2011 Stanley Cup Finals: The Definitive Vancouver Canucks-Boston Bruins Preview
The Vancouver Canucks defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in seven games, the Nashville Predators in six games and the San Jose Sharks in five games to get to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994.
One of those streaks will be broken this spring.
Regular Season Matchup
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Take it for what you will, but on February 26th the Bruins won the only regular season game between the two teams.
The Bruins took the game with a 3-1 score on the strength of a three point night from Milan Lucic. The Canucks had problems handling the big Bruins forwards down low, and that ultimately cost them the game.
However, before anyone points at this game as a harbinger for the Stanley Cup Finals, the Canucks were missing several defencemen in this regular season game.
Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa, the two most physical Canucks defencemen in the playoffs, were both out with injuries during that game. Andrew Alberts was injured as well.
Veteran Sami Salo was a minus-three on the night, but this was one of his first games back after missing the first four months of the season with an injury.
Three of those players (Edler, Bieksa and Salo) will be in the starting lineup and healthy for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, so it should be a different look to any down low battles.
Ultimately, I don't think we can take too much from a single midseason meeting.
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Now we get to the stats that actually matter.
Regular season stats mean nothing once you enter the postseason. What you put on the scoreboard when the games count is all that matters.
Vancouver's Top Playoff Scorers
Henrik Sedin: Two goals, 19 assists (21 points)
Ryan Kesler: Seven goals, 11 assists (18 points)
Daniel Sedin: Eight goals, eight assists (16 points)
Alex Burrows: Seven goals, seven assists (14 points)
Christian Ehrhoff: Two goals, nine assists (11 points)
The Canucks have 16 different goal scorers, including two players with a pair of game-winning goals each (Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler), and a third player with three game-winning goals (Chris Higgins).
Boston's Top Playoff Scorers
David Krejci: 10 goals, seven assists (17 points)
Nathan Horton: Eight goals, nine assists (17 points)
Patrice Bergeron: Four goals, 11 assists (15 points)
Brad Marchand: Six goals, six assists (12 points)
Michael Ryder: Five goals, six assists (11 points)
The Bruins have 16 different goal scorers, including David Krejci with four game-winning goals, and Nathan Horton with three game-winning goals.
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This shouldn't be a surprise anymore heading into the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Canucks are the most physical team in the NHL.
The Canucks lead the NHL by a wide margin in playoff hits with 596. The Bruins, despite being a team that many thought would be more physical, were only fourth in the NHL with 445 hits in the playoffs.
Relentless forechecking usually leads to intimidation and turnovers as a series progresses, so it isn't surprising that the Canucks lead the NHL with 169 takeaways in the playoffs as well. Boston conversely only has 85 takeaways, good for sixth in the playoffs.
Ryan Kesler leads the Canucks with 22 takeaways. David Krejci and Michael Ryder are tied with nine takeaways to lead the Bruins.
Vancouver's Top Playoff Hitters
Maxim Lapierre: 63 hits
Kevin Bieksa: 62 hits
Ryan Kesler: 56 hits
Alex Edler: 55 hits
Chris Higgins: 48 hits
Boston's Top Playoff Hitters
Milan Lucic: 43 hits
Zdeno Chara: 40 hits
Dennis Seidenberg: 39 hits
Johnny Boychuk: 37 hits
Patrice Bergeron: 33 hits
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Tim Thomas: 2.29 GAA, 0.929 save percentage, 12 wins, two shutouts
Roberto Luongo: 2.29 GAA, 0.929 save percentage, 12 wins, two shutouts
Goaltending is pretty much a wash. Thomas and Luongo have identical statistics through three rounds of the playoffs. Both have had excellent games and not so excellent games.
Both Thomas and Luongo are also nominated for the Vezina Trophy as well.
In goal, neither team has a clear-cut advantage.
Playoff Power Play
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Vancouver: 28.3 percent (17 goals in 60 opportunities)
Boston: 18.2 percent (five goals on 61 opportunities)
This is a clear advantage for the Canucks. They were an excellent power play team in the regular season and carried that into the playoffs.
The Bruins on the other hand should be lauded for getting as far as they have based on even strength scoring, because their power play is impotent at best.
Playoff Penalty Kill
Kesler and Luongo, two of the key penalty killers
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Vancouver: 80.6 percent (short-handed 72 times, allowed 14 goals)
Boston: 79.4 percent (short-handed 63 times, allowed 13 goals)
Led by a pair of Vezina-nominated goalies, the penalty kill is pretty much a draw.
Neither team has a significant advantage on the penalty kill, although the Canucks can expect their stats to rise if Boston's power play continues to sputter.
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The Bruins faced Montreal, Philadelphia and then Tampa Bay in the their march to the Cup. In those three series, the average distance between Boston and the opposing city was only 656 miles. All three cities were in the same time zone as Boston.
Conversely, the Canucks played Chicago, Nashville and San Jose. The average distance between Vancouver and these cities was 1,914 miles. Trips to Chicago and Nashville also involved crossing time zones.
The distance between Vancouver and Boston is 3,187 miles and involves crossing three time zones. This is approximately 50 percent more travel for Vancouver, but it is approximately five times more travel for Boston.
Simply put, Eastern Conference teams aren't used to traveling the distances that Western Conference teams are.
This won't be a factor in Game 1, as both teams will have had plenty of rest, but it will be a factor in Games 5, 6 and 7 as the miles and fatigue add up.
The Canucks will get a huge emotional boost from the return of Manny Malhotra.
Malhotra suffered a devastating eye injury and was at risk of losing the eye. He has recovered far ahead of schedule and has progressed from individual skating to light contact in full team practices.
The next step in his recovery is being cleared for full contact, and that could come at any time. Once he is cleared fully, nothing is stopping him from dressing for an actual game.
Malhotra was one of the NHL's top faceoff men and penalty killers in the regular season as he anchored the Canucks third line.
If he can step in and provide some quality minutes on the fourth line in place of either Cody Hodgson or Alex Bolduc, that would be a huge upgrade for the Canucks. Additionally, his faceoff skills are probably worth an extra 5 percent on the penalty kill, as he consistently wins defensive zone draws for an easy clear.
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Both teams are actually very healthy after six weeks of playoff hockey, which should make for an entertaining, physical series.
The Canucks did have a pair of injured defencemen (Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome) in the later half of the Western Conference Finals, but both are now healthy and will play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Marc Savard: Out for the rest of the season with a concussion.
Manny Malhotra: Out indefinitely with an eye injury. He is practicing again with the team and appears very close to returning.
Mikael Samuelsson: Out for the rest of the season after a sports hernia and adductor tendon surgery.
*Thanks to TSN for their injury reports.
Milan Lucic in his WHL days
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Expect to read a lot about Lucic during the buildup to Game 1. Lucic was born and raised in Vancouver and grew up cheering for the Canucks.
He played his junior hockey for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League and won a championship on home ice when Vancouver hosted the Memorial Cup in 2007.
As a side note, while Lucic never officially played for the Canucks, during the 2004 lockout year, many of the Canucks were skating and practicing with the Vancouver Giants, and they hosted a charity game that involved players from both teams.
Milan Lucic & Cory Schneider
Cory Schneider was born in Marblehead, Mass. and played his NCAA hockey for the Boston Eagles. He was drafted in 2004 by the Canucks.
Milan Lucic was born in Vancouver and played his junior hockey for the Vancouver Giants. He was drafted in 2006 by Boston.
Back in the summer of 2007, there was a widely rumoured trade in the works between the two teams. Boston was looking for another good young goaltender, as Tuukka Rask hadn't made the jump to North America yet after being drafted. The Canucks were looking, as always, to add a power forward.
It seemed like a mutually acceptable trade that would work for both teams, and I'm sure neither player would have minded being traded to their hometown team.
And then Lucic had to go and ruin it by being one of the more dominant forwards at the Summit Series between the Canadian and Russian Juniors in the summer of 2007. He then went on to make the Bruins unexpectedly out of training camp in the fall of 2007, and any prospective deal was off.
Just think what this series would be like if it was Schneider and not Rask backing up Thomas, and if Lucic was riding shotgun with Ryan Kesler?
Will the Sedins continue their scoring streaks?
The Sedins scored in bunches early in the first round against Chicago and were then largely silenced against Nashville. Part of that was due to the defensive due of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but it was also widely suspected that Henrik Sedin was playing through a back injury.
In the third round, the Sedins torched the Sharks. A healthy Henrik Sedin put up 12 points in only five games to claim the playoff scoring lead.
Will the Bruins, who only see the Canucks once a year at best, be able to contain the Sedin's unusual cycle play and pinpoint passing? San Jose couldn't figure it out, and they've played against the twins for the last decade in the Western Conference.
Tim Thomas vs Roberto Luongo
The two Vezina Trophy-nominated goalies will duel head to head. Luongo already won a similar matchup against the third nominee, Pekka Rinne of Nashville.
Neither Thomas nor Luongo has a reputation as a playoff goalie ... yet. We'll see if that changes for one or both of them during the Finals.
And wouldn't it be ironic if one of them won the Conn Smythe, but the other ended up with the Vezina?
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Both teams are good, or they wouldn't be in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Canucks won their division, conference and the President's Trophy with 117 points in the regular season, and the Bruins won their division with 103 points. There aren't any Cinderella teams this year.
That being said, I think this is still a mismatch, at least on paper.
The Canucks have the edge in scoring, power play, and physical play.
Goaltending and penalty kill are draws.
The intangibles, specifically travel, work against the Bruins as well.
The Canucks bring home the Cup for the first time in franchise history.
Canucks in six games.
*My original prediction made six weeks ago was that the Bruins would defeat the Canucks in seven games to claim the Stanley Cup.
What has changed in the interim is Boston being inept on the power play to an embarrassing degree, and Vancouver showing a side no one expected by outhitting every team they've played.