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Stanley Cup Final Preview; (1) Vancouver Canucks vs (3) Boston Bruins

May 31, 2011

Sitting on the eve of the Stanley Cup Finals it’s important to look back and remember just how close this run was to ending before it began. The Bruins started the playoff season with two losses against the Canadiens scoring just once in the first 120 minutes of the season. The two-game deficit had many calling for the heads of Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien, myself included. From there they won eight of nine games to put them into the Eastern Conference Finals where they had a back-and-forth seven game war against the Lightning. Now they are four wins away from history. Only in the Stanley Cup Playoffs could such a turnaround happen in such short order.

On the other side the Canucks also nearly lost in the first round. They went up 3-0 on their hated rival Blackhawks but blew three straight and needed an Alex Burrows overtime goal to get out of the first round and avoid a historic collapse. They then won a hard fought six game series against the Predators in which goals were hard to come by, nonetheless finding a way to win. The Canucks then turned the offense on to beat the Sharks in five games looking all the powerhouse they have been heralded as all year long.

The two teams only meant once this season and the Bruins won 3-1 in a playoff-feeling kind of game. The Canucks are heavy favorites in the series. They’ve been the best team in the league all season long while the Bruins have sputtered in spurts and have won in uglier ways. In the playoffs however, both teams have had strikingly similar paths. Near eliminations in the first series, swift series against rivals, and another series that put the teams out of their comfort level. Each time the teams found ways to win.

Forwards

Nathan Horton– 8-9-17 +10
David Krejci– 10-7-17 +5
Patrice Bergeron– 4-11-15 +9

Henrik Sedin– 2-19-21 -4
Ryan Kesler– 7-11-18 +6
Daniel Sedin– 8-8-16 -4

Both teams have played in 18 postseason games and surprisingly the bruins have managed to outscore the Canucks 58-50 despite playing similar teams in terms of playoffs GAA. That being said, the Canucks have a much more talented and deep batch of forwards. The first line is the most productive in the league in each of the last two seasons boasting back-to-back Art Ross Trophy winners in the Sedins, the first pair of brothers to win the Trophy. They also have Ryan Kesler, the best American skater in the world by a large margin, a player who’s game is most like Patrice Bergeron’s with a bit more scoring involved. Both teams have had goals from everywhere, every Bruin forward has at least goal outside of Shawn Thornton while over half of the Canucks goals have come from four forwards. The Canucks forwards have the speed advantage but the Bruins have the size advantage. The Bruins have been the slower team in probably every series so far but have found a way to play against that. The Canucks are a whole different monster however. +/- indicates that the Canucks aren’t great 5-on-5, where the Bruins rely on success so the advantage may not be as big as one would think but from a talent standpoint it is in the Canucks favor. ADVANTAGE: CANUCKS

Defense

Dennis Seidenberg– 1-7-8 +8
Zdeno Chara– 2-3-5 +11

Christian Ehrhoff– 2-9-11 -6
Kevin Bieksa– 5-4-9 +10

Similar to the matchup between forwards the defensive matchup is skill vs system. The Canucks rely on skill on their blue line to move the puck and jump into the offense where the Bruins defense relies on the rigidity of the system to shore down the defensive zone and think about offense later. The Bruins defense usually is the offensive line of the team. The less you hear their names the better. Chara and Seidenberg will certainly have the difficult task to shut down the Sedins but the second pairing will have to be on their A game as well because the Canucks forwards’ depth brings the risk of a goal consistently. The Canucks blue line has been banged up so the Bruins physical style could create some problems there. The Bruins have faced the most shots in the playoffs showing how they keep Thomas relatively safe in goal by forcing shots from around the perimeter. ADVANTAGE: BRUINS

Goaltending

Tim Thomas– 12-6, 2.29 GAA, .930 SV%, 2 SO
Roberto Luongo– 12-6, 2.29 GAA, .920 SV%, 2 SO

The numbers are strikingly similar, huh? The two Vezina finalists have been great at times this postseason but have also had less than brilliant games. What these numbers don’t show is that the Canucks have used their backup goalie three times, including one start. Roberto Luongo looked like a rookie goaltender against Chicago in the middle of the first round but has been very good lately. The contrast in styles is interesting as well. Luongo is a massive goalie who relies on positioning to make saves while Thomas is a smaller goalie who relies on athleticism and reflexes in goal. The one knock on Luongo has been his mental fragility in the playoffs. He’s cried before, giving up tons of goals in big games, and his history in choking far outweighs his good games. Tim Thomas is better at bouncing back from losses and bad plays and even elevates after giving up early goals where Luongo begins to doubt himself. If the Bruins get some early or cheap goals on Luongo they could crawl inside his head. ADVANTAGE: BRUINS

Special Teams

Boston Bruins- PP 5-for-61 (8.2%), PPGA 13-for-63 (79.4%)
Vancouver Canucks- PP 17-for-60 (28.3%), PPGA 14-for-72 (80.6%)

Please don’t think I’m insulting your hockey intelligence by posting this section but I’ve got to do it. The power-plays aren’t even close, the Canucks are 3 times better than Boston on the power-play statistically and if you’ve seen it it’s about 10 times better. The Canucks are filled with great passers and finishers and when you give them more room and time they will eat you alive. In fact this matchup is so tilted that if the Bruins even score like twice in the series on the power-play I’ll consider it a success. How sad is that? The penalty-kills are more equally matched and I think the Bruins have a more sound PK. If they give up too many power-plays the Canucks will make them pay, more so than the Lightning did. This is also a team who can go 3-for-3 on the PP. Discipline is mandatory for the Bruins. ADVANTAGE: CANUCKS

Intangibles/Coaching

Both teams have had a history of choking superseded by their runs this season. The Bruins have more players who’ve been here before, and who’ve won it. The Bruins have showed that they can play from behind, bounce back, and put losses behind them. The Canucks have struggled to live up to their juggernaut status. The key to the series is physicality and discipline. If the Bruins can push around the top forwards on the Canucks but stay out of the box they can cause fits, if the speed is too much to handle it swings the other way. The coaches are pretty similar, friends in fact. Alain is more of a stoic leader while Claude is a master of scheme. The Canucks are allowed way more freedom and that’s not a bad idea considering the talent but when things aren’t going well corrections are hard to come by. The coaches are nearly a wash but the Bruins mentality and ability to bounce back give them a slight advantage. ADVANTAGE: BRUINS

The Pick

I picked the Canucks to beat the Penguins way back before the regular season and I picked them to beat the Bruins before the playoffs. They haven’t looked as strong in the playoffs that I thought they would be however. I’m going to pick the Canucks in 7 because I feel like it’s a safer pick. I honestly don’t know how this series will play out but I do like the Bruins chances. The Canucks are used to getting space via respect in the West but the Bruins play tough along the boards and the Canucks will have to fight for ice every shift. The Bruins need to be very, very disciplined and Thomas needs to be more consistent than last series but if those two things happen they could win it. Actually, screw it. BRUINS IN 7.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2011 3:55 PM

    Very nice article man. I think that the Canucks have the edge in the series. The only thing I don’t have them edging the Bruins in is goaltending but with the way Thomas has been playing you can’t really say the Bruins have the edge here. Nevertheless, Thomas could get hot at any time and that could be very scary for the Canucks. The depth on defence or offence for the Bruins doesn’t quite match up with Vancouver, especially with Malhotra coming back. The Bruins should hope that Ryan Kesler still isn’t 100% because if he is they’re going to have some problems matching up with all the Canucks can throw at them. The Canucks should beat the Bruins but anything can happen in the NHL playoffs and an upset isn’t out of the question by any means. Should be an outstanding series for sure. Also, you think you could check out my blog cuz I wanna know what you think. http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/why-isnt-anyone-worried-about-ryan-kesler/

    • June 1, 2011 1:59 PM

      Great point on Kesler, I forgot he came up gimpy in Game 5 the last series. If he aggravates that it’s a whole new series. The Canucks should win by all measurables but something about the Bruins matches up well with the Canucks in my head. Who knows, the Canucks could win in 4 and I’ll look like a moron.

  2. Johnny Pinz permalink
    June 1, 2011 2:51 PM

    Jim,
    I hope Chris Ross is a girl, I am begining to worry about you!!

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