2011 NHL Stanley Cup Finals: Bruins vs Canucks, Who Will Bring It Home?
The Canucks are looking for their first taste of Stanley Cup glory in their 40-year history, and the original six team in the Bruins are looking for their first championship in 30 seasons; this is their first final since a five-game loss to the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty in 1990.
Boston and Vancouver were two teams picked by many experts to eventually face each other for the Cup, and sure enough, here we are. In their only meeting of the season, the Bruins defeated the Canucks 3-1 (EN goal) in February. All in all, they are two evenly-matched teams on paper, with the exception of the Bruins' horrendous power play this playoff season.
These are a few keys to determining who will be drinking champagne out of the Cup come the end of this series.
The Physical Game
Both the Bruins and the Canucks bring big-bodied defencemen to this series. Up until this point of the playoffs, the Canucks have outhit the Bruins 596 to 445, and it has been an integral part of their playoff wins.
The Canucks have proven that when they hit, they win. On the other hand, the Bruins struggle with responsibility and discipline when they come out hitting. They had a couple match penalties in their last series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and it came back to bite them. The Bruins' lack of discipline in the hitting game can cost them in the long run with their penalty kill in the state it is in.
Though Boston has a beast in Zdeno Chara, his lack of speed after delivering a hit can result in odd man-rushes by the opposition.
On the Canucks' side of the puck, their third and fourth line tend to come out flying, physical and all the while smart to not make ill-timed hits. This helps the Canucks stay five-on-five where they strive.
This category is up in the air, so the advantage is null.
One of the major concerns surrounding the Boston Bruins in this series is their lack of team speed. The Canucks are known league-wide for their tremendous speed, especially that of role-players Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen.
As games wear on, the top players on each team get fatigued, so the bench boss usually sends the third or fourth line out for an uptempo, fast-paced shift to get everyone going again.
The Bruins aren't able to do this because they don't have the depth to do so. This weakness has been exposed several times this offseason with the simple flip play, where the opposition simply flips the puck out over the defenseman's head and has a forward skate onto it for a break. If the Bruins cannot figure out how to defend against speed, they will seriously struggle in this series.
The Canucks' speed doesn't start and end with the role-players though. Vancouver has a dynamic second line with Raymond, accompanied by the speedy and talented Ryan Kesler, who causes huge headaches for the opposition.
The Canucks far outweigh the Bruins in this category.
Advantage: Vancouver Canucks
It comes as no secret that the ability to have secondary scoring in the Stanley Cup Finals is a key to success. Every team that wins the Stanley Cup has depth, and teams need to be able to call upon players to produce offensively to provide secondary scoring.
The top line of the Sedins and Burrows for Vancouver, and the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line for Boston can't be the only lines producing points if either team wants to win this series.
The Vancouver Canucks have a strong second line with 41-goal-scorer Ryan Kesler leading the way. Kesler has 18 points thus far in the playoffs and is tied for fourth in goals with seven. The play of Chris Higgins on the line with Kesler has proven very valuable and a welcome surprise.
The Canucks' third line has chipped in a bit so far this playoffs, but they will need to rely on them for more production in the Finals. Raffi Torres has four points, while Mason Raymond has contributed with eight. If Manny Malhotra is able to return to the team for the Finals, expect more production out of this line.
The depth of the Canucks is also key because head coach Alain Vigneault is able to trust any one of his four lines on the ice at any given point of the game.
For the Bruins, their top scorers so far in the playoffs are all on the top line.
The return of Patrice Bergeron to their lineup in the Eastern Conference finals helped out a lot with their depth as they struggled to fill his void at the center position on the second line. With the Bruins, it is not their top concern when they struggle with secondary scoring because they have Tim Thomas backstopping them to victory every night, but this may be difficult when they play the Canucks. If Tyler Seguin steps up like he did in the early parts of the Tampa Bay series, the Bruins should not worry about scoring.
The Bruins' depth and experience of some of their forwards can be called into question since they tend to get hot-headed and erratic at times.
If the deciding factor here is depth, the Canucks win.
Advantage: Vancouver Canucks
What has been a huge factor for both teams so far during these playoffs is a huge factor yet again in the Finals.
In series' past, the Vancouver Canucks have had to be cautious as their opponents power play units have been fantastic.
Don't you worry about that in this series, Canucks fans.
The Bruins' power play is a dismal 8.2 percent, a record for any team in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins have seemingly gotten their power play going the last couple games of a 4-0 series sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but it did not last.
Meanwhile, the Canucks power play is at 28.3 percent, good enough for tops among conference finalist teams. When the Canucks get a power play, it is more likely than not they are going to convert.
The Bruins' penalty kill is 79 percent and not far behind the Canucks' 80.6 percent. If the Bruins can manage to stay out of the box, they will give themselves the opportunity to compete in the Finals. Five-on-five, the Bruins were the best team in the NHL. If they want to win, they will need to play the majority of the series with five men on the ice.
Advantage (Special Teams): Vancouver Canucks
Advantage (Five-on-Five): Boston Bruins
Realistically, this series weighs most on the performance of the two Vezina Trophy candidate goaltenders. Posting almost identical stats so far this playoffs, Roberto Luongo (VAN) and Tim Thomas (BOS) will have to be at their best if they want their teams to win.
Unlike Boston's Thomas, Luongo has had the luxury of not having to steal many games this playoff season. Luongo has posted a .922 save percentage with a 2.29 GAA so far, and he has had the support of strong defensive play—as well as plenty of offense—in front of him.
This is what separates Thomas and Luongo.
The depth of the Bruins is not as solid as that of the Canucks, and Thomas has been called upon to steal nearly every victory for the Bruins so far this playoffs. When Thomas plays average, the Bruins lose—it's that simple.
If Thomas though is able to keep up his 929 save percentage and 2.29 GAA game in and game out, he'll give his team an advantage. His unorthodox style of goaltending has proved to be a momentum-changer with his miraculous saves. As the favorite to win the Vezina this year, it's hard to argue who has better goaltending.
Advantage: Boston Bruins
Expect some tight, exciting games in this year's Stanley Cup Finals.
I expect to see the Canucks come out victorious. Vancouver overpowers the Bruins in too many aspects of the game, and Boston cannot solely rely on goalie Tim Thomas to win the series for them.
All four lines produce for the Canucks, and they are responsible—well, responsible compared to the play of the Bruins' lines. It is going to come down to depth and special teams in this series. The Canucks' power play will dominate the Bruins if they keep parading to the box the way they have been in these 2011 NHL Playoffs.
All in all, the NHL got a series they wanted, but 2011 is the year the Stanley Cup returns to Canada.
Final Prediction: Canucks win series in six games.