The Boston Bruins are the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions.
What? How did that happen?
There are lots of reasons why hockey fans might be in shock. The Vancouver Canucks were supposed to win the Stanley Cup.
The Canucks were the NHL’s best team in the regular season. They had home-ice advantage, and history on their side. Aren’t Canadian teams destined to win the Stanley Cup the year after hosting the Olympics?
No team had ever won the Stanley Cup after being pushed to seven games in three rounds. Why would these Boston Bruins be any different?
In Stanley Cup Finals history, home teams were 12-3 in Game 7, and Roberto Luongo had been playing great at home.
As the city of Vancouver cleans up the mess left by a few hundred hooligans, Vancouver Canucks fans are also left wondering why their team didn’t win the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup.
Here are 6 reasons why the Canucks lost to Boston in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
Ryan Kesler was the best player in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he was clearly playing hurt in the final round against Boston. Yes, Henrik was also playing hurt... but Kesler was Vancouver’s difference-maker. Despite playing his best game of the series in Game 7 and being the best Canuck on the ice, Ryan Kesler’s injury was devastating to Vancouver's chances.
The Canuck defense core was also decimated by injuries. Dan Hamhuis was averaging over 25 minutes per game in the playoffs until he was injured in Game 1. Although the Canucks went on to win the first two games, his absence left a hole that was never properly filled.
Moreover, Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and Alex Edler were all rumored to be playing with injuries. As the series progressed, the Canucks were left with a softened defence playing in front of an increasingly fragile Roberto Luongo.
Yes, the Boston Bruins lost their leading scorer in Nathan Horton, and I’m sure there were many others (on both sides) who were hampered by injuries. But by the time the puck dropped for Game 7, the Canucks were definitely more beat up than their Boston counterparts.
It’s hard not to cheer for a guy like Tim Thomas. He was the heart and soul of the Bruins this year, and I’m not sure if there is a goalie who is more loved by his teammates. Thomas is the first to acknowledge that he didn’t do it alone. Zdeno Chara, and the rest of the Boston defence, was spectacular. However, it was Thomas who set several Stanley Cup Finals goaltending records (including total saves and goals-against average), and he deserves all the credit he is getting.
This was the easiest Conn Smythe decision since Mario Lemieux won it in 1991 and 1992.
I’ll save my opinion of agitators who don’t drop the gloves for another time. However, I truly believe that the antics of Alexandre Burrows and Maxime Lapierre significantly affected the course of this series.
Unfortunately, facewashing is a common part of the game…biting is not.
Burrows clearly bit Bruin forward Patrice Bergeron in Game 1. Instead of being suspended, Burrows was the hero of Game 2. That’s a tough pill for Boston to swallow, but the Lapierre taunt was the tipping point. Without the taunt, Boston could only have directed anger at the NHL for not suspending Burrows. However, Lapierre’s taunt allowed Boston to channel that emotion against the Canucks.
Some would argue that the media made more of it than the players did, and that the taunt was no big deal. Some would argue that players in the Stanley Cup Finals don’t need extra motivation. But if you saw how Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic responded in Game 3, it was clear that the Bruins were angry.
Many have stated that Lapierre’s taunt was funny. I disagree. I would bet that many Vancouver players were disgusted, and if it happened 30 years ago, Lapierre would have been smacked around by his own teammates.
After Game 2, the series became dramatically dirtier, with players on both teams taking every opportunity to charge at, slash or punch an opposing player. The taunt by Max Lapierre was a major turning point for the Boston Bruins.
It helped motivate the Bruins to drag the Canucks down to a physical, and often dirty, style of play. With Kesler and the Sedins focused on the rough stuff, Vancouver was unable to play with the same speed and skill that had carried the team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
I am not saying that Alain Vigneault is a bad coach. He's an excellent coach. But Vigneault was out-coached by Claude Julien in this series. Julien had a unique lineup of interchangeable players and was able to create line combinations with tremendous chemistry. Julien deserves a lot of credit. Conversely, Vigneault made some crucial coaching errors in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Vigneault’s handling of Roberto Luongo was poor. If you’re dealing with a goalie with fragile confidence, you need to protect him. Vigneault should have pulled Luongo after the fifth Boston goal in Game 3. Any athlete with any amount of pride would say he wants to stay in the game, so I don’t buy Vigneualt’s argument that Roberto wanted to keep playing. It’s not Luongo’s decision. Those extra goals in Game 3 did make a difference. Not in terms of wins and losses, but in the minds of the Canucks, the Bruins, the media and the fans.
In addition to his mishandling of Luongo, Vigneault made a couple of serious mistakes in Game 7. He failed to send out a second center for the defensive-zone faceoff that led to the first Boston goal. This is a common strategy that Vigneault failed to utilize.
Vigneault also failed to use his timeout at a reasonable time in Game 7. After Boston went up 2-0, Vigneault should have called a timeout. If you don’t call a timeout at 2-0, don’t bother calling one. At 3-0, against Tim Thomas, everyone knew the game was over. A 2-0 timeout might not have changed anything, but Vigneault should have called one there.
Luongo, or Lebrongo, as some are calling him, has taken more blame than he deserves. I won’t try to add to that here.
Luongo certainly didn’t help himself with the much-overblown statements he made about Thomas after Game 5. But as much as Boston’s defence made Tim Thomas better, Vancouver’s play in front of Luongo made him worse.
There are several reasons why Luongo’s confidence was so fragile. It was a culmination of his poor play in Boston, mishandling by his coach and constant criticism from Canucks fans who were foolishly calling for Cory Schneider (Yes, foolish. Luongo's numbers were better than Schneider's all year, including the playoffs. Why would Canucks fans endorse a goalie who has never played an NHL game that he couldn't afford to lose?).
The bottom line is that Luongo didn’t come up with big saves when it counted in Game 6 or Game 7, and he certainly deserves some blame.
Like him or not, Brad Marchand was spectacular in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His energy, both during and after the play, was a constant problem for Vancouver. Marchand not only outscored the Sedins, with seven points in the finals, but he was a distraction that got the twins off their game. The replays of Marchand repeatedly punching Daniel Sedin will haunt Canucks fans for many years to come.
I don't want to hear anybody say that NHL referees contributed in any way to the Canucks not winning the Stanley Cup. Yes, the officiating was inconsistent, but it was inconsistent on both ends of the ice. Canucks fans can complain about the hit on Raymond, or specific plays where a penalty should have been called against the Bruins. However, the Canucks got away with as many penalties as their opponents did.
I'm sure Chicago fans are still upset about the hit by Raffi Torres on Brent Seabrook, a hit that did not receive a suspension. Bruins fans could complain about the the fact that Burrows was not penalized for biting Patrice Bergeron.
The reality is that the Canucks did not do themselves any favors in terms of officiating. Canucks GM Mike Gillis complained about the officiating in Round 1, and several Vancouver players were caught diving like World Cup soccer stars. I'm not saying Vancouver was the only team to complain, or the only team to dive. All I'm saying is that the officials did not cost Vancouver a Stanley Cup.