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Final

Eric Wilbur

Canucks vs. Bruins is not just another game

Stanley Cup Finals rematch set for Saturday

Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, center, got the worst of this pile-up when Vancouver last visited Boston for the Stanley Cup Finals.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, center, got the worst of this pile-up when Vancouver last visited Boston for the Stanley Cup Finals.

What do you think was racing through Roberto Luongo’s mind last night as he watched the Bruins put up a nine-spot on the Calgary Flames? I mean, besides the unmistakable sound of deflating rubber?

They’re back. Those whiny, diving, sniveling, skilled superstars from the Pacific Northwest invade the Garden tomorrow for a highly-anticipated showdown against the team that stole their rightful Stanley Cup on that riotous evening in June. One show only.

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In the end, it’s only two points at stake for the Bruins and Canucks. But the theater surrounding this game is wildly intriguing, a reminder of how quickly this rivalry percolated over the course of just seven games. Heck, remember, most Bruins fans went into the finals last June with the thought process of, “Well, if the Bruins don’t take it, Vancouver’s just as good as anyone else. They’re pretty likable.”

It took one “vegetarian” bite for that to change.

It’s just another game, the Bruins will tell you.

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It’s just another game, the Canucks will tell you.

It is. But it is most definitely not just another game.

After last night’s shellacking of the Flames (Calgary hasn’t been that embarrassed since Brian Orser fell to Boitano) Boston and Vancouver head into tomorrow’s matinee with identical stacks of 53 points. After a slow start, the Canucks are once again at the top of the Western Conference. After a slow start, the Bruins are one point behind the Rangers for the Eastern Conference lead with a New York showdown looming in a fortnight. The Bruins are scoring a ridiculous 3.65 goals per game, allowing a mind-boggling 1.84. Their goal differential is now exactly at 2:1 (138-69).

Two-to-one.

And how do the Bruins prepare for their showdown with the Canucks? By tallying 15 goals over two nights, while Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask allowed one combined.

Pumping tires, indeed.

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault has yet to announce whether Luongo or homeboy Cory Schneider will get the start in net tomorrow, but Bruins fans aching for drama are indeed hoping for the former to go opposite Thomas. It would only add to the drama of welcoming the NHL’s most-hated team to town.

Or, is that a fairy tale? Cory?

“Everyone has a lot to prove,” Schneider told the Vancouver Province. “We took a lot of abuse from the media and their fans and some of our best players - Lou and the twins and guys like that - I think they’re ready to prove that they are as advertised: first-team All-Stars and incredible players, not what the Boston media portrayed them to be.”

Oh.

The fact is, that while these may not be the same Bruins we watched struggle to score over stretches last season, these are indeed the same old Canucks, a team built on skill and speed, and ultimately vulnerable to the physical toughness of the Bruins. While the Bruins are doing their best to keep their mouths shut about the game (Conspiracy theory: Brad Marchand didn’t have the flu, Claude Julien just knew he wouldn’t resist yapping last night), the Canucks are already at it. The Province fueled some of the fire by contacting former Bruin Mark Recchi about his “most arrogant” comments over the summer. Reminded of those comments, Kevin Bieksa told the paper:

“The [Sedin] twins are so humble and you make not like playing against Lapierre and Burrows, but they’re not arrogant,” said Bieksa. “I just don’t get it. Isn’t he [Recchi] retired? Tell him to go play a round of golf or take a nap.”

Cute. Maybe he’ll take the “pee-wee jacket” with him too, eh, Kev?

Vigneault is also getting his whine time on, questioning the 1 p.m. start time.

“Obviously the NHL and their schedule-making didn’t think it would be that big of a game putting it at 1 o’clock in the afternoon,” Vigneault said. “I just saw what happened to Torts [Rangers coach John Tortorella, fined for his comments following the Winter Classic] so I am going to keep my comments to myself.”

The Canucks last played Wednesday night. Are they coming to Boston via stagecoach?

Oh, the memories. Rome, Luongo, Bieksa, the “creepy little twins” (copyright, Aaron Ward), LaPierre. They’ll be back at the Garden for the first time since Game 6 last June, facing a team that’s even better than the one that stole their Cup from them. We can only hope they meet in the finals again come June, but for now, tomorrow serves as a welcome reminder of what was, and a tantalizing appetizer of what could be.

Get to the theater before 1 p.m.

This column first appeared in the Boston Sports Blog on Boston.com.
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