The NHL's marketing tag line for the Stanley Cup playoffs is, "History will be made." We know that is true for 2011.
There have already been two teams that blew a 3-0 series lead and managed to win Game 7. Not only has that not happened twice in one playoffs before, but all three previous teams to do it won the Stanley Cup.
There have been a lot of close games—eight more overtime games over the final two rounds will tie the NHL record. The Sharks and Red Wings played the first series ever to feature six one-goal games, and the seventh was only two goals because of an empty-net goal.
Road teams are having an unusual amount of success, going 37-33 through the first two rounds. The Boston Bruins won a series without an power play goal.
The list goes on.
But few will remember these details. Most fans only remember one thing: Who beat whom for the Stanley Cup. (Many do not even remember the losers.)
Check the following link for a full Western Conference preview of the San Jose Sharks vs. Vancouver Canucks. But while I have been trumpeting the superiority of the Western Conference all spring, the winner of that series will not hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.
Which team wins the Stanley Cup?
For one thing, the extremely lighter travel schedule of the Eastern Conference gives them a tremendous advantage. No more than three playoff games are played outside their time zone, compared to three games for both San Jose and Vancouver being played three time zones away!
During the regular season, Boston and Tampa Bay played about 90 percent of their games in the same time zone, compared to 57 percent for Vancouver and 63 percent for San Jose. The lighter travel also gave them time for about a dozen more practices every season.
But even without the travel advantage, the smart money would be on the Prince of Wales Trophy Winner this season.
Had the Sharks simply blew a 3-0 lead to a premiere team like the Wings, I might point out that as close as the games were, the puck simply bounced one way at the outset and another at the end of the series.
But the Sharks blew a 3-1 third period lead in Game 5 and then barely showed up in Game 6. Champions do not do that.
Also, goalies who play too much do not win Cups. Martin Brodeur is the only goalie to have played in more than 68 games and won the Cup in the expansion era.
Antti Niemi may have only played in 60, but that includes 37 of the team's last 38 games.
How much of an advantage is the Eastern Conference's easier travel schedule?
It may be even worse for Vancouver. They skated through an easy schedule to the best record in the league, faced a shell of the team that has knocked them out two years in a row on the ropes 3-0, and no-showed in two consecutive games.
No champion lets his nemesis into a series like that.
Moreover, there has not been a team to win the Stanley Cup who needed seven games to advance past the first round since 1992. Finally, they are once again getting nothing from their supposed stars (no longer the case with San Jose).
Boston also went seven games in the first round. They are losing at home 3-1 as I write this in the opening game of the Eastern Conference finals.
Tampa has the only goalie better than Tim Thomas in this year's playoffs and better scoring. They have the best special teams. They are getting surprising contributions from the supporting cast while also have their stars shine.
But they are the youngest team in the playoffs with the oldest and least spectacular regular season goalie.
They were not even supposed to be here and have little playoff experience outside of Dwayne Roloson, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier.
Plain and simple, they cannot have the same urgency to win that Boston, an elite regular season team for three consecutive seasons, feels.
They have the better team on paper. Home ice has to start meaning something, if only by law of averages.
The Boston Bruins will beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games, and win the Stanley Cup in seven over the Campbell Trophy winner.