May 312011
 

For Part 1 of my thoughts on the Final, click here.

So here we are, at the end of the rainbow. Vancouver versus Boston. Canada versus America. Green Men versus Green Monster. West Coast versus East Coast. Orca versus Bear. Winner gets the Stanley Cup.

So which of these teams has the edge?

First, let’s look back at where I had each team rated at the beginning of the season:

BostonVancouver
B+GoaltendingB+
ADefenseB+
A-ForwardsA-
BCoachingB-
100-115 (1st in Conference, Stanley Cup Winner)Predicted Points/Season100-115 (1st in Conference, Loss to Detroit)

And now?

Goaltending: Boston and Vancouver’s goaltending both played above expectations this season, with Tim Thomas putting together an A+ season in net. Despite some poor outings, in general both Roberto Luongo and Thomas have sustained their play in the post-season. Boston: A+. Vancouver: A.

Defense: Boston’s defense wasn’t as dynamic as expected, slipping at least a half, if not a full-grade until the arrival of Tomas Kaberle solved this problem (at least on paper). Kaberle though has struggled, and often finds himself playing 6th defenseman minutes. Boston: B.

Vancouver’s defensive depth was tested time and again, but they have remained a B+ group surviving, and in some cases thriving, without an elite blueliner. The sight of Canuck defenseman flying past San Jose backcheckers to create odd-man rushes will be in Shark coach Todd McLellan’s dreams all summer. Vancouver: B+.

Forwards: Ryan Kesler effectively carried the secondary scoring burden of the Canucks this season, who get little offense from anything below the second line. Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre have been effective pickups in energy and defensive roles though, and the Sedins are the most talented players in the series. Boston: B+.

Conversely, the Bruins offense really didn’t materialize quite as expected, with the loss of Marc Savard hurting the team’s powerplay. Nonetheless, Boston has out-scored Vancouver in the playoffs. Tyler Seguin had a quiet season but has shown flashes of brilliance when given the opportunity this spring. Mark Recchi has been MIA for most of the playoffs and is expected to retire if the Bruins win the Cup. Vancouver: B+.

Coaching: Both coaches have improved their standing somewhat with a Cup Final appearance. However, there remains skepticism. For Claude Julien, doubters suggest he has a hard time adapting in-game to what the opposition throws at his team. Others suggest Boston’s run-and-gun moments against Tampa Bay and Philadelphia are proof his defensive tactics remain unnecessarily stifling. Boston: B+.

Conversely, Barry Trotz out-coached Alain Vigneault for most of the Nashville series. Coach AV also raises some eyebrows with his handling of Keith Ballard and an apparent love affair with Tanner Glass. Vancouver: B.

Special Teams: Vancouver has the edge based on a more successful powerplay, both in the regular- and post-seasons. However, both teams haven’t exactly lit-it-up on the penalty kill in the playoffs. Manny Malholtra’s return may help here, unless he’s not capable of contributing in his usual fashion. Boston: B-. Vancouver: B+.

As you can see, despite Vancouver’s status as Cup favourite there’s very little difference between these two teams. When you add in the match-up game (Zdeno Chara versus the Sedins; Kesler versus Krecji), it’s easy to see this becoming a long series.

Except a long Cup Final would be a first for the Bruins. They’ve never gone more than six games when playing for the Cup, and have been involved in four sweeps. Lest anyone needs a reminder, the last time they made it this far was against Edmonton in 1990. Rumour has it the word “shellacking” was borne out of Edmonton’s dominance over Boston.

But these aren’t your 1990 Boston Bruins. This is a legitimate Cup team, and one that will give the Canucks a lot of trouble. The outcome of the Final rests on one or more of the following happening:

1) One of the goalies outplays the other
2) Ryan Kesler or one of the Sedins goes down to injury
3) Patrice Bergeron inserts himself into the Conn Smythe discussion
4) Boston’s powerplay shows up
5) Raffi Torres knocks Bergeron or Krecji out of the series
6) Vancouver’s third-line outplays Boston’s third line
7) Vancouver’s defense continues to support the attack and score goals

Expect 1 (Luongo), 4, 5 and 7 to happen, with Vancouver winning the Stanley Cup in seven games.

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