As we get ready for the Stanley Cup final, we should take a moment to recognize that the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins have already accomplished individual and significant feats. The Canucks have successfully become the first supposed team of destiny to avoid choking in the last few years, despite an early scare against the Chicago Blackhawks. Of the seven President Trophy winners that came before them, only one of them advanced to the Stanley Cup final: the 2008 winning Detroit Red Wings.
Meanwhile, I think it's safe to say that no one is talking about Boston's historic 2010 collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers anymore. Besting the team that haunted them in four games and reaching the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1990 is enough to make you put aside the past, at least for now.
These are two incredibly deserving teams, who have gotten revenge on old rivals on their way to Game One of the final, but at the end of the day, Vancouver looks like the more talented and all-around better team.
If the Bruins are to stay in this series, they will need to be on the strength of their defense and Tim Thomas
. He put up historic numbers in the regular season and there have been nights in the playoffs where he has carried Boston to victory, but the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to find chinks in his armor. It's true that Thomas got the last laugh with a 24-save shutout in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference finals, but if the Lightning could find a way, there's little reason to believe the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler
, and Alexandre Burrows couldn't, either. All four of the Canucks' top forwards were on fire last round and few teams stand a chance when they're unable to minimize the Canucks' top two lines.
The fact that the final doesn't start until Wednesday will give the Bruins' top two blueliners, Zdeno Chara
and Dennis Seidenberg
, a chance to rest up for one of the greatest challenges of their career. Seidenberg leads the league with 55 blocked shots and both will play a very physical game against a team that's just as gritty as they are skilled. They are both averaging over 28 minutes per game in the playoffs and we don't expect that to go down at all in the final.
That being said, even those two can't be on the ice all the time, and the biggest question in this series is if the Bruins star players will measure up. They certainly have so far in the playoffs, with Nathan Horton
, David Krejci
, and Patrice Bergeron
averaging just under a point per game, but we should take a moment to evaluate their competition. Montreal's Carey Price
had a great season and he was able to post a 2.11 GAA and .934 save percentage against the Bruins in the first round, but Boston didn't have the same level of difficulty against Philadelphia or Tampa Bay. In the case of Philadelphia, they were struggling to find a netminder they could trust before their series with Boston even started. The Bruins were also largely successful against Dwayne Roloson
in the Eastern Conference finals, which was more of an accomplishment, but as solid as Roloson was, he's no Roberto Luongo
You can criticize Luongo's shaky stretch against the Chicago Blackhawks, but he has been otherwise dominant in the playoffs. He will be the toughest goaltender the Bruins have faced since Carey Price
and he's held the Bruins to two or fewer goals in their three meetings over the last three years. In this case, all Luongo has to do is perform at the same level as Tim Thomas
, which he is certainly talented enough to do, and then the superiority of Vancouver's top two lines against their counterparts should become apparent.
The other obvious gap between these two clubs is their special teams units. Vancouver has a 28.3 power-play percentage in the post-season while the Bruins have converted on just 8.2% of their chances. Neither team has shown itself to be particularly gifted when it comes to killing penalties, but the power-play gap alone could be the difference in this series. Justifiably or not, all eyes will be on Tomas Kaberle
, who was acquired by the Bruins to improve their team with the man advantage. They gave up prospect Joe Colborne
, a first rounder, and – because they made the Stanley Cup final – a second rounder to rent Kaberle, but it hasn't led to the desired result. That being said, Kaberle did look good – albeit with some blemishes – in the Eastern Conference finals and he finished the seven-game series with five assists and a plus-two rating. He might prove to be a valuable piece of the puzzle for Boston in the final and help them minimize the special-team gap.
Another interesting X-Factor for Boston is Tyler Seguin
. He looked like a star when he was first inserted into the Bruins lineup for the start of the Eastern Conference finals, but he fell into shadows as the series progressed. He'll have a tough time against Vancouver, which has, played more physically than any other team in the playoffs, but if he can be a presence on the Bruins third line, Boston might end up having the depth they need to overcome Vancouver's advantage in star power. I wouldn't bet on it happening, but I certainly can't dismiss the possibility either.
On the Vancouver Canucks side, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff
is expected to be fine for the start of the series, which makes the biggest question mark Manny Malhotra
. Although Malhotra's impact in the series will probably be minimal, it would be impressive to see him play after suffering a potentially career-threatening eye injury in March.
There are certainly ways the Boston Bruins can win this series. If Kaberle and/or Seguin step up, if Thomas, Chara, and Seidenberg manage to silence the Canucks' top two lines, and if it turns out the likes of Horton, Krejci, and Bergeron are roughly as effective against Luongo as they were against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, then Boston will probably win the Cup. But it's easier to believe Vancouver will maintain their edge rather than assume almost everything that can work out for Boston, does. Look for Vancouver to win the Stanley Cup in six games.Click here
to follow me on Twitter.VancouverDaniel Sedin
-Alexandre BurrowsChristopher Higgins
-Mason RaymondRaffi Torres
-Jannik HansenTanner Glass
-Victor OreskovichJeff Tambellini
-Sergei ShirokovDan Hamhuis
-Kevin BieksaAlexander Edler
-Christian EhrhoffSami Salo
-Keith BallardAndrew AlbertsRoberto LuongoCory SchneiderEddie LackWHO'S HOTHenrik Sedin
was stunning against San Jose, scoring a goal and registering 12 points in the five-game series. Alexandre Burrows is riding a five-game point streak going into the Stanley Cup final.WHO'S NOT
When you win a series by four or five games, most team members have likely made significant contributions. That being said, Mason Raymond
is on a mini-cold streak with no points and a minus-two rating in his last two games.Notes
As mentioned above, the Canucks should get Christian Ehrhoff
(shoulder) and Aaron Rome
(upper body) back for Game One after they both missed the final two games of the Western Conference finals. There's also a chance that Manny Malhotra
(eye) will return before the end of the season, but the news isn't as good for Mikael Samuelsson
. Samuelsson underwent sugery to repair his adductor tendon and sports hernia and he isn't expected to be available for the Stanley Cup final.
This is the first time the Vancouver Canucks have been to the Stanley Cup final since 1994 and it's also the first time they have faced the Boston Bruins in the playoffs. Vancouver has made it this far two times, but they have never won the Cup.
The Vancouver Canucks lead the league in hits with 596, which is 151 more than the Boston Bruins. Vancouver also has four players – Maxim Lapierre
, Kevin Bieksa
, Ryan Kesler
, and Alexander Edler
– who have 55 or more hits in the playoffs, while Boston's team leader is Milan Lucic
with 43.BostonMilan Lucic
-Nathan HortonBrad Marchand
-Mark RecchiMichael Ryder
-Tyler SeguinDaniel Paille
-Rich PeverleyJordan Caron
-Scott ThorntonZdeno Chara
- Dennis SeidenbergAndrew Ference
- Johnny BoychukTomas Kaberle
- Adam McQuaid
Steve Kampfer-Shane HnidyMatt Bartkowski
-Colby CohenTim Thomas Tuukka RaskAnton KhudobinWHO'S HOTDavid Krejci
didn't do much against the Montreal Canadiens, but he has nine goals and seven assists in his last 11 games. Nathan Horton
has two goals and four points in his last three games.WHO'S NOT
Brad Marchant has just one point and a minus-three rating in his last seven contests. Michael Ryder
is scoreless in his last three games.Notes
As unfortunate as it is that Marc Savard
(concussion) hasn't been a part of the Bruins' playoff run, there's no indication that he is even close to returning. On the plus side, Boston isn't dealing with any other significant injuries.
Since winning the Stanley Cup in 1972, Boston has reached the finals five times only to fall short reach time. They have the sixth longest Stanley Cup drought, but the team directly ahead of them in the list is the Vancouver Canucks, who have never won the Cup since their franchise's birth in 1970-71.
The Bruins have an 8-1 playoff record when they score the first goal and 6-0 playoff record when they are leading after two periods. Conversely, the Bruins are 0-5 when they trail after two periods, but have a respectable 4-5 playoff record when their opponents score first.