For sheer firepower, the Canucks get the edge. Defensively, the nod goes to the Bruins – albeit slightly since the goalies have nearly identical stats. It may just come down to special teams and that’s no forte of Boston, at least when it comes to its power play.
“They have a lot of depth,” Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said. “They are good on all positions and it’s going to be a tough series and we are aware of that.”
Bergeron, who missed the first two games of the Eastern Conference final with a concussion, gave the Bruins a huge boost offensively and will be leaned upon heavily by the Bruins. The Canucks will get three players -- defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome, along with center Manny Malhotra -- back for the final. The return of Malhotra from a scary eye injury, one of the best defensive forwards in the game, should not be glossed over. Role players like Malhotra can often be the difference in these types of series.
|Stanley Cup Finals|
Forwards: Not much separates the top lines of either team. Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin, the reigning Hart Trophy winner, centers a line with twin brother, Daniel, and Alex Burrows. The trio, however, accounted for only six of the Canucks’ 20 goals in the conference finals against the San Jose Sharks -- three of which came on the power play. The Bruins counter with a No. 1 line that features Milan Lucic, Dave Krejci and Nathan Horton, who combined for nine of the Bruins’ 21 goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning last round.
"I think we all know they have a lot of skill," Horton said. "We're going to have to stay out of the box, be disciplined and play the way we've been playing. I think if we don't play hard every night, if we don't play our A game. It's definitely going to be tough."
Those two lines may end up canceling each other out, so it will come down to secondary scoring. That’s where the Canucks have an edge. Ryan Kesler has 18 points in the playoffs (seven goals, 11 assists) and is one of the game’s top clutch performers. Bruins have had solid production from Bergeron, who centers the second line along with rookie Brad Marchand and veteran Mark Recchi. Boston, which lacks the speed of Vancouver, was bolstered by the play of rookie Tyler Seguin, who had six points in the first two games of the conference finals, although his production went to nil after that. Both team’s final two lines are as defensively solid as any in the game, but Malhotra will give the Canucks an edge whenever he's allowed to return.
"Manny is going to be huge," Kesler said. "It helps when you have two righties and two lefties. If he's going, then it's going to be good for us."
Defensemen: Boston’s Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are going to be busy. They are both already atop the charts for total time on ice per game, at more than 28 minutes each, and will get plenty of action against Vancouver’s top two lines. Chara is over a virus that caused him to miss a first-round game due to dehydration, but he admits he lost a lot of weight.
"It's going to be challenging," Chara said. We know they're good players, very skilled players. You just have to be aware of them, where they are on the ice, and play them very tight (and) try to take as much as we can away from them."
The Canucks counter with the top defensive pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis, who combined for nine points and a plus-9 last round. The Canucks are deeper on defense, evidenced by the fact they were able to win the final two games against San Jose minus Ehrhoff (shoulder) and Rome (likely concussion).
The Canucks have become accustomed to shuffling defensemen after a season full of injuries on the blue line that forced Salo, Hamhuis and Edler out for stints. This will be another test of Tomas Kaberle, a deadline acquisition by the Bruins. He’s been shaky at times, even on the power play where he’s supposed to be one of the league’s top threats from the blue line. He’s still searching for his first goal of the playoffs.
Edge: Bruins, by the thinnest of margins
Goaltenders: This is easily the best goaltender matchup since the lockout. Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Boston’s Tim Thomas are both finalists for the Vezina Trophy, the award that goes to the league’s top goaltender of the regular season, and both enter the final at (or near the top) of their game.
"Obviously we have different styles," Luongo said. "Tim has had an unbelievable season, probably the best in the league. He's given his team a chance to win every night. It's a good challenge for me, a good battle. There's different battles. I focus more on their opposition players and what I have to do to be ready against them, but at the same time you want to look at the guy on the other side and try to go save for save."
Thomas had two shutouts last round, including in Boston’s 1-0 victory in Game 7. Luongo, who was pulled twice and even sat in place of backup Cory Schneider earlier in the playoffs, has gotten better as the playoffs have progressed. There isn’t much of a difference between the two statistically. Thomas has a 2.29 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage in the playoffs; Luongo possesses the same GAA and a .922 save percentage. The difference, especially as traffic increases as the teams search for the garbage in front of the net, comes down to size. The 6-foot-3 Luongo has the edge there, even though the 5-11 Thomas is more athletic.
Edge: Canucks, also not by much.
Special teams: The Canucks’ production on the power play has remained fairly constant throughout the playoffs. They have converted on 28.3 percent of their chances, led by Daniel Sedin (five goals) and Kesler (four). The Bruins began the playoffs with one of the worst power play slumps in league history as they failed to score on their first 30 opportunities. They have tried to mix it up by putting the 6-foot-9 Chara in front of the opposition net, but the Bruins have been unable to reliably put the puck on goal from the point. The Bruins have converted on only five of their 61 power-play opportunities (8.2 percent).
"I think at the beginning of the playoffs, we felt like if we couldn't get our power play going," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We were in big trouble. But here we are in the finals, so we've managed to survive. We understand if your power play doesn't get going, you're certainly playing with fire."
Both teams, however, are about equal on the kill. The Bruins have successfully thwarted 79.4 percent of the power plays they’ve faced; Vancouver has a penalty kill success rate of 80.6 percent.
-- A.J. Perez
Prediction: While rest (the Canucks will have had a week between games) and travel (the Bruins covered 3,000-plus miles by plane after a long series) are factors, Vancouver really has the edge is on special teams. Unless the Bruins miraculously take no penalties (like neither team did in Game 7 of the East final), the Canucks are going to win this series --- likely in six games. -- A.J. Perez
I will continue to stick by the Bruins this postseason. There is no doubt this is their toughest challenge yet, but I think the B's are up to it. People talk about the offensive firepower being in the Canucks' favor, and that's certainly true. But I'd just like to point out the Bruins have scored eight more goals than the Canucks this postseason in the same amount of games. I've got the B's winning a Game 7 on the road. -- Brian Stubits
|Stanley Cup Finals|
|No. 3 Boston vs. No. 1 Vancouver - Canucks lead, 1-0|
|June 1||at VAN||Canucks 1, Bruins 0|
|June 4||at VAN||8 p.m./NBC|
|June 6||at BOS||8 p.m./Versus|
|June 8||at BOS||8 p.m./Versus|
|June 10||at VAN||8 p.m./NBC|
|June 13||at BOS||8 p.m./NBC|
|June 15||at VAN||8 p.m./NBC|