The NHL finals got off to a rousing start Wednesday, with all the elements in place for a memorable series between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins. Both fan bases are long-suffering: In their 40-year history, the Canucks have never won the Stanley Cup; the Bruins haven't won in 39 years. National pride, curiously, is at stake: A Canadian-based team hasn't won the Cup since 1993, an unprecedented drought for a hockey-obsessed nation. So is civic pride. Think Boston isn't still a hockey town? Game One, a classic 1-0 defensive gem won by the Canucks, drew a 25.5 rating and 39-share in the Boston market, blowing away the 19.1 rating/ 34 share Game One of last year's NBA Finals between the Celtics and Lakers, the NBA's marquis match-up. And now there is some genuine ill-will between these two teams who have very little history between them. Vancouver's Alex Burrows chomped down on Patrice Bergeron's index finger during a first period scrum, biting hard enough to break the skin.
|Burrows chows down|
I'm taking myself out of the prediction game, having gone a pathetic 1-3 in the second round. In today's NHL--and this is starkly different from the league I grew up watching--the better goalie usually beats the better team in a playoff series, so prognostications are little more than guesswork. Vancouver had the best record in the NHL's regular season, so they would appear to be the favorite. But home-ice has not proved to be much of an advantage in these playoffs, and Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, the probable Vezina Trophy winner, is capable of winning a series all by himself.
So is Vancouver's goalie, Roberto Luongo, for that matter. The better goalie over the next ten days will win this series. That's my prediction.
Interestingly, they play completely different styles. Luongo's big; he plays on his knees; and he plays deep in his net, meaning the Bruins had better rattle their shots off the top post to beat him, as Chicago was able to do in the first round against Vancouver. That's all Luongo gives you.
His one weakness is that he's terrible at handling the puck. The Bruins dump and chase a lot, so they might be able to take advantage of that. But I don't think they snipe well enough to score a lot of goals in this series. And their power play is awful. Boston was 0-for-21 in its seven-game win over Montreal in the first round, becoming the first team to win a playoff series without scoring a power play goal.
Thomas, by contrast, is aggressive and will challenge a shooter from the top of his crease. He's athletic, flexible, and unorthodox.
|Daniel and Henrik Sendin|
Now, a few words about the incredible, edible tongue.
|13 1/2 inches of low-fat protein|
I don't know why so few Americans eat tongue these days. Fifty years ago it was a staple. It's easy to prepare. You simply put the tongue into a pot, cover it with 3 cups chicken stock plus enough water to cover the tongue, one peeled and quartered yellow onion, two chopped carrots, two chopped celery sticks, and a dozen peppercorns. Boil for 2-2 1/2 hours. Remove from broth until cool enough to handle. (I strain and reserve the remaining liquid and use it for beef broth.) Take a sharp knife and make a slit in the tough outer skin of the tongue, and peel off the skin to reveal the smooth, pink flesh. Slice and serve.
Because it is so mild in flavor, it needs some spice or seasonings to make it interesting. Capers. Hot mustard. Peppers. Onions. It's excellent on a bed of flavorful swiss chard, covered with a lemon vinaigrette. Below it's served on a bed of lettuce, smothered in capers and a vinaigrette.
Mr. Burrows, this is not finger food. You will need a knife and fork. Bon appetite!