Bruins-Canucks again a top draw
WILMINGTON - This afternoon at TD Garden, unlike the last time the Bruins and Canucks squared off, there will be no silver trophy awaiting the winner. No boxes stuffed with champagne in the dressing room. No victory cigars asking to be smoked.
Just two points.
For Bruins fans, today’s rematch will be an opportunity to relive a life-changing, organization-altering experience. The highlights - erasing a 2-0 series deficit, turning Roberto Luongo into a punch line, capping Mark Recchi’s Hall of Fame career with a third Cup - were matched by the infamous moments that will last as long as the Cup sparkles bright.
Think of Alex Burrows’s chomp of Patrice Bergeron’s finger. Recchi and Milan Lucic taunting the Canucks with their respective finger waggles. Brad Marchand’s use of Daniel Sedin as his personal speedbag. Luongo’s complaint of an absence of reciprocal tire-pumping from his puck-stopping counterpart.
Oh, the memories.
“It’s an easy game to get up for,’’ Lucic, a Vancouver native said. “I’m sure the emotions will be going early. It will make it good for a great matinee game.’’
Try as they might, the Bruins and Canucks will not be able to replicate the flammable nature of the Stanley Cup Final in today’s game. It is January, prior to the All-Star break and before the stirring of the trade market. These are the dog days of the season.
But what will make today’s match more captivating than others will be the possibility that both teams could meet again. Last year, on Feb. 26, the Bruins visited Rogers Arena in what turned out to be the appetizer to the seven-course meal.
This season, both teams are humming along once more. The Bruins went into last night a point behind the Rangers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference; the Canucks, a point better than second-place Chicago in the West.
“They’re the top team in the West. We’re one of the top teams in the East,’’ Shawn Thornton said. “It should be a good challenge for us. As far as extra buildup, because we played them in the Final, it was pretty emotional. The Final should be emotional. You’re in the wrong place if you’re not playing with emotion at that time of year. As for this one, this is Game  for us. It should be a good test.’’
There is a good chance that today’s meeting might not be the last. The 2010-11 season is history. But with both teams training their sights on June - the Bruins aiming to relive last year’s glory, the Canucks trying to right past wrongs - today’s match will feature two clubs seeking to make statements.
“The Final was last year. We did what we had to do and we succeeded at that,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We come back this year and it’s a league game. I’m not going to stand here and say it means absolutely nothing. There’s a rivalry that was built. I’m sure both teams are going to go into [today’s] game knowing that. But I don’t think it’s any different than the rivalry we have with Philadelphia or other teams we play like Montreal. It’s going to be one of those intense games. Certainly I wouldn’t read more into it than that. There’s no Stanley Cup at the end of [today’s] game. Certainly it’s a battle of two teams that feel they’re good teams and certainly want to measure themselves against each other.’’
The Canucks have undergone some changes. Christian Ehrhoff, one of their primary defensemen, is in Buffalo. Raffi Torres signed with Phoenix. Former Panther David Booth, currently injured, was acquired in an early-season trade that saw ex-Bruin Marco Sturm shipped to Sunrise.
But the core of Vancouver’s identity remains strong. Henrik and Daniel Sedin anchor the skilled attack. Ryan Kesler, Vancouver’s version of Bergeron, is the club’s engine. Luongo and Cory Schneider combine to form perhaps the league’s second-best goaltending tandem behind Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask.
Like they did last year, the Canucks will try to entice the Bruins into taking penalties. Vancouver has the league’s best power play, humming along at 23.6 percent.
“Their game hasn’t changed,’’ Julien said. “They had a great year last year. They had a lot of success with the way they play. They believe in the way they play. We believe in the way we play. I don’t think much has changed as far as what we should be looking for. We’ll be looking for the same things as last year when we played them.’’
The Bruins might be better than when they last squared off with Vancouver. They are coming off a 9-0, windshield-squashes-bug pasting of the Flames on Thursday. The night before, the Bruins scored a 6-1 win at New Jersey.
Amid their sand-kicking march through opponents, they’ve been executing the type of tunnel vision that makes goose bumps speckle a coach’s skin. One game at a time, the players regularly say.
“I think it’s great that there’s a buildup toward it,’’ Lucic said of today’s game. “Both teams are excited at going into this game, as we should be. We both didn’t have the starts we really wanted. Both teams have picked up their game and are on top of the league. It makes it more interesting because there’s a lot we’re playing for.’’
Marchand missed Thursday’s game because of flu-like symptoms, and didn’t practice yesterday. But Julien said Marchand was feeling better and would likely be available today. If so, Marchand, Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin should see plenty of shifts against the Sedins . . . Julien and assistants Geoff Ward, Doug Houda, and Doug Jarvis will coach one of the two teams in the All-Star Game Jan. 29. The game will take place in Ottawa, Julien’s hometown . . . Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault announced that Schneider will start in net today.