The magic number is now four.
Four wins is all it will take for the Vancouver Canucks or the Boston Bruins to win the Stanley Cup and be crowned the best of the NHL. Both of these teams faced big challenges in the first round. The Vancouver Canucks almost became just the fourth NHL team ever to blow a 3-0 series lead, but Alex Burrows' overtime goal in Game 7 spared their blushes and kept their dreams at a Cup alive.
Boston was heavily favoured against long-time rivals Montreal. Down 2-0 in the series, Boston fought back to take game seven in overtime.
In the second round, Vancouver was able to keep Nashville's offense in check and beat the very hot Pekka Rinne to get into the conference finals. Boston had a field day against Philly's shaky goaltending and getting revenge for blowing a 3-0 series lead last year, the Bruins took care of the Flyers in four.
Then Vancouver was able to finish off the Sharks in five games, a thrilling double overtime game ending with a puzzling goal from Kevin Bieksa. Then, of course, the Eastern Conference Finals ended last night with Boston gaining an extra edge and getting it done in a very tight Game 7 to keep their Cup hopes alive.
These series are in the past now. Each team will want to look forward and do everything they can to ensure they're the team lifting the Stanley Cup in a few weeks. Here is a breakdown of how these two teams match-up, and who has the advantage heading into Game 1.
The Vancouver Canucks will be a lot more confident in their ability to score goals heading into the Cup final.
The Sedins didn't look at all like back-to-back NHL scoring champions for the last part of the Blackhawks series and most of the time against the Predators.
Ryan Kesler put the team on his back against Nashville and was a massive part of their offense, on the ice for 11 of Vancouver's 14 goals. Kesler had a solid series against the Sharks, but it was the re-emergence of the Art Ross-winning Sedin's that helped the Canucks finish the Sharks off in five games.
Seen as a minor deadline deal, the Canucks acquired Chris Higgins. He's really helped the Canucks get to where they are with some timely goals—three of his four goals have been game winners. Throw in Mason Raymond and Alex Burrows, and the Canucks have a solid top six that can play both offense and defense. Guys like Maxim Lapierre and Raffi Torres provide the grit needed in a long playoff battle.
Recently Manny Malhotra has begun light contact practicing. Out since mid-March after taking a puck to the eye, if Malhotra can make it back for a few games, it will be big for Vancouver. He's been in the locker room with the team—a big part of the leadership he brings—but the Canucks could use his shut-down ability, especially with a lead late in the game. At this point, it's still a long-shot Malhotra will suit up for the finals.
The Bruins don't have a go-to offensive player.
Arguably their best offensive piece—Marc Savard (concussion)—has been out for a while. Without his passing and great vision, the B's offense takes a hit, but some guys have stepped up this season and through the playoffs to guide Boston to the Cup finals. If they want to take it all though, they'll need consistency.
Nathan Horton didn't really live up to expectations in the regular season, but he has scored some key goals, namely the two biggest Bruins goals this year—Game 7 overtime against the Habs, and the winner late in Game 7 against the Bolts.
David Krejci has been Boston's biggest offensive threat, and he'll look to keep up his point production. With seven points against Tampa, Krejci hit a hat-trick in a losing Game 6 effort.
Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Michael Ryder round out Boston's main offensive threats, with the exception of Boston's X-factor, Tyler Seguin. He's watched most of the playoffs from the stands, but was finally given a shot in the Tampa series. A highlight reel goal in Game 1 kept him in the lineup, and he showed he belonged there with a four-point Game 2. Since then he hasn't recorded a point, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been contributing. If Seguin can get going early on in the series, he could be a real key for Boston.
I think this area is a lot closer than people think, but the Canucks hold a definite advantage in the offensive category.
The Sedin's are out of their slump, and though Kesler wasn't as hot as he was in the Nashville series, he will still produce while working to shut down Boston's top six. Burrows wasn't held pointless in the Sharks series after being quiet for most of the first and second round.
Vancouver has more of a skilled offense, but they can still score simple goals. Boston will have to rely on their ability to get to the net and grind down the Canucks. While the Canucks have the advantage offensively, they're going up against a tough Boston defense, which segues into the next area of play.
The Bruins won't find much offense from their blueline, but that's not their job—their job is to shut down opposing teams, and the Bruin's defense has done a great job of doing that. I'm not a huge fan of the plus/minus stat, but no Bruins defenseman is close to being in the negatives.
The big key here is Captain Zdeno Chara. He's shown he is a great leader, and his physical presence and shutdown ability should give the Sedins fits. Dennis Seidenberg is solid in his own end and can make some nice breakout passes and provide some offense. The B's would like to see some more production out of new guy Tomas Kaberle, but he has been playing pretty good for the majority of their Cup run.
The Canucks have some more offensive production coming from their D. Christian Ehrhoff had been confirmed to be in the lineup for the Canucks, recovered from a minor injury against the Sharks. His slick passing and good breakout should help ease some pressure off of the forwards by getting them in good positions with the puck.
Kevin Bieksa has been playing a great two-way game for Vancouver. They'll count on him to get on the score sheet every so often, but his main focus will be playing a tough game in his own end to stop Boston's attack.
Dan Hamhuis has been a stalwart on the blueline, too, racking up a ton of minutes and being a reliable option when the Canucks find themselves in close games.
Some will want to give the edge to Vancouver because of their offensive help from the blueline, but I think the Chara-led Boston defense will be able to do a better job of shutting down their opposition. It is a tad worrying that Boston hasn't gotten as much offensive production from their back-end, but they are defensemen—focus on the defense.
The same as offensive production, this isn't a huge Boston advantage. Vancouver's ability to generate offense from their defensemen has been a big factor in them making it this far, and they do have guys who can shutdown Boston. But in a tense seven game series for the Cup, I think it's more important for your defenseman to focus on their shutdown/physical game.
I think Boston's blueline is slightly more adept to playing a defensive game.
Luongo was looking lights out to begin the playoffs.
Then Chicago came out guns-a-blazin' and chased him a couple of times, and Cory Schneider got the start in Game 5. After an injury, Luongo got some time in relief and only allowed one goal—the overtime winner.
Since then, Luongo has played more than well enough to lead his team into the finals.
In the last few games of the Western Conference Finals, San Jose really started to pour on the offense and pepper Lou with shots, but he stood strong. In the last three games, he faced 129 shots and stopped 121 of those. In a time where people have questioned Luongo's ability to get it done in the clutch, he's answered his critics.
But his work isn't finished. He's going to need a solid showing if he wants the Canucks to hoist the Cup.
Tim Thomas had a phenomenal regular season, setting an NHL record for save percentage. He came into the playoffs with the same showmanship, but he has floundered at times.
We'll start with the bad. Thomas at times during these playoffs has let in some early goals—not necessarily all bad goals, but some definite savable shots. These early goals can be deflating, but the Bruins have done a good job of fighting back, and it's not like Timmy T has done this every game.
He's made some real highlight reel saves, but that is sometimes attributed to bad positioning. Thomas does a great job of making saves he has no business making, and even if some of them are due to bad positioning, at least he is stopping the puck.
Thomas has been huge for the Bruins all year, and the B's will like their chances if Timmy T can be lights out like we've seen at points this year.
I'm taking a cop out here.
If I had to choose, I think I'd go with Thomas, but sometimes he has looked shaky, especially when allowing early goals. Still, these are two All-Star goalies who are both playing some great hockey and stopping nearly everything that's coming their way.
Luongo has answered his critics, and Thomas has bounced back huge after an injury-plagued year, in which he lost his job to Rask.
Vancouver and Boston will feel that they can win it all if their goalies play just good—but we know these goalies are more than capable of playing just good. If both of these guys are on their game, we could see some low-scoring, tight games—but what else would you expect from a Stanley Cup Final?
Both coaches have been heavily criticized for some lineup moves.
Claude Julien was taking flack for scratching wonderkid Tyler Seguin, leaving him in the press box. Even during the regular season, Seguin was being brought along slowly—scratched a few games here and there, and when he did play, he didn't exactly rack up the minutes. Injuries finally played a hand in Julien putting Seguin into the lineup, and he scored a beautiful goal, going on to score two goals and two assists next game.
Vancouver's coach Alain Vigneault has been criticized for keeping Keith Ballard and his 4.2 million dollar cap hit in the press box. Ballard was acquired last summer and has been left out of the lineup in favor of Aaron Rome. When he has appeared, Ballard hasn't played spectacularly, but he has played well enough to warrant a spot in the top six.
Looking at both of these, I'll go to special teams. While head coaches aren't fully responsible for special teams, they should be and are involved. Both penalty kills have been solid and Vancouver's power play has been really good ... Bostons, not so much. Operating at a staggering 8.2 percent, to say the Bruins power play has been horrible is an understatement. Julien has to take some blame here, for continuing to ice Recchi and Ryder on the power play. Boston fans have been crying for Seguin to play a larger role on the PP.
Despite this, both are great coaches, and you don't get to the Cup finals with coaches who don't know what they're doing. It will be interesting to see how Julien tries to stop the Sedins, and how Vancouver deals with Bostons forward depth.
According to this, the Canucks are heading into the Finals with a slight advantage over the Bruins. Despite who has the advantage where, we are definitely in for some great hockey. Game 1 begins the series June 1st at 8 P.M EST at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
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