As it was said by EA Sports way back in October 2010, the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins would meet up in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. After a few days of a hockey drought, Game 1 of of the Stanley Cup Finals starts today and we're all eager to see what the series is going to look like.
Boston won the only regular season game on February 26, 2011 in a 3-1 game. Vancouver went on to win the next 13 out of 15 games played in March losing once to the Nashville Predators and once to the Phoenix Coyotes. Both of those teams have been knocked out of the playoffs, with the Canucks responsible for ending the Predators' season in Round 2.
Regular season records don't hold any clout in the postseason because as well all know, the playoffs are an entirely different animal in the NHL. So let's compare how the Canucks and Bruins look on paper and in game.
In all honesty, I was hoping for this matchup for a long time. Roberto Luongo never earns any credit as an elite goaltender outside of regular season games. Year after year, Bobby Lou is labeled a postseason choker who can't play under pressure. Tim Thomas on the other hand, set goaltending records this year and made it the best season of his goaltending career with a .938 save percentage.
The meeting between these two elite goaltenders is without a doubt going to be a battle of the giants. Needless to say, whichever goaltender has an off-night is going to award the opposing team a clear win. Roberto Luongo was shaky in net against his kryptonite, the Chicago Blackhawks, in Round 1. To be honest, the Blackhawks were going to be the toughest matchup the Canucks had to get through, but they made it.
Luongo started the series off with a shutout. In fact, Luongo has started each series except for Round 3 against the San Jose Sharks with a shutout. The Canucks have won 7 straight Game 1's in the playoffs, last losing in 2007 to the Anaheim Ducks. Although the Canucks were up 3-0 in the series and needed only one more game to finish Chicago off, the Blackhawks routed and game back to force Game 7. Luongo stood on his head in Game 7 and earned a much needed win in overtime with a .969 save percentage for the game.
Since the 2-1 overtime win in Game 7 against the Blackhawks, Luongo has consistently been the best goaltender in the league with a save percentage of .932 in 12 games. With all postseason games, he has a .922 save percentage.
Tim Thomas on the other hand has been very inconsistent besides his team's sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers in Round 2. His save percentage of .929 in his last 12 games is identical to his overall post season save percentage.
To give you an idea of how close both of these goaltenders are statistically, Luongo and Thomas both share a 12-6 record in the postseason, 2 shutouts each, and a 2.29 goals against average. However, Thomas' inconsistent play led to a 2.37 goals against average whereas Luongo has kept it at 1.95 GAA over the last 12 games. In the end, wins are going to depend on which Vezina Trophy-nominated goaltender has an off-night and who is standing on his head.
Hockey fans are excited to see the clash of these two giants in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Boston Bruins are often described as "big and bad," especially when you have to look up to see towering defenseman Zdeno Chara who stands at 6'9" and weighs 255 pounds or power forward Milan Lucic who is 6'4" and weighs 200 pounds. The story is that the Bruins will be more aggressive and play with physicality, throwing off the Sedins' cycle game.
To break the news, to Boston fans, and to surprise many Vancouver fans, the Bruins aren't bigger or badder than the the Canucks. In fact, the Canucks are the bigger team.
With a team average height of 6'1" and weight of 201 pounds, the Canucks slightly tower over the big, bad Bruins who have a team average height of 6" and weight of 200 pounds. There are only 3 Canucks who are under 6' tall, versus the 8 Bruins who are under that height. A couple hits by Raffi Torres could even make Chara look a foot shorter.
Besides size, the Canucks have had a total of 151 hits more than the Bruins over 18 equal playoff games, outnumbering them 596 to 445. Five Canucks have had more hits than Milan Lucic over the post season, who has 43 total hits. This includes Maxim Lapierre with 63 hits, Kevin Bieksa with 62 hits, and Ryan Kesler with 56.
The Sedins vs. Tim Thomas. Thomas is an aggressive goaltender who likes to stay far out of net and cut down on angles. This was an excellent strategy to eliminate the Flyers' entire offense which was based on breakaways and odd man rushes. Thomas is a goaltender who is very comfortable around the crease and puts a lot of trust in his defensemen who clear rebounds, take away passing zones, and block shots in front of the net.
The strategy that Daniel and Henrik Sedin employ is one of almost fantastical playmaking that involves a lot of cycling, tic-tac-toe passes, and patience. Patience will draw Thomas out of net just enough for Henrik to spot an open lane to his brother Daniel, who can safely put away any goal.
With Manny Malhotra cleared to play, we might see Alain Vigneault play him in Game 3 on the road to add more depth to an already deep and healthy team. Malhotra is a great penalty killer with plenty of grit and leadership who will take a lot of the faceoff pressure off of Ryan Kesler.
In the end, if the two teams do square off evenly on even strength, power plays and penalty kills will make or break either team. Vancouver has the best power play at 28.3%, outmatching Boston's 8.2%. The only chance Boston has is if it makes its power play effective or stays out of the penalty box altogether. Vancouver's penalty kill is 80.6% and Boston's is 79.4%, which is close, but may tip in Vancouver's favor even more with the addition of Manny Malhotra.
In the end, it should be a hard fought series. And although Vancouver started a pattern of winning Round 1 in 7 games, Round 2 in 6 games, and Round 3 in 5 games, no one should expect a sweep. If I had to make a bet, it would be Canucks' speed, depth, goaltending, and gritty physical play that will wear down the Bruins in 7 games and win them their first Stanley Cup in 40 years.
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