2011 NHL Stanley Cup Finals Preview

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2011 NHL Stanley Cup Finals

Vancouver Canucks  vs  Boston Bruins

 

With the Memorial Day weekend past, it is officially summer around these parts.  And the best way to celebrate is with the Coolest Game on Earth.  While the rest of the league gets ready for the NHL Draft, the Stanley Cup Finals start Wednesday night in Vancouver as the Canucks try and bring home their first ever Stanley Cup.  Their opponent is the Boston Bruins, an Original Six member of the National Hockey League who has an historic pedigree, but have struggled to win titles in the modern era.  Will the Canucks win their first Cup in their 40 year history and return the hardware to Canada?  Will the Bruins end their 39 year drought and win their sixth title in franchise history?  As the NHL commercials say, “History will be made.”  At the end of this series, a new chapter will be engraved into history.  Get everything you need to get ready for the Stanley Cup Finals, including information on both teams,  match ups to watch for, and predictions, all after the jump.

 

Bryan Vickroy

The league offices and TV partners must just be salivating at the matchup that they got in the Stanley Cup Finals.  A hockey hotbed in Vancouver, representing the Pacific Northwest contingent of the NHL landscape, against the Boston Bruins, an original member of the NHL, and a key piece in the league’s showcasing of the league the last few years on national television.  Not only are both of these teams traditionally winners, but they both have significant Stanley Cup droughts.  The Vancouver Canucks have never won a Stanley Cup in their forty years of existence, and have only reached one Stanley Cup Finals, losing to the New York Rangers in seven games back in 1994.  The Boston Bruins have not been to a Stanley Cup Final since 1990, and have not hoisted the Stanley Cup in 39 years, dating back to the 1971-72 season.  Below is all the information you need to properly engage yourself in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals.  Consider it your morning skate to the intense action that will take place over the next couple weeks.  In the end, a new champion will be crowned.

 

 

Game Schedule

Game 1:  Wed June 1  8:00 E, 5:00 P  @Van   (NBC)

Game 2:   Sat June 4  8:00 E, 5:00 P  @Van   (NBC)

Game 3:  Mon June 6  8:00 E, 5:00 P  @Bos   (VS)

Game 4:  Wed June 8  8:00 E, 5:00 P  @Bos   (VS)

Game 5:  Fri June 10  8:00 E, 5:00 P  @Van   (NBC)*

Game 6:  Mon June 13  8:00 E, 5:00 P  @Bos   (NBC)*

Game 7:  Wed June 15  8:00 E, 5;00 P  @Van   (NBC)*

*if necessary

 

 

Eastern Conference Champions

 

bruins the sports bank hockey

 

Boston Bruins

Northeast Division Champions

#3 Seed

1st Round:  Def Montreal 4-3

2nd Round:  Def Philadelphia 4-0

Conference Finals: Def Tampa Bay 4-3

 

Leading Scorer (Reg Season): Milan Lucic (30 G – 32 A – 62 PTS)

Leading Scorer (Postseason): David Krejci (10 G – 7 A – 17 PTS)

 

The Boston Bruins started this past season with a two game series with the Phoenix Coyotes in Prague, Czech Republic.  After splitting the series across the pond, the Bruins came back to the States and struggle to find their rhythm until about December, fully hitting their stride in February, when they reeled off seven straight wins to essentially seal up the Northeast Division crown.  After a few struggles down the stretch run, including finishing the season winning only half of their last twenty games and getting a scary matchup with perennial nemesis, the Montreal Canadiens.

 

The Bruins spent this postseason erasing ghosts of postseason’s past.  After dispatching the archrival Montreal Canadiens in the first round, they exorcised  the ghost of last year’s playoff implosion by finishing the Philadelphia Flyers off in only four games.  After sweating out the Tampa Bay Lightning for seven full games, the Bruins find themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals, in search of their sixth ever Stanley Cup trophy.  A lot has been said of the roster makeover in Boston, starting with the trade of Phil Kessel to Toronto last year.  The draft picks acquired in that deal netted #2 overall pick Tyler Seguin, who experienced a breakout of sorts in the Eastern Conference Finals, and another top ten draft pick in this year’s draft.  The biggest hero of this postseason so far has been Nate Horton.  Acquired from the Florida Panthers, Horton has thrived in his first postseason appearance, netting 8 goals and 17 assists in this postseason, including three game winning goals.

 

 

nate horton the sports bank hockey

 

 

While Horton and Krejci have led the team offensively, this team has lived and died by the actions of goalie Tim Thomas.  Thomas has been literally unbeatable at times this postseason, giving the Bruins the strong backstop that they need at times.  The Bruins aren’t the most offensively adept team in the NHL, but thrive on their tenacious, physical defensive mentality.  Thomas stopping everything he sees gives the Bruins an opportunity to win every game.  The need to score lots of goals every game is negated, and if Boston gets a lead, it allows them to sit back, protect their own end of the ice, and let Thomas see the puck and stop it.  if the Bruins want to take home their first Stanley Cup in 39 years, they need to find seams in the Vancouver defense at center ice.  Vancouver also has not been attacked deep in the offensive zone as much as Boston will attack them in their own zone.  Defenders like Zdeno Chara and Andrew Ference will play the body as much as possible below the dots, trying to disrupt opponents ability to cycle the puck.  If the Bruins are going to win this series, they will need to score early in games, control the neutral ice and reduce the number of odd man rushes they give up, and exploit the Canucks penchant for pinching in on the offensive zone.

 

 

 


Western Conference Champions

 

canucks the sports bank hockey

 

Vancouver Canucks (54-19-9)

Northwest Division Champs

#1 Seed, President’s Trophy Winners

1st Round:  Def Chicago 4-3

2nd Round:  Def Nashville 4-2

Conference Finals:  Def San Jose 4-1

 

Leading Scorer (Red Season): Daniel Sedin (41 G – 63 A – 104 PTS)

Leading Scorer (Postseason): Henrik Sedin (2 G – 19 A – 21 PTS)

 

Since the preseason of this NHL calendar year, the Vancouver Canucks have been seen as the cream of the professional hockey crop, and were tagged by many, including myself, to win their first Stanley Cup in their 40 year NHL history.  The Vancouver Canucks were clearly the best team in the NHL this past regular season.  The Canucks only lost four games in regulation in the Northwest Division, and clinched the division long before anyone else in the league came close.  Vancouver scored the most goals and gave up the fewest goals in the NHL throughout the season.  They led the league in both wins at home and on the road.  The Canucks had three of the league’s top nine scorers, and one of the best goaltenders in the league statistically.  Vancouver won the President’s Trophy, had the league’s leading scorer in Daniel Sedin, and appear ready to win the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup.

 

This postseason started off as a challenge to the Canucks.  After jumping out to a 3-0 lead against the Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver struggled to a Game 7 before extinguishing the thorn in their side of the last few postseasons.  Vancouver then dispatched first time second round participant Nashville in six games.  After resting for some time, Vancouver responded strong against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference finals, dispatching the Sharks in five games to advance to their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1994.

 

The Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, are clearly the driving force behind the Canucks success.  When they are on their game, it is almost impossible to play a full game and match their ability on the offensive end.  When they are off, the Canucks struggle to put away opponents, despite outplaying most of them.  Ryan Kesler has proven himself to be a playoff hero, not seen in Vancouver since the likes of Trevor Linden.  Kesler has been clutch at both ends, and has played a key role in pivotal moments throughout this postseason.  Roberto Luongo showed signs of cracking in the first round, but after being benched for a game, has responded positively, and even carried the Canucks at times in this post season, willing the Canucks to victories with his saves and agressiveness.

 

 

ryan kesler the sports bank hockey

 

 

However, Luongo’s aggressiveness has cost his teams at times this postseason.  His puckhandling has led to quick and easy goals by his opponents, and sometimes the costly mistakes have been too much for Vancouver to overcome.  The Sedin twins also went through a drought this postseason, causing some to question how good they really are.  In the end, Vancouver will live and die by their ability to control the movement of the puck.  Their forwards will be aggressive on the forecheck, and their defensemen will pinch in tight for scoring opportunities.  Vancouver’s speed at the forward position will also give them an advantage to get past the bigger and slower Boston blueline.  If Vancouver is to win this series, and their first ever Stanley Cup, it will mean that they have stretched the ice vertically, and attacked opposing goaltender Tim Thomas with a plethora of shots every game.  Vancouver has the offensive firepower to win every game they play, the only question is whether they keep mentally focused at every aspect of the game, every game they play.

 

 

 

Head To Head Comparison

Offense – Vancouver has been the best offensive team all season, and haven’t shown signs of letting up throughout the postseason.  The knock on the Bruins the last couple years has been the inability to put goals in the net.  This postseason has seen a lot of Boston players step forward and contribute goals, but the Canucks are clearly the deeper team through all four lines.  Even if it comes down to a battle of the top two lines, Vancouver is definitely deeper and more skilled than Boston.  The point totals and stats clearly show that Vancouver has the edge in the offensive zone.

Advantage:  Canucks

 


Defense – While many of the experts will give the nod in this category to the Canucks, I tend to look at the blueliners a little differently, having been one myself.  Defensemen in the NHL are a little like superstars in the NBA.  Whoever has the best overall defender tends to dominate games.  That best defenseman shuts down the opposing teams top line, and will log long, heavy minutes in every game.  Zdeno Chara is clearly one of the best in the game, and the best defenseman in this series period.  While the Canucks have a bit more depth on the blueline than Boston, Chara neutralizes much of the advantage the Canucks will try to get with their line change opportunities at home.  Chara never seems to come off the ice, and will be important in terms of his ability to physically disrupt the Vancouver forwards, essentially pounding them into submission

Advantage:  Bruins

 


Goaltending – At the start of this postseason, Roberto Luongo was seen as the goaltender most likely to suffer a mental breakdown at some point in the postseason.  Boston’s Tim Thomas has been, by statistics and highlight saves, the best goalie in hockey during the regular season.  Through the first two rounds, the stereotypes held true.  But in the Conference Finals, Luongo became the sturdier of the two goalies.  Thomas struggled at times against Tampa, while Luuongo seemed to discover something of a killer instinct against the Sharks.  Both goalies have bodies of work that stand above nearly every other goaltender in the NHL.  Debate could be given to either goalie getting the nod, but it’s too close for me to call.  In the end, these two goalies essentially neutralize each other.

Advantage:  Even


 

roberto luongo the sports bank hockey

 


Special Teams – Boston has been completely inept this postseason on the power play, scoring only five power play goals in61 opportunities so far.  Vancouver has been dynamic with the man advantage so far, scoring 17 goals in 60 opportunities this postseason.  Both teams have been nearly identical on the penalty kill, with each team hovering around 80% on the kill.  Boston still has not found a way to get its power play on track yet this postseason.  Against a very good penalty killing team like Vancouver, it won’t get any easier for Boston.  The Canucks have been able to get power play goals against whoever they play all season long.  At both aspects of special teams, Vancouver is clearly the superior team.

Advantage:  Canucks

 


Coaching –For a team who has reached the Stanley Cup Finals, Boston coach Claude Julien has been reluctant to make changes, leading to struggles like the power play being enhanced, but also showing that shrewd decisions like giving Nate Horton a lot of minutes and finally playing Tyler Seguin in the Conference Finals can go a long way towards victory.  Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has kept a steady hand throughout the season, coaxing the best out of each of his players as the games became more important.  While Julien has done a good job with the Bruins this year, his struggles to get certain parts of the roster functioning this postseason are seen as a knock against him.  Vigneault was seen as flawed in years past, but seems to have erased the demons after dispatching Chicago and actually making it into the Cup Finals.  In the end, I just trust Vigneault more when it comes to making an important decision.

Advantage:  Canucks

 


Home Ice –Rogers Arena in Vancouver is no stranger to important events.  It hosted last year’s Olympic hockey games, including the epic overtime gold medal game between Canada and the United States.  However, it has never hosted a Stanley Cup Finals.  TD Gardens has also never hosted a Stanley Cup Finals after replacing the historic Boston Gardens in the 1990’s.  Both rinks are loud, and give a distinct advantage to the home teams.  The Boston sports scene is finally catching on to how good this Bruins squad is, but still don’t give the team the same respect as the other local teams like the Red Sox, Patriots, or Celtics.  The Canucks are clearly #1 in Vancouver, and also carry the added honor of trying to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada.  Fans have been celebrating in the streets of Vancouver since last winter, and they will continue to become more intense as this final series of the year progresses.  All things considered equal, Vancouver gets the nod based on the freak show element that has come out this postseason, as well as the international phenomenon that the Vancouver Green Men have caused this season.

Advantage:  Bruins

 


Intangibles – Both teams are on the verge of ending severely long Stanley Cup droughts.  Both teams have exorcised demons of postseasons past this year, and have managed to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.  The Canucks are the President’s Trophy winners, which has been something of a jinx in recent years.  However, the Canucks also have the Art Ross Trophy winner, the league’s leading scorer for the season.  The last six winners of the trophy to reach the Cup Finals have gone on to hoist the Cup as well.  The last man to make it to the Finals and not win was Gretzky in 1983.  The Bruins have possibly the best goalie in the game, the best defenseman in the game, and one of the stingiest teams in the NHL.  Both teams have confidence that has lacked in past postseason runs.  But both teams are also seen as playoff chokers, unable to close out and win important games until this season.  In the end, the slight edge leans towards the rabid Canadian fan base.  A team from Canada has not won the Stanley Cup since 1993, and the Canucks are the closest any team has been in years.   What better way for the Canucks to close out their 40th anniversary celebrations than with a Stanley Cup championship.

Advantage:  Canucks

 

 

sedin twins the sports bank hockey

 

 

Prediction – The Bruins won the only meeting between the two teams this season, defeating the Canucks 3-1 back on February 26 in Vancouver.  One game in the middle of the season isn’t telling though.  Vancouver was struggling at the time with health, and both these teams have exploded in the last month, clearly showing that they are the two best teams in hockey over the course of the NHL playoffs.  Both teams are successful at home and on the road.  Both teams have frenetic fan bases who give all their energy to every game.  Both teams have All World goaltenders who are capable of stopping every single puck in any game they play in.

 

This series comes down to who has the most offensive firepower.  While the Bruins forwards have shown some spark in this postseason, the Canucks have the most dangerous pair of players in the world in the Sedin twins, as well as three deep lines who can play both ends of the ice, and bury pucks in the back of the net.  The mythology of Tim Thomas was dulled a little bit in the Eastern Conference Finals, showing that he can be beaten for goals, and can even give up a sizeable lead late in games.  While critics have doubted Roberto Luongo throughout his career, he has shown the signs of being the dominant goaltender that he is since finally finishing off the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the first round.

 

Both these teams have battled their own personal demons to reach this deep into the NHL postseason.  The Stanley Cup is won by the team who manages expectations and roadblocks the best each season.  The Bruins and Canucks have both exorcised old roadblocks, and are on the verge of taking home the Stanley Cup.  In the end, the best team all season will be the best team in the Stanley Cup Finals.  The Canucks have the scoring power, and it appears they have a goalie who is completely focused on the task at hand.  While the Bruins are a formidable oppponent, the Canucks have much more talent on the roster, and that skill will eventually win Vancouver their first ever championship, and the first Stanley Cup won by a Canadian team since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.  Vancouver Canucks in 6 Games

 


 

bryan vickroy the sports bank

 

Bryan Vickroy has an addiction to hockey, and is willing to partake in all its forms.  He is skating extra shifts for The Sports Bank, covering the Minnesota Wild, the NHL, and NCAA hockey all year long.  Look for new articles throughout the week.  He can be followed on Twitter at @bryanvickroy.  If you’d prefer to speak in more than 140 characters at a time to him, he can be reached at bryan.vickroy@gmail.com .


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