NHL Stanley Cup Finals: 5 Biggest Storylines for Boston Bruins—Vancouver Canuc
The Stanley Cup Finals have stirred up plenty of different story lines.
Boston makes an appearance for the first time since falling to the Oilers in the 1990 final and is seeking their first championship since 1972.
From the goaltending duel to special teams, here are five of the most important keys to the matchup and how it will effect who will come out as the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions.
When you look at the goaltenders competing in the Stanley Cup Finals, you know there will be some game-stealing saves. Tim Thomas of the Bruins is the perennial favourite to win the Vezina, and Roberto Luongo has looked more than solid in these playoffs and seems more relaxed in the crease since relinquishing the captain's "C" last year.
So far in the playoffs, both of these goaltenders have been a main story for their respective teams and have been relatively even through three rounds. Both goalies boast a 2.29 GAA, two shutouts and a 12-6 record. Thomas has a slight edge in the save percentage category with 0.929, while Luongo sits at 0.922.
You saw in the third round with Tampa Bay that Thomas is capable of both stealing a game and getting blown out of the water; yet, the Bruins have held true with their starting goaltender through the good and the bad, and with a confident Tim Thomas coming off a shutout in the biggest game (to date) in his career, the Canucks will need to crack him early or else it will be a long series.
In Luongo's case, he has had plenty of skeptics in recent years on whether or not he could carry the Canucks to a Stanley Cup after previous playoff exits, but this year seems a little different. As I mentioned, he is more relaxed in the crease after giving up his captain's duties and has been focused on one goal: to win a championship.
A year ago, he backstopped Canada and brought home an Olympic gold medal in Vancouver, so we know he can win the high pressure games when called upon. But this is a new beast: This is the Stanley Cup. Can he out duel Tim Thomas? We will have to see.
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One has an outstanding power play, the other can't buy a PPG if their playoff lives depended on it.
The Canucks have a power play percentage of 28.3 while the Bruins sit at 8.2 percent.
The penalty killing of each team has been satisfactory (Canucks 80.6%; Bruins 79.4%), but something will have to give. We will see penalties in this series, unlike in the Eastern Conference Finals Game 7, and Boston will have to step it up if they hope to compete on this level with the Canucks. Alternately, the Bruins have relied on their 5-on-5 play to get where they are, and the Canucks will have to watch out for that.
Chara vs. the Sedins
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Zdeno Chara will have the tough duty of shutting down the Sedin twins during this series.
The former Norris Trophy winner has been through a lot during this season, from the Max Pacioretty hit and the backlash from it, keeping up with last year's Eastern Champion Philadelphia Flyers and of course, recently, outplaying the likes of Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. The Sedin twins, however, bring to the table the last two Art Ross Trophies and last season's Hart Trophy winner.
Henrik Sedin leads the playoffs with 21 points and Daniel is only five points behind him. The wild card in this mix will be the play of Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows.
If they can turn it on, the depth of the Bruins D may come into question. Can Dennis Seidenberg be effective with Chara against the Sedins, or is Chara in for a long series against two of the NHL's best players?
Nathan Horton: A Gamebreaker? Boston's Offensive Depth
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A developing story in these playoffs has been the play of Nathan Horton in clutch situations. He has eight goals and 17 points in the playoffs, including the series clinchers in OT against the Canadiens in Round 1 and the only goal in Boston's Eastern Conference clincher last week against Tampa Bay.
Will he be running into a brick wall against Luongo, and further more, how much help will he get from the likes of Patrice Bergeron, David Krecji and Vancouver native Milan Lucic? On that note, how will Lucic fare trying to claim his first Cup against his hometown team?
Will Tyler Seguin be a factor in the series? We all know Boston has goal-scoring talent, but as we saw, they spread the scoring around, not sporting a superstar with the calibre of the Sedin twins. Speaking of the system...
Superstars vs. the System
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The Bruins, as I said before, don't have their goal-scoring coming from specific players, but all players contributing in a structured system that Claude Julien has had together since he came to Boston. In a way, this is great for the team: no selfish play, operating together like well-oiled machine. However, we all know if a gear is taken out of a machine, the entire structure risks falling apart.
With the Canucks, the Sedins, Burrows and Kesler have shown their brilliance, and the rest of the team knows their role and are comfortable with it. Since taking out Chicago, it seems the Sedins have played at a whole new level, a level befitting a former Hart Trophy winner and current Hart Trophy finalist.
Kesler has been excellent during both the regular season and playoffs, and when the Sedins weren't doing the Canucks justice, Burrows provided a major spark—especially with his two goal performance in Game 7 against the Blackhawks.
The question is how will they fare against a Boston system that just seems to shut offenses down left and right with solid defensive play.