VANCOUVER — A photograph hanging on a wall at Rogers Arena shows Mark Messier with a mile-wide grin, lifting the Stanley Cup as the New York Rangers captain.
The image brought a smile to Tanner Glass. He has imagined that moment many times.
“As a kid I have won this trophy a million times in my basement,’’ the soft-spoken Vancouver Canuck forward said Tuesday. “To finally be here and experience everything that goes along with it is super exciting.’’
The long wait is almost over as Glass and the rest of his Canuck teammates face the Boston Bruins Wednesday in Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup final. It’s the first time in 17 years the Canucks have reached the final.
“This is what you play your whole life for,’’ said Daniel Sedin, who led the NHL in scoring this season and is an MVP finalist. “It’s a nice feeling.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, but right now we’re enjoying the moment.’’
Long-suffering Canuck fans are hoping it’s the beginning of the end to their 40-year wait to see the franchise win its first Stanley Cup.
The same excitement that gripped Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics has taken hold of the city. The streets are full of fans wearing Canuck jerseys. Team flags flap from car windows.
“This city is obviously crazy about their hockey, crazy about their Canucks,’’ said centre Ryan Kesler, who played for the U.S. team that lost the gold medal to Canada at the Games.
“They are very passionate. They have been waiting a while for this. I am more excited about this than the Olympics.’’
Boston is looking to end its own long drought. The Bruins have won five Stanley Cups, but the last came in 1972. Their last appearance in the final was 1990 when they lost in five games to the Edmonton Oilers.
Forward Nathan Horton loves the excitement in Vancouver, but said the Bruins came to town with a job to do.
“We all know they have a lot of skill,’’ said Horton, who has eight goals and 17 points in the playoffs. “We are going to have to stay out of the box and be disciplined.
“If we don’t play hard every night, if we don’t play our A game, it is going to be tough.’’
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series will be Saturday.
The Canucks have been waiting over a week for the final to begin, after beating the San Jose Sharks in double overtime of Game 5 of the Western Conference final last Tuesday.
“It’s been too long,’’ said Henrik Sedin, the Canuck captain who leads the playoff scoring race with 21 points, including 19 assists.
“Four or five days would have been good. But to sit and wait for this long, you can only practise so much. It’s exciting to get going.’’
The Canucks and Bruins are both defensively strong. Vancouver allowed a league-low 185 goals during the regular season. The 195 goals allowed by Boston was third least.
The Canucks have a far better power play and more offensive depth than the Bruins. Vancouver has two lines that can score and a third able to chip in goals when needed.
“It’s how we play,’’ said Daniel Sedin, who has eight goals and 16 points in the playoffs. “If our line doesn’t score, it’s going to be other lines stepping up.
“That’s how it’s been through these playoffs.’’
The Bruins rely on the line of Milan Lucic, a Vancouver native, David Krejci and Horton for most of their scoring. Krejci has 10 goals during the playoffs.
The Canuck power play has been impressive in the playoffs, scoring 17 goals on 60 chances for a 28.3-per-cent rating.
“It’s been good all year,’’ Henrik Sedin said.
“We don’t have a setup where we know where everyone is going to be, and the other team doesn’t know for sure where the guys are on ice. A lot of puck movement, players moving around. That’s the key to success. We’re tough to read.’’
The Bruins’ power play has managed just five goals in 61 chances for an anaemic 8.2-per-cent rating.
Boston coach Claude Julien said there is work to be done.
“We’ve managed to survive,’’ he said. “We understand if your power play doesn’t get going, you’re certainly playing with fire.
“I think it’s going to be important for us to be extremely disciplined and try and minimize the penalties we take.’’
Defenceman Christian Ehrhoff said the Canucks still can’t afford to take too many penalties.
“You still have to respect the talent they have on their power play,’’ Ehrhoff said. “You can’t just take it for granted and take stupid penalties just because their percentage isn’t there right now.’’
One wrinkle the Bruins have used is putting defenceman Zdeno Chara, their six-foot-nine, 255-pound Norris Trophy finalist, in front of the net during power plays.
“It’s going to be tough to move him,’’ said Ehrhoff. “You are going to have to try to get under his stick if there are rebounds.’’
The final will be a matchup of two of the league’s best goaltenders, who use very different styles.
Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Boston’s Tim Thomas are both Vezina Trophy finalists.
The big, rangy Luongo employs a traditional butterfly style. He uses his size to cover up the net and doesn’t give shooters much to aim for.
The stocky Thomas is more unorthodox and relies on his reflexes to make big saves. Thomas can look totally out of position but scramble back to make a stop.
“He’s a goalie that makes unbelievable saves,’’ said Kesler. “You have to bear down and bury it. He’ll try to stop pucks with any limb possible.’’
The Canucks may be without centre Manny Malhotra for Game 1. Malhotra has been sidelined with a serious eye injury since March 16.
On Saturday coach Alain Vigneault said Malhotra had been cleared to play. But Malhotra was not at practice Tuesday and general manger Mike Gillis said he was “day to day.’
The Canucks had their best season in franchise history, winning the President’s Trophy after leading the regular season with 117 points. Boston was seventh with 103.
The Sedin twins are the longest serving current Canucks. In their 10 years with the team they have witnessed many dry years in Vancouver.
Maybe that’s what makes this playoff run so much fun.
“The times that are tough, I think it’s maybe not the most fun times, but that’s the times when you see the people care,’’ said Henrik Sedin.
“When you get through those, it’s easier to enjoy the good times.’’