Stanley Cup Finals 2011: Tim Thomas and 5 Others We'd Like to See Lift the Cup
So, unless you are a Canucks or Bruins fan, the dreams that danced through your head in October about your team's captain lifting the Cup over his head in June have been long since dashed.
If, like me, you keep watching NHL hockey even after your team is eliminated, you might find that a strange phenomenon occurs—you actually enjoy it a little bit more.
Being a Detroit Red Wings fan, I've had my fair share of long playoff runs to sweat through, lose sleep over and, often, jump for joy for at the conclusion.
It's a lot of fun, but it's also nerve wracking.
When you know your team as well as I do, you have confidence in their strengths, but are also keenly aware of their weaknesses.
Sitting through the playoffs, wondering which of the two will eventually win out, is enough to drive one mad with anxiety.
For me, it is only after my team has won the whole thing, or been eliminated, that I can truly relax and enjoy the season that was.
For the record, I was really hoping for a San Jose/Tampa Bay Stanley Cup Final. However, as Boston and Vancouver emerged as the last two teams standing, I must admit a bias to one side.
I'm an American and a patriot, so let's leave it at that.
Still, as my passion, anxiety, hopes and fears were neatly stowed away at the end of the Wings/Sharks series, I have to say that I'm glad I've been able to enjoy hockey from a somewhat objective perspective again.
No matter who wins the Stanley Cup, there are players on both sides that I would really like to see raise the Cup this season.
True, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas is one of them, but there are a few more in this series that we're rooting for as well.
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Tim Thomas: The Little Engine That Could
Tim Thomas was passed over, marginalized, given up on and forgotten about several times over before he ever entered the NHL.
As a 32-year-old rookie in the 2005-06 season (though Thomas did appear in four games with the Bruins in 2002-03), Thomas astounded and surprised everyone by emerging as a legitimate starting goaltender some 11 years after he was drafted by Quebec.
The only one not surprised by his success, was Thomas himself.
Like that little engine we all learned about in kindergarten, Thomas' "I think I can" attitude eventually turned into an "I know I can" reality.
Three seasons later, Tim Thomas was the NHL's Vezina Trophy winner and set to continue his brilliant, but late, blooming NHL career in the 2009-10 season.
Instead, Thomas faltered in his post-Vezina season to the point that he lost the starting job in Boston to rookie Tuukka Rask.
At the start of this season, Thomas, having seemingly been once again forgotten about and given up on, figured to be the back-up in Boston.
Instead, Rask struggled early on and Thomas stepped in as the starter once again.
Since then, he's done nothing short of locking-up his second Vezina Trophy and backstopping his team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
At 37, Tim Thomas may not get any more kicks at the can.
That, combined with his unlikely NHL career, would make seeing him lift the Stanley Cup a pretty cool sight.
Roberto Luongo: The "Best Goalie to Never Win Anything" May Be No More
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know Luongo has an Olympic Gold Medal at home, and that's a great thing.
However, no NHL player's career is defined by Olympic Gold—it's Stanley Cup Silver that validates an NHL player's greatness.
For years, Luongo has been considered perhaps the best goalie in the NHL.
However, until this season, long-term playoff success has all but eluded him.
In the Canucks' first-round scare against Chicago (who erased Vancouver's 3-0 series lead and was just a shot away from coming all the way back in an OT win in Game 7), Luongo's mental toughness and championship ability was questioned yet again.
However, getting past the Blackhawks seems to have done something for the goalie's psyche, as he's gone on to have a brilliant run in this postseason.
True, the snowman dropped on him in Game 3 in Boston (you know, "8" goals) is going to leave some wondering if he's starting lose his nerve, and his mind, yet again.
But should that beat down prove to be an anomaly, and if he can pull two more wins out of the next four games, it will be somewhat satisfying to finally see Roberto Luongo validate the hype that's followed him for the past several seasons.
Zdeno Chara: Raising the Cup to the Rafters May No Longer Be a Figure of Speech
Should Boston win the Cup, it would not only end a 39-year Cup-drought, but also facilitate a new world record for highest Cup-to-ice altitude ever reached in the NHL.
Zdeno Chara is 6'9," and with his wingspan it is conceivable that the Stanley Cup could be elevated nearly 10 feet above the ice for the first time in league history.
Aside from his size, Chara's ability and dedication to his team is reason enough to cheer for him should the B's actually emerge as champions this year.
Additionally, it would be really funny to see the league's tallest player take the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (who is about 5' 5").
If this turns out to be the case, Bettman better let go quickly or he might just be lifted up over Chara's head along with the Cup.
Henrik Sedin: Don Cherry May Turn over in His Grave and the Guy Ain't Dead Yet
For those who are confused by the headline, Hockey Night in Canada analyst Don Cherry is shamefully, but somehow lovably, biased towards Canadian-based teams and is also nakedly derisive of European players.
To be fair, Cherry has expressed his love for the Bruins in this series as he was a former player and coach for the club.
However, he has predicted that the Canucks will win the Cup and, as they're a Canadian franchise, doing so would somehow be "the way it should be."
But their captain is a Swede, not a good ol' Ontario boy, so seeing the 'Nucks win the Cup, but having a Swede be the first to grab it, may cause a fair amount of cognitive dissonance in Grapes' noodle.
Aside from seeing Cherry squirm, it would be great to see Sedin emerge as only the second European captain in NHL history to lead his team to a championship (Nicklas Lidstrom was the first to do this in 2008 with the Detroit Red Wings).
Milan Lucic: A Hometown Boy Would Make Good, in Either Arena
As Lucic is a native of Vancouver, he's had a fair amount of media attention focused on him since this series began.
From friends and family asking for tickets to teammates asking him about the best restaurants to go to, Lucic has been a busy man on and off the ice.
Why would seeing him win the Stanley Cup be cool?
Well, for my money, Lucic embodies the heart, skill, power and passion that every hockey player should have; seeing guys like that get rewarded always makes me happy.
Additionally, as a child of Serbian immigrants who arrived in Canada with hopes of providing a better life for themselves, it would be an amazing thing for his parents to see their son achieve the highest level of success in hockey.
He would not only fulfill their dreams, but also embody the American Dream as well (since he's playing for an American franchise).
Ryan Kesler: The Cup Could Return North of the Border, with Help from the USA
Remember everything I just said about the kind of player Milan Lucic is?
Well, the same goes for Ryan Kesler.
Through the regular season, Kesler emerged as not only a legitimate 40-goal scorer, but also as the very heart and soul of the Vancouver Canucks.
He not only scores, but also checks, fights, makes plays and energizes his team.
He's a top line player with a fourth-line work ethic that has not only helped his team get to the Stanley Cup Finals, but also legitimately made a name for himself in the Conn Smythe discussion.
As an American, Kesler may feel a little strange about beating a US team to win a Cup for a Canadian franchise.
However, patriotism aside, Kesler will be one of the biggest reasons Vancouver might end this series as 2011 Stanley Cup champions; there's no doubt he'll feel as proud as he ever has in his hockey career.