Photo credit: nhl.com
When Vancouver and Boston finally drop the puck on the Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday night at Rogers Arena, it will mark the 50th day since the 2011 playoffs began for the Canucks.
It’s been a long road, to be sure. The path has been fraught with highs and lows, and everything in between. Everyone would love to forget the agony of watching Chicago forcing a game seven after Ben Smith’s overtime thriller, but everyone will remember the thrill of seeing Kevin Bieksa’s rolling knuckler trickle past an unsuspecting Antti Niemi in game five versus San Jose.
At the end of the day, however, none of that will have mattered if Vancouver gets this far, only to come up short again. Nothing has changed since the Canucks were forecast to claim professional hockey’s richest prize in September; the team has been favourites since the beginning of the season and the club has given their fans no reason to doubt them. And unlike the underdog teams of 1982 and 1994, this time the Canucks will enter the Stanley Cup Finals as the undisputed favourite.
To get you set for what should be an epic clash of the titans, here’s a look at the projected lineups of both teams come Wednesday night:
Last Time They Met: February 26th, 2011, 3-1 Bruins — Look, the old adage goes that you shouldn’t take much stock from the regular season in regards to the playoffs; and that applies here. The Bruins came away with a 3-1 victory, fueled by a huge effort from hometown hero Milan Lucic, who scored the game-winner with 4:38 left in the third while adding an assist on the empty netter by Patrice Bergeron. There’s a couple things to consider first: The game came just days after the NHL trade deadline, where the Canucks added Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins and the Bruins added Tomas Kaberle, Chris Kelly, and Rich Peverley. While Lapierre and Higgins have both played integral roles in the team’s postseason success, Kaberle has predominantly been a mediocre addition, failing to spark a Boston powerplay which has been dormant all playoffs. Kelly and Peverley, however, have been good contributors to the B’s. A lot has changed for both teams since this last clash.
The Road to the Finals: Both teams have undergone a similar route to get here; the Canucks and Bruins both needed overtime in game seven of round one to vanquish the Hawks and Habs, respectively, before walking all over the Predators and Flyers in round two. However, Vancouver got even better in round three, completely nullifying the San Jose attack while averaging 3.6 goals in the series. Boston took the long route, needing seven to defeat Tampa Bay, averaging 3 goals a contest.
Forwards Comparison: With all due respect to David Krejci and the rest of the Bruins forward corps, none of them are in the realm of Toews, Kane, Marleau, or Thornton; which isn’t necessarily a condemnation of their group. Instead, Boston gets the job done by committee, carrying 12 forwards who have at least one goal; the Canucks have ten forwards with at least one goal. The Bruins top line will give the Canucks defense a lot of problems, while Patrice Bergeron is among the league’s best two-way centres. However, the sandpaper and grit of the Vancouver third and fourth lines gives them a much more complete forward group. Edge: Vancouver
Defense Comparison: The biggest problem, quite literally, will be Zdeno Chara, who has the wingspan the length of a Boeing 747 and will be charged with subduing the Sedin offense. However, if the twins’ cycle game gets the Boston defense scurrying around and caught out of position (as was the case versus San Jose), head coach Claude Julien will have to re-tool. Outside of Chara, the blueline isn’t very mobile and instead focuses largely on playing solid defense in their own end; Boston’s defensive depth is slightly better than that of San Jose’s. Conversely, the Canucks blueline is complete; mobile and defensively sound, everyone from Alex Edler to Aaron Rome contributes a little something. Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa have emerged as the NHL postseason’s best defensive duo. Edge: Vancouver
Goaltending: It’s a battle of Vezina nominees. Tim Thomas has shown flashes of that elite-level netminding, but not on a consistent enough basis. Roberto Luongo’s postseason play is cut from the same cloth as Thomas’. However, this will be the biggest stage Thomas has played on by far, while Luongo has played in an Olympic gold medal game before. It provides a little edge, but otherwise it’s tough to pick a side. Edge: Even
Special Teams: It’s a good thing Boston is a fantastic team 5-on-5, because they’re certainly not going to wow anyone with their sorry excuse for special teams. Vancouver’s powerplay is clicking at 28.3 percent (3rd among all 16 NHL teams), while Boston’s is at a sorry 8.2 per cent (14th among all 16 teams). Most interestingly, Boston defeated Montreal in the first round without getting a single powerplay goal. That has to be a record. It’s a closer battle on the penalty kill, where Vancouver is ranked 8th at 80.6 percent and Boston at 9th with 79.4 percent. Edge: Vancouver
Intangibles: Vancouver could get an extra injection of motivation if injured centre Manny Malhotra returns; imagine the uproar at Rogers Arena if Malhotra comes to centre for the opening faceoff for game one, giving the Canucks even more inspiration to win it all. Conversely, East Vancouver native Milan Lucic should be extra motivated to win a Stanley Cup in the city where he grew up and played his junior career with. Each team has two players with a Stanley Cup ring (Mikael Samuelsson and Aaron Rome for Vancouver, Mark Recchi and Shawn Thornton for Boston). Having home ice advantage could be huge for the Canucks. Edge: Even
We’re loathe to make series predictions, but we’d still love to hear yours. Chime in with your thoughts on what could be the defining moment for the Vancouver Canucks franchise!