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2011 Stanley Cup Finals: The Definitive Vancouver Canucks-Boston Bruins Preview

Joel ProsserCorrespondent IMay 28, 2011

2011 Stanley Cup Finals: The Definitive Vancouver Canucks-Boston Bruins Preview

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - FEBRUARY 26: Alexandre Burrows #14 of the Vancouver Canucks gets in close to Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins on a face-off during the third period in NHL action on February 26, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia,
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    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.

    The Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens in seven games, the Philadelphia Flyers in four and the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven to get to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1990.

    The Bruins last won the Cup in 1972. The Canucks entered the NHL in 1970 and have never won a Stanley Cup.

    One of those streaks will be broken this spring.

Regular Season Matchup

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - FEBRUARY 26: Sami Salo #6 of the Vancouver Canucks ties up Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins during the first period in NHL action on February 26, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Gett
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    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.

Playoff Scoring

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 24:  (L-R) Daniel Sedin #22, Henrik Sedin #33, Alex Burrows #14 and Dan Hamhuis #2 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrate Burrows' first period goal in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    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.

Playoff Toughness

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 05:  Maxim Lapierre #40 of the Vancouver Canucks lays on top of Patric Hornqvist #27 of the Nashville Predators in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals at Bridgestone Arena on May 5, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by F
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    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

Playoff Goaltending

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 24:  Goaltender Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks defends his net in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Arena on May 24, 2011 in Vancouver,
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    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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    SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 22:  Henrik Sedin #33 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 22, 2011 in San Jose, California. The Canuc
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Power Play

    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

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    Kesler and Luongo, two of the key penalty killers
    Kesler and Luongo, two of the key penalty killersHarry How/Getty Images

    Penalty Kill

    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.

Intangibles

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    DENVER, CO - JANUARY 18:  Manny Malhotra #27 of the Canucks warms up prior to facing the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on January 18, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Canucks 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Im
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Travel

    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.

    Manny Malhotra

    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.

Injuries

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    SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 27: Marc Savard #91 of the Boston Bruins warms up prior to the game against the Florida Panthers on December 27, 2010 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Bruins defeated the Panthers 3-2 in a shoot-out. (Photo by Joe
    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    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.

    Boston

    Marc Savard: Out for the rest of the season with a concussion.

    Vancouver

    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.

    adductor

Storylines

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    Milan Lucic in his WHL days
    Milan Lucic in his WHL daysChris Relke/Getty Images

    Milan Lucic

    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?

Predictions

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 24:  Alex Burrows #14 and goaltender Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrate after defeating the San Jose Sharks 3-2 in double-overtime in Game Five to win the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 Stanley Cup Play
    Harry How/Getty Images

    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.

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