"The puck's going to be bouncing around, the building's going to be crazy, it's going to be awesome."
With the big Canucks-Bruins match just hours away, the Stanley Cup playoffs CBC sports reporter and former NHL tough guy PJ Stock had a few ideas about how the series will play out.
"There's going to be so much nervous energy for both teams," said Stock, a Quebec native known for some of the most memorable fights in recent hockey history. "From Boston's perspective, they want calm their nerves -- they want to play really boring hockey. Vancouver's going to get so wound up with the crowd, so during the first period, whichever team can control their emotions and stay out of the penalty box will benefit the most."
In an interview after the pre-game skate, Stock said that neither team's starting lineup was practicing on the ice, making it hard to gauge the players' condition. He added that keeping emotions in check in the pumped-up Rogers Arena will be crucial for both teams.
Manny Malhotra's comeback
One of the big questions on people's minds before Game One is whether Canucks forward Manny Malhotra, who was just cleared by doctors to play, will be on the ice tonight. Malhotra went out with a severe eye injury in late March, but has continued to provide moral support by coming to the games, making a miraculous recovery just in time for the finals.
"We'd heard that Manny Malhotra won't be playing tonight," said Stock. However, he wonders if this is true, after looking at this morning's pre-game skate. Neither the Canucks nor the Bruins had their starting lineup at the pre-game skate this morning, and Malhotra's absence leads Stock to think there's still a strong chance the fans will see him make a comback to night.
"If you want to get Malhotra in, you want to have him in as early as possible," said Stock. "You don't want to wait. Game one's first period is going to be nuts. It's been a seven-day rest period for Vancouver so there's a lot of rust, but there's going to be so much nervous energy for both teams -- With Malhotra situation it would be great to put him on ice the first game, only for about five minutes. He's going to be great for putting on the faceoffs, killing penalties, but when there's a lull in the game, you put him out there for a shift, the place is going to go crazy."
Then again, the coaches have found a winning formula with rookie Cody Hodgson, who was brought in to replace Malhotra and helped hold the fort, bringing the Canucks into the finals. Would it be fair to bump him off in favour of Malhotra? Currently, Alexandre Bolduc is slated to take over for him.
"The coach will be like, we really need Manny. But is he at 70 per cent? 100 per cent? Is Cody Hodgson's 100 per cent better than Manny's 70? He doesn't want to change up the fourth line which has some chemistry going ... but it would be a huge morale boost if Manny Malhotra played."
Bruins or the Canucks?
Stock is a former Bruins player, which likely means divided loyalty between team and country. Is he secretly rooting for the Bruins to win over the Canucks?
"I don't really cheer for any teams, never really have," replied Stock with a diplomatic grin. "I cheer for friends, and I'd love to see them have success. I have a bunch of friends in the organization of Boston still, and some on the team. I'd love to see them win for that. I know it'd be great for the city of Boston."
That said, Stock adds that Vancouver's win would energize the Canadian hockey fans, who have long watched the Stanley Cup go to cities south of the border.
"So many people are looking at this opportunity for Vancouver to win and bring the Stanley Cup to Canada. Canadians are so proud of their hockey, it would be great for Vancouver, it would be great for the hockey organization, and for Canada.
He said he wouldn't mind which team won in the end, as long as it's a good show.
"I love entertainment. I don't really care who wins," he said. "Both teams have won by making it this far already, as long as it's an entertaining series, I'm content."
Watching out for Tim Thomas
"Both goalies have been great, but one thing that Timmy Thomas has is that he has the capability of stealing a hockey game," said Stock. Thomas, whose 2.29 goals against average this postseason is on par with Roberto Luongo's, made several impossible-looking saves that edged his team to victory against Tampa Bay.
"I think Vancouver is deeper in a lot of positions, so if Boston's going to win this series, Tim Thomas is going to have to steal one of the first two games. Vancouver will win if they get the first two -- Boston can't come back if they're down two games to zero."
Regarding Tim Thomas' 3-0 win record against the Canucks, Stock said the regular season stats don't matter when it comes to this series.
"Throw all that out the window," he said. "In the playoffs, I don't care if you've got a broken leg, if you're on the Vancouver Canucks, and you're going out there tonight, it should feel like nothing can stop ya. It's these moments you dream about. How the team did six months ago, or three years ago, means nothing."
Stanley Cup prediction
Despite being an NHL insider, Stock doesn't want to make any predictions on the outcome of this Stanley Cup playoffs. Asked which team will take the Cup, and in how many games, Stock didn't provide any easy answers.
"If I knew it, I'd be betting a whole lot of money," he laughed. "Vancouver's power play has been successful, but these teams don't play enough to know. I think Vancouver's a better team, they're faster, the defense is deeper. The top flight players for Vancouver are better than the top flight players for Boston."
"But Boston has more depth in scoring. It's more spread out whereas in Vancouver, all the scoring is coming from the two Sedins, Kesler and Burrows. In Boston they have three lines that are equal in their scoring. Yet their power play isn't working, so it's hard to judge."
And Stock's prediction for the winner of the series? He joked:
"I say Montreal in eight."