The Vancouver Canucks were considered Cup favorites by many going into the 2010-2011 season, and they have yet to disappoint. The Bruins, not so much, but many still considered them a bit of a dark horse dependent on a few factors. They’ve reached the Finals in a somewhat rockier fashion than Vancouver but nonetheless the Bruins aren’t going to the pushover certain fans may make them out to be in this Final.
At stake: Last appearing in the Finals in 1990, the Boston Bruins last won the Stanley Cup in 1972. The Canucks, who lost a very tough 1994 Final to the Rangers, are looking for their first Cup since their franchise was first put into play back in 1970.
How they got here: the Canucks had by far the best record in the NHL and went into the postseason as the West’s top seed. After going up three games to none on first round opponent Chicago, a team Vancouver had lost to in 2009 and 2010, Chicago went on to win the next three games. An OT goal in Game 7 from Alex Burrows finally gave Vancouver a series victory over Chicago. After surviving a tough 6-game series from Nashville, whose goaltender Pekke Rinne gave Vancouver’s forwards fits at times, the Canucks were able to take down the Sharks in five games.
Boston won their division and as a result went into the playoffs as the East’s third seed. A first round series against Montreal was perhaps the best series of the first round as the Bruins ultimately won in seven games. The next round saw the Bruins overcome a demon of their own in the Philadelphia Flyers, who came back against the Bruins in 2010 down three games to none to win the series 4-3 after a microcosmic Game 7. The Bruins completely avoided that scenario again and quickly swept the Flyers. The Tampa Bay Lightning awaited them in the Conference Finals, another tough series which Boston eventually pulled through with a tough earned Game 7 win.
Offenses: In a way, Boston has already faced a team like Vancouver in Tampa Bay. Like the Lightning, the Canucks boast a wide array of offensive talent. From the two Sedin twins to potential playoff MVP Ryan Kesler, and the clutch Alex Burrows, the Canucks have the ability to score and score often. Their power play is also very strong if not slightly inflated from those three quick 5-on-3 goals they got in Game 4 against San Jose, but that little detail aside it’s a power play that Boston would do well to avoid at any cost.
Boston’s offense is not as potent but it is still very potent. David Krejci has 10 goals these playoffs, tied with the now-eliminated Martin St. Louis. Nathan Horton has two Game 7 game-winning goals to his credit, and six more goals beside that. Tyler Seguin made his playoff debut in the Tampa series and did so with a bang, though he wasn’t heard as much from near the end of the series. Of major concern is Boston’s power play, which went nearly 10 games without a goal to start the playoffs and only has five total heading into the Finals. Given Vancouver has a very strong power play, Boston probably can’t hope that there won’t be any penalties called as was the case in Game 7 against Tampa Bay.
Defenses/Goaltending: The two top goalies in GAA this season? Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo. Save percentages? Tim Thomas has the new NHL record in that stat for a season. Pekke Rinne of Nashville was 2nd, but Luongo came in a very strong third. Vancouver and Boston were also 1 and 2 in goals allowed throughout the season, though Boston’s defense gave up more shots per game than every other team aside from Carolina. That Thomas could still get a record save percentage after facing so many shots is remarkable.
Of course, regular season statistics are so often pointless to bring up in a postseason series, much less the Stanley Cup Final. Both Thomas and Luongo had played very well in these playoffs, aside from a bad game or two here and there, and both teams have stout defenses which have shown to be capable of helping their stud goaltenders out time and time again. They say that defense wins championships, and in this case that is definitely the truth.
Other Factors: Unlike in baseball or the NBA Finals which use a 2-3-2 format for home games, the Stanley Cup Finals retains the 2-2-1-1-1 format. As a consequence, it is possible that the two teams could travel from Vancouver on the West coast, to Boston on the East coast a total of four times. Fatigue may play a role later in the series as a result though as both teams have played 100 total games and are getting a decent rest before the start of the series, the advantage in this case is not really known.
Conn Smythe Watch: For Vancouver, Ryan Kesler is definitely in the front running with his strong play and timely goal scoring. Henrik Sedin, who leads the playoffs in assists and points, is also a possibility as is his brother Daniel who has eight goals himself. Kevin Bieska had the series winning goal for Vancouver against the Sharks and is perhaps their best defenseman. Always in play is the goaltender, and if Roberto Luongo makes a big difference in this series its very possible he could win the trophy.
For Boston, David Krejci and his 10 goals are a strong possibility. Nathan Horton has been extremely clutch for the Bruins in these playoffs and he’s another candidate if he continues his excellent play. Tim Thomas is of course another possibility if he plays as well as some people believe he could.
Prediction: Vancouver has gotten stronger and stronger as this postseason has progressed. Boston is a scrappy team with a stingy defense and goaltender, but Vancouver has already disposed of a team in Nashville that personifies that demeanor even more so. Boston had a difficult time against the Lightning and only stopped their power play by not committing any penalties at all, something that will likely not occur against the Canucks. Tim Thomas will really have to be the difference maker for Boston to stay in this series, and if he’s not, Vancouver will have a huge advantage.
I predict the Vancouver Canucks will win the Stanley Cup in a rather brief five games, with Ryan Kesler grabbing Conn Smythe honors.