NHL: Official Stanley Cup Finals Preview

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NHL: Official Stanley Cup Finals Preview
Rich Lam/Getty Images

On Wednesday, June 1, the puck will drop and mark the beginning of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins and Western Conference Champion Vancouver Canucks.

Both teams have had to slay some demons on their way to this meeting.

The Bruins had to finish off their nemesis Montreal Canadiens in the first round. Other than their meeting two years ago, in which Boston swept Montreal, the Habs enjoyed some success in the new millennium, winning three straight playoff series over the Bruins in 2002, 2004 and 2008.

Boston then faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. Last season, the Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead over the Flyers, only the third team in NHL history to do so (the 1975 New York Islanders and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs being the others). 

The Bruins found themselves with another 3-0 series lead but this time, they finished it off in Game 4, completing the sweep and advancing to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Conference Finals.

In the Eastern Final, both teams went back and forth. Everything was there: shutouts, low-scoring games, high-scoring games, pulled goalies, backup goaltenders starting but in the end, a hard-fought Game 7 finished in a 1-0 victory for the Bruins to send them off to the Finals.

The Canucks' demons were in the form of a Blackhawk, the Chicago Blackhawks to be more precise.  After finishing with the best record in hockey, the Canucks ran into the team they least wanted to face, a team that has dashed their hopes for Lord Stanley for the last two seasons. 

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It was looking like elimination No. 3 was imminent after the Canucks blew a 3-0 series lead and Game 7 was sent to OT following a shorthanded marker by Jonathan Toews with only 1:56 left in the third. 

Luckily, Alexandre Burrows finished the series off with a knuckle puck heard all around Vancouver.

The Canucks then went against a gritty Nashville Predators team. The series ended in six games and the Canucks were off to the Western Final against the San Jose Sharks.

The Sharks have always been known for a strong regular season but falling apart when it mattered most. This year was no different as the Canucks finished the Sharks off in five games, capped by a Kevin Bieksa double OT point shot that nobody saw (because most lost sight of the puck after it hit the stanchion) to send Vancouver to their first Cup Final since 1994.

It wasn't for a lack of trying for the Sharks, they fired everything at Luongo (including 56 shots on net in the final game), but it wasn't meant to be.

The Bruins and Canucks faced off once during the regular season on February 26, when Boston beat Vancouver 3-1 at Rogers Arena.

A key for Boston is how well Zdeno Chara competes against the Sedin line. If he can effectively shut down the twins, the Bruins can attack with their offensive depth.

Another key is their special teams. Their power play sits at an unimpressive 8.2 percent (14th in playoffs, five PPG all playoffs) while their penalty kill sits at 79.4 per cent (ninth in playoffs).

Sure, the Canucks have been no better in the penalty kill department (sits at 80.6 percent, eighth in the playoffs) but their power play has been exceptional, sitting at 28.3 percent, good for third in the playoffs and averaging just under one PPG per game.

Milan Lucic will get to face his hometown team in these Finals, something he should be looking forward to.  On that note, with him and Luongo together, expect to hear a TON of "Loo" chants in both buildings.

On offense, the key for Boston lies within Nathan Horton. He has been the saviour of this Bruins team all playoffs, scoring the series clinchers in both the Montreal series (in OT) and in the Tampa Bay series. He and David Krecji lead the Bruins with 17 points in the playoffs and will be relied upon heavily to get to Luongo early and shake his confidence in probably his most nerve-racking test since the Gold Medal Game in the 2010 Olympics.

For Vancouver, the Sedins and Ryan Kesler have been the stars of the show. Henrik leads the NHL with 21 points but only two goals during these playoffs and will have to pop a few more in before this is all set and done.

The most compelling of matchups has to be Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas.

Luongo has shown that he can take a team to the Finals without choking under pressure and has become the leader that Vancouver needs, and he realized that leadership is more than what that "C" that emblazoned his mask a year ago represents. His play has been stellar, but he has a tough test ahead of him.

Thomas should be a lock for the Vezina Trophy and has literally carried Boston on his back this whole time, making highlight reel save after highlight reel save (Downie still curses his name), but knows that Vancouver is a new beast and will have to stand on his head again to get Boston through the series.

The comparison is shocking as both Luongo and Thomas share the same 2.29 GAA going into Game 1, with Thomas holding a slight edge in save percentage (0.929 - 0.922).

After seeing what both teams have gone through to get to this point, this series is totally up in the air, but I am sure that after Game 1, we will know more on how these teams match up and perhaps get a clearer picture on who will become the Stanley Cup Champions in 2011.

Boston hasn't won since 1972. Vancouver has no Cups to their credit but has a little bit of Canadian history on their side. Montreal won the Cup in 1977, a year after hosting the Summer Olympics. 

In 1989, the Calgary Flames won the Cup after the '88 games hailed from the Alberta city. With Vancouver coming off of the 2010 Olympics, will they continue the trend and bring the Cup north of the border for the first time since Montreal in 1993?

All you can do now is watch, enjoy the series everyone!

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