Cup Final is scheduled for 10AM in Vancouver.
Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault was diplomatic when asked about the start time, saying “Obviously the NHL and their schedule-making didn’t think it would be that big of a game putting it at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.” That seems more than a little sarcastic, but it’s innocuous enough, particularly since he himself was trying to downplay the game himself.
But then he added, “I just saw what happened to Torts so I am going to keep my comments to myself,” referring to the $30,000 fine Rangers coach John Tortorella received for his comments regarding the refereeing in the Winter Classic. So no, he’s not thrilled with the start time.
It’s entirely possible that the game will be completely disappointing. Both coaches will likely advise their players to focus on their gameplan and avoid getting too emotionally involved with the rematch narrative. Each team has been careful in the media, saying all the right things and avoiding any bulletin board material for their opponents.
It’s also possible that it could be one of the best games of the season between two of the best teams in the league, complete with ready-made narratives. There is no way that this game should be scheduled for the early afternoon in the east.