2011 NHL Playoffs: 5 Predictions for the Boston Bruins vs Vancouver Canucks
After six weeks of some of the best Stanley Cup Playoff hockey ever played, the Stanley Cup Finals are set to begin.
The team that emerges as the Stanley Cup Champion will end a drought for which long suffering fans will be eternally grateful. Boston has not won the Stanley Cup since 1972 while Vancouver has not won a Cup in its 40 year history.
Vancouver, the 2010-2011 Presidents Trophy winner as the team with the most points during the regular season, is the favorite. They enter the series as a team full of talented, fast, skilled and confident players. And why not? Superstar forward Henrik Sedin leads all playoff scorers with 21 points. He also leads the league with 19 assists. Fellow forward Ryan Kesler is fourth in scoring with 18 points. Goaltender and 2010 Vezina Trophy winner Roberto Luongo is tied for first with 18 wins. He is also tied for first place with a goals against average of 2.29. He is sixth in save percentage at .929. Defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa are second and third in defensemen scoring with 11 and nine points, respectively.
The Canucks also have Mikael Samuelsson who has a Stanley Cup ring from his days as a Detroit Red Wing. Unfortunately, he will miss the Finals due to recent surgery
Boston comes to the Finals as the 2011 Eastern Conference playoff champions. The team has been on a mission since last year's playoff collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Management brought in nine new players who played key roles in the club's third place finish in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. First-year Bruins such as Nathan Horton, Brad Marchand, Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Tomas Kaberle and Tyler Seguin, to name a few, have been instrumental in playing key roles during the Bruins' march to the Finals.
Boston is led in playoff scoring by Horton and David Krejci with 17 points each. Krejci currently resides in fifth place in scoring while Horton is sixth. Krejci enters the Finals as the NHL's leading goal scorer with 10. Captain Zdeno Chara leads all playoff performers in the plus/minus statistic with a plus-11. Horton is second with a plus-10. Goaltender Tim Thomas is a 2011 finalist for the Vezina Trophy and leads all playoff netminders with 12 wins and 2 shutouts. He enters the Finals tied with Luongo with a .929 save percentage. Thomas also shares a 2.29 goals against average with Luongo. Dennis Seidenberg and Tomas Kaberle lead the club's defensemen in scoring with eight points each.
Two Bruins possess Stanley Cup rings. Shawn Thornton earned one in 2007 as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. Future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi wears two rings. He won the first in 1991 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ring number two was earned as a member with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.
Defenseman Andrew Ference has one trip to the Finals on his resume. He played for the 2004 Calgary Flames that lost in the Finals to Tampa Bay while center Chris Kelly's Ottawa Senators came out on the losing side in 2007 against Thornton's Ducks.
Those are the facts moving forward to the Stanley Cup Finals. Now for those five predictions.
Seidenberg and Chara Will Frustrate the Sedin Twins
Leading playoff scorer Henrik Sedin has 21 points on two goals and 19 assists. 12 of those points came in the five game Western Conference Finals against San Jose. The Sharks had no answer for Henrik's and brother Daniel's free wheeling, skilled game and the brothers piled up the points. Daniel, himself, scored six points against the Sharks.
San Jose has a solid core of defenders, however, they lacked toughness and grit against Vancouver and they paid the price. The Canucks eliminated them in five games.
In Vancouver's previous 2011 playoff series against Chicago and Nashville, the twins were not as prolific. Each of their opponents have bigger, more aggressive defensemen, who did not allow the Sedins the time and space they need to create scoring opportunities.
Henrik put up nine points in the two previous series.
The twins can expect to have a rougher go against Boston, literally and figuratively.
Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara were paired together after the Bruins lost the first two games of the Eastern Conference Quarter Final against Montreal. The combination was just what the team needed as the duo contained the Canadiens top scoring threats, Brion Gionta and Mike Cammalleri then had an easy go of it against Philadelphia's Mike Richards and his linemates.
In the seven game Eastern Conference Finals, Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, and Vincent Lecavalier combined for seven goals. Four of those goals were scored by St. Louis.
Seidenberg and Chara are leading all playoffs skaters in time on ice. That will not change as the Bruins coaching staff will call on them to shut down the Sedins. The brothers have not played a series against defensemen as big as Seidenberg (6' 1" 210 lbs) and Chara (6' 9" 255 lbs). The defensive duo will use their size, strength, skating ability and positioning to close off skating lanes and physically wear down Henrik and Daniel making it very difficult for the Canucks dynamic duo to put pucks in the net.
Milan Lucic Will Be Boston's Break out Player
It's hard to think of a 30 goal scorer as being a "break out player" during the Stanley Cup playoffs but Milan Lucic has had a very quiet postseason. After leading Boston in goals during the regular season, he has produced just three in 18 playoff games. The winger has assisted on six goals for a total of nine points.
It has been rumored that Lucic has been playing with a lower body injury throughout the playoffs.
Despite his lack of scoring, head coach Claude Julien has resisted benching Lucic or taking him off the club's number one line with David Krejci and Nathan Horton.
Lucic will reward his coach in the Stanley Cup Finals as the Vancouver native is returning home with the chance to win the Stanley Cup. Not only was the 22-year-old winger born in Vancouver, it is where he grew up and played junior hockey. As a member of the 2006-2007 Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, he led his team to the Memorial Cup championship, which is won annually by the top junior team in Canada. Lucic scored 19 points in 22 post season games for the Giants.
Milan Lucic is capable of coming up big in big games. As noted, Lucic has been quiet this postseason, however, the incentive to win the Stanley Cup and to lead his team in front of family and friends will be all the incentive the hulking (6' 2" 220 lbs) winger will need to do so.
Look for Boston's regular season leading goal scorer to find his goal scoring ways against the Canucks.
Christopher Higgins Will Be Vancouver's Break out Player
As is the case with Boston's Milan Lucic, it is uncustomary to expect a veteran to be a "break out player" but it may not be when discussing the Vancouver Canucks' Christopher Higgins.
Whereas Lucic is returning home to Vancouver, Higgins will be returning home to New England to compete for the Stanley Cup. Although, Higgins is a native of Smithtown, New York, he played his prep school hockey at Connecticut's Avon Old Farms School. After graduating from AOF, Higgins moved on to Yale University where he played for two seasons before signing with the Montreal Canadiens, who drafted Higgins in the first round (14th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
He spent two seasons with Montreal's American Hockey League club in Hamilton, Ontario then played four seasons with the Canadiens.
In 2009, Montreal traded Higgins to the New York Rangers where he played 56 games before being traded to Calgary, where he finished the season. The winger signed with Florida in July, 2010 then was sent to Vancouver on February 28, 2011 in a trade deadline deal. In 411 NHL games, Higgins has scored 105 goals and 91 assists totaling 196 career points. In 40 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, he has amassed 18 points on 10 goals and eight assists.
This postseason, Higgins has had the good fortune to spend most of his ice time playing on Ryan Kesler's line. Kesler, also an American-born player, has been on a tear this postseason and should he continue to have success against Boston, Higgins will benefit greatly from it as Kesler's setup man.
Christopher Higgins knows how to put the puck in the net. His three, 20 goal seasons with Montreal attest to that. He is a very good skater with the sense of knowing where to go on the ice and when to get there. He can always be found lurking for rebounds around the opponent's net.
With the skill and ability to score goals coupled with returning to New England on the "big stage" of the Stanley Cup Finals, watch for Christopher Higgins to become a household name among hockey families.
The 2011 Stanley Cup Finals Will Be About Goaltending
Let the debates begin. If goaltending wins championships, as many in hockey believe, then who do you believe has the better puckstopper?
Let's compare, shall we?
Both goaltenders spent time with New England-based American Hockey League teams. Vancouver's Roberto Luongo played for the Lowell Lock Monsters in 1999-2000. Boston's Tim Thomas was with the Providence Bruins in 2002-2003 and again in 2003-2004.
Luongo represented Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Boston's Tim Thomas represented the United States in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Luongo is a 2010-2011 Vezina Trophy finalist. Thomas is a 2010-2011 Vezina Trophy finalist
Luongo was first in the NHL with 38 wins in 2010-2011. Thomas was ninth with 35.
Luongo lost 15 games. Thomas lost 11.
Luongo gave up 126 goals. Thomas saw 112 slip past him.
Luongo was fourth with a .928 save percentage. Thomas was first. His save percentage was .938.
Luongo was second in goals against average at 2.11. Thomas came in first at 2.00.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it gets even more amazing.
Luongo has 12 wins. Thomas also has 12 wins.
Both netminders have six losses.
Luongo has given up 41 playoff goals. Thomas has seen 43 lamp lighters against him.
Each man has two shutouts.
Luongo's playoff save percentage is .922. Thomas' is .929
And the one statistic that has everyone talking is how they share a 2.29 goals against average.
Those numbers are mind boggling and everyone is expecting a goaltenders dual in these Stanley Cup Finals. Add the incentive Thomas has in that Luongo defeated the USA in the gold medal game in the 2010 Olympics and the stage is set for a netminding battle for the ages.
And the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions Will Be...
Fans of the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks have waited a long time to see their favorite teams reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
Both teams have been built to reach the pinnacle of their sport.
Boston can play the physical, grind-it-out style better than any team in the NHL. It can also play a strong defensive game.
The team will continue it's strong commitment to team defense with Tim Thomas, Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara leading the way.
Offensively, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton will use their creativity and speed to score timely goals. Milan Lucic will take a strong supporting role.
Vancouver is built on the concept that speed is a team's most dangerous weapon.
NHL Most Valuable Player candidate Daniel Sedin along with reigning Most Valuable Player, and brother, Henrik, will use their speed, skill and hockey sense to create goals. Ryan Kesler will be a force to be reckoned with. He will use his hard-nosed, physical play and skill to get to the Bruins net to get scoring chances. Christopher Higgins will bring his experience to bang home rebounds should Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas give him any.
Ultimately, the series will come down to which team has the most consistent goaltending.
Throughout the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tim Thomas has been Boston's best player. He will continue his strong, reliable, consistent play which will result in his out-dueling Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo in seven games, giving Boston it's first Stanley Cup since 1972.
Thomas will also be named playoff Most Valuable Player.