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Could Roberto Luongo match Dirk Nowitzki, eliminate two ‘choker’ labels in two nights?

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Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo and Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki aren’t all that much alike, but they might have almost the same feeling of relief in two consecutive nights.

Luongo is the starting netminder for a juggernaut of a team that is trying to avoid an upset against an underdog Boston Bruins team while few picked Nowitzki’s Mavericks to get beyond the second round of the NBA playoffs. Luongo has been sensational in victory (two shutouts and just two goals allowed in three wins) and terrible in defeat (12 goals allowed in less than two full games) while Nowitzki rarely hit any drastic lows* in a great Dallas run.

Really, the best NHL comparison one could make to Nowitzki would probably be San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton. They’re both big, blond scorers who received excessive criticism over the years for “choking” and being “soft” despite consistently putting up solid postseason numbers.

That being said, Luongo could join Nowitzki in the “Ex-Chokers Club” with a Stanley Cup victory tonight just about 24 hours after The Big German was able to shake that media-inspired monkey off his back. Despite putting up the kind of numbers that could gain Hall of Fame consideration, both Bobby Lou and Dirk have been scapegoats time and time again, falling victim to the lazy sportswriter habit of finding the first star to blame.

It’s true that Luongo occasionally makes things more difficult for himself, though. One cannot help but wonder why he made those comments about Tim Thomas; what exactly was he trying to accomplish? Either way, Dan Rosen writes that Luongo can shut those critics up with one more win. (It’s pretty tough to badmouth a guy who won a gold medal and Stanley Cup in his career, after all.)

“Even him winning the Olympic gold wasn’t good enough. That’s too bad,” Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. “People in that dressing room, we know that he’s a winner. He’s done it on every stage before and if it happens (Monday), I hope people can stop criticizing him.”

(snip)

For now, the talk is all about what he had to say about Thomas and how poorly he played in Boston in Games 3 and 4.

It’s up to Luongo to change the conversation. It’s up to him to shut everyone up.

“If you win the Stanley Cup, no one can say anything about you,” Daniel Sedin said. “That’s what we all want to do and he’s no different than the rest of us. We know he’s going to have a good game for us. Hopefully that will be enough.”

It wouldn’t be shocking if there will be a small segment of the hockey population who would still find a way to bash Luongo even if he won the Cup. Maybe they’ll say he was out-played overall in the series or that he got lucky in the first round in Chicago. Still, it’s a lot tougher to get other people to nod their heads in agreement when everyone can simply look back on all of Luongo’s achievements – both as an individual and as part of a team.

Ultimately, Luongo has two chances (one tonight and one on Wednesday) to echo what Nowitzki did Sunday night: get the last laugh.

* – One could argue that Nowitzki did, indeed, struggle in the Mavericks’ Game 6 win. That being said, he still managed to get 21 points thanks to a strong fourth quarter performance.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.

Brouwer mulling signing with Canucks in free agency

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Troy Brouwer #36 of the St. Louis Blues looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Troy Brouwer grew up in North Delta, a suburb of Vancouver.

We mention this because, on Monday, Vancouver’s News 1130 spoke with Brouwer — a pending UFA — about his plans for the future. And, lo and behold, Brouwer has thought about a return home.

“I have thought about it, for sure,” Brouwer said. “Family and friends, playing for my hometown, it would be an experience for sure.”

The 30-year-old added his father is a “huge” Canucks fan and that Mark Messier, who spent two ill-fated seasons in Vancouver, was a “big influence” on Brouwer’s career.

So, file that one away for the future.

Brouwer will likely have a number of suitors come July 1. A Stanley Cup winner with Chicago in 2010, he’s been a very reliable goalscorer — at least 17 in seven straight seasons — and is coming off a terrific playoff, in which he scored eight goals and 13 points in 20 games for the Blues.

The Blues, of course, would probably like to retain Brouwer. They paid a high price to get him — T.J. Oshie, in last summer’s deal with Washington — and used him quite a bit this year. Brouwer averaged 16 minutes per night in the regular season and nearly 19 during the playoffs.

Problem is, St. Louis might not have the cap space to retain him. Brouwer will almost certainly be getting a raise on the $3.66M he earned annually on his last deal, and the Blues have some other financial decisions to make this summer (like captain David Backes, for example.)

“Not sure what the Blues plans are,” Brouwer told News 1130. “I’m assuming we will talk with them before July 1st.”

Bettman: The ‘word’ on expansion should come June 22

NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, after attending an NHL owners meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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PITTSBURGH — Mark June 22 on the calendar. That’s when the NHL’s Board of Governors will meet in Las Vegas, and that’s when we should get word about the league’s expansion plans.

“That word,” commissioner Gary Bettman said today at his annual Stanley Cup Final press conference, “will probably come in one of the following forms:

“Whether there will be no expansion; whether expansion will be deferred until a later time in the future; or whether there will be expansion, and if so whether it will be a one-team or a two-team expansion.

“I am not going to handicap what’s going to happen. But again, when the board meets in Las Vegas on June 22, I am fairly certain that we will know more than we do today.”

The NHL is currently considering two expansion bids, one from Las Vegas and another from Quebec City. The former is optimistic about its chances, while the latter’s fortunes may have been dashed by the decline of the Canadian dollar.

On Las Vegas, the commissioner and his deputy, Bill Daly, were asked if the NFL’s potential foray into that market could affect the NHL’s decision. The answer to that question was no.

The other theme of today’s press conference was the Olympics. Specifically, the IOC’s decision to stop covering millions of dollars in transportation and insurance costs for the players.

On that, Bettman had a strong message for the IOC and IIHF.

“I’m pretty sure that our teams are not really interested in paying for the privilege of disrupting our season,” he said.

In other words, if the IOC and IIHF can’t resolve the “expense issue,” it’s practically a certainty that the NHL will not be sending its players to Pyeongchang‎, South Korea.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE