Stanley Cup final reeks of Hab

Bruins forward Michael Ryder celebrates after scoring a goal against the Lightning during Game 2 of...

Bruins forward Michael Ryder celebrates after scoring a goal against the Lightning during Game 2 of the NHL Eastern Conference final in Boston, Mass., May 17, 2011. (ADAM HUNGER/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:31 PM ET

Of all the fascinating storylines in the upcoming 2011 Stanley Cup final, it's amazing how many of these intriguing angles have a distinct "bleu, blanc et rouge" flavour to them.

Take one look at the rosters of the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks and the connections to the Montreal Canadiens jump right off the page at you.

It starts behind the benches of the two respected teams, where a pair of ex-Habs coaches will lead their squads into this best-of-seven battle for hockey's Holy Grail beginning Wednesday on Canada's left coast.

Truth be told, Vancouver's Alain Vigneault and Boston's Claude Julien have long put their days in Montreal behind them. The same can't be said for certain Habs fans who could never understand why either man was let go by the Canadiens.

Vigneault's critics would claim his one playoff appearance in three-plus seasons as Montreal's bench boss was his eventual downfall. At the same time, this was the same guy who was nominated for the Jack Adams Award as the top coach in the NHL while with Montreal in 2000.

Eleven years later, Vigneault led the Canucks to the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top team during the 2010-11 regular season.

Obviously the man can coach.

The same certainly can be said of Julien, whose most impressive act of coaching in Boston may have been his ability to convince his players to put the nightmare of last spring behind them.

Thirteen months ago, the Bruins were the butt of many an NHL joke -- the majority authored by their own disgruntled fans -- after becoming just the third team in league history to blow a 3-0 lead in games en route to losing a best-of-seven playoff series.

That's not the type of history anyone wants to make.

That the Bruins have successfully developed a case of amnesia about their disintegration against the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2010 playoffs is a reflection of Julien, who, dating back to training camp, preached that his guys should look ahead, not back.

From fourty-something dinosaur Mark Recchi to peach-fuzzed teenager Tyler Seguin, the Bruins, to a man, drank Julien's Kool-Aid.

And now they are in the Stanley Cup final.

Julien's stint with the Canadiens was highlighted by a 93-point regular season performance and a playoff run to the second round in 2004. He was eventually fired and replaced by GM Bob Gainey on Jan. 14, 2006 after compiling a 72-62-11-14 record with the Habs.

This clash of Ex-Hab Coaches has become a favoured topic among the hockey-savvy fans in Quebec. So, too, has the subject of the cache of former Canadiens players who will be competing for the Cup.

Former Bell Centre fan favourite Max Lapierre and the enigmatic Christopher Higgins will be dressed in Vancouver blue. You can bet these two will not have any problems developing a hatred for the Bruins, one forged during their time in Montreal.

Wearing Bruins black and gold will be the inconsistent Michael Ryder, whose roller-coaster career with the Habs did produce its share of thrills and spills. Ryder's ability to snap out of dry spells and produce big goals in bunches will be put to the test in the next two weeks.

As the final curtain prepares to rise on the 2011 playoffs, the smell of old Habs is in the spring air, a full month after the Canadiens were eliminated in overtime of Game 7 in the first round to the Bruins.

The same Bruins who are captained by Zdeno Chara, the most despised opponent in Montreal for obvious reasons.

In a series oozing with plotlines, here are some other intriguing angles a Boston-Vancouver matchup brings to the table:

WELCOME HOME, LOOOOOCH

It certainly looked like tears were welling up in the eyes of B.C.-boy Milan Lucic when the Bruin was being interviewed after Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning about going back home to the Vancouver-area to play in the Stanley Cup final.

"It's a dream come true," Lucic said, adding that his friends and family back on the left coast would be thrilled and pumped.

Lucic, by the way, claims his Vancouver homeboys will change their allegiances from the Canucks to Boston. We believe him. Given the way he is capable of steamrolling those who disagree with him on the ice, who would want to irk this powerful dude?

He is one guy the Canucks must be very wary of.

CAM'S NO SHAM

There have been worse trades in the history of the National Hockey League.

Not many, though.

In 1986, the Canucks, for some headscratching reason, dealt young power forward Cam Neely along with a first round pick (used to take defenceman Glen Wesley third overall in the 1987 NHL draft) to the Bruins for forward Barry Pederson. Vancouver's coaching staff reportedly had issues with Neely's spotty defensive play.

Neely went on to produce a Hall of Fame career with Boston and is now the Bruins' president. In the coming days, 25 years after being dealt out of Vancouver, he returns to the city knowing the only thing standing in the way of a Bruins Stanley Cup is his former team.

Too bad for Cam Neely's Bruins of today that they don't have Cam Neely of yesterday in the lineup.

OLYMPIC DREAMS

Excuse Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo and Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron if they have goosebumps during the singing of "O Canada" on Wednesday.

They've heard some emotional anthems in Rogers Arena before.

Just 15 months ago, the two wrapped themselves in the Canadian flag -- much like the entire country did -- after helping Canada win the 2010 Olympic gold medal in Vancouver.

Now friends turn to foes, with a Stanley Cup ring on the line.

Fickle game, this hockey.

BY THE NUMERS

The Bruins previously won the Cup in 1972, just two seasons after the Canucks entered the league.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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