It has been a long time coming, but the Boston Bruins finally will play for the Stanley Cup beginning tonight at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Because Boston only plays Vancouver once a year, and because the Canucks usually play games at 10 p.m. Eastern time, many fans out here have no idea what to expect from the Canucks. Some even believe they cannot possibly be better than the Lightning or Flyers.
Here’s the reality: they are better than any team the Bruins have faced in the postseason. They are fast, skilled, and confident. Remember those back-to-back embarrassing losses to Detroit the Bruins suffered back in February? This team may not be as skilled as the Red Wings up front, but they are pretty close, and they are better on the blue line and in goal. They led the league in goals scored (262) and goals against (185) during the regular season, putting up an impressive plus-77 goal differential. To put that last stat into perspective, Boston was second in goal differential at plus-51 – a difference of 26 goals.
Do the Bruins have a chance? Of course. They handed the Canucks one of nine home losses with a 3-1 win right after the trade deadline, the Bruins are one of the best road teams in the NHL, the Bruins have the kind of depth and team chemistry that is needed to win, and the physical style the Bruins play could give Vancouver some headaches – literally and figuratively.
Vancouver is home to three of the best forwards in the league: Ryan Kesler and twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
The Sedins are incredible to watch, and seemingly know what the other is doing at all times. Henrik, who won the Art Ross and Hart Trophys last year, leads the Canucks in playoff scoring with 2 goals and 19 assists, while Daniel, who won this year’s Art Ross and is a finalist for the Hart, has 8 goals and 8 assists. However, both are a minus-4 in the playoffs. If worrying about the twins was not enough, Alexandre Burrows (the third, often-forgotten member of Vancouver’s top line) is a clutch player who always seems to step up when it matters most. Watch out for him, as he has 7 goals and 7 assists in the postseason.
Kesler is one of the best two-way forwards in the game, and an American who is beloved in Western Canada. He is a finalist for the Selke Award as the best defensive forward for the third time, but added a skilled offensive game to his repertoire this season, scoring 41 goals and assisting on 32 others in the regular season. In the postseason, Kesler has 7 goals (including two game-winning goals) and 11 assists. Kesler centers Mason Raymond (2-6-8) and noted Bruin-killer Chris Higgins, who has three game-winning goals among his 4-3-7 totals. Higgins is a former Montreal Canadiens’s player who has scored playoff goals against the Bruins in the past.
The Bruins should have an advantage on the third and fourth lines, though not by much. Another former Canadien, Maxim Lapierre, will center agitator Raffi Torres and Jannik Hansen. Those three should find life a bit tough against Boston’s speedy third line of Chris Kelly, Tyler Seguin, and Michael Ryder, though ther Canucks will have a decisive physical advantage against that line.
Vancouver’s fourth line is in flux, as Manny Malhorta, one of the best face-off men in the game, is still out with a serious eye injury. It looks like Alexandre Bolduc will center speedy Jeff Tambellini and tough guy Victor Oreskovich. None of these guys have played much in the playoffs (Bolduc and Tambellini have only appeared in two games, while Oreskovich has averaged 6:18 of ice in 12 games), and will find life tough against Rich Peverley (or Mark Recchi), Gregory Campbell, and either Daniel Paille or Shawn Thornton, who may suit up to help offset Oreskovich. Boston may also see some of Cody Hodgson and Tanner Glass on Vancouver’s fourth line.
Make no mistake about it — Vancouver’s blue liners are far better than anything the B’s have faced so far. Kevin Bieksa is one of the best in the game right now, and he and partner Dan Hamhuis are averaging about 25 minutes of ice per game. They will see a lot of Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, and David Krejci.
The second defensive pairing puts the talented but oft-injured Sami Salo with Alexander Elder (2-7-9 and averaging just under 25 minutes per game). The third pairing is also talented, as defensively-challenged but offensively-skilled Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome usually skate together, but both missed time against San Jose. Christopher Tanev filled in nicely.
Roberto Luongo has long been heralded as one of the best goalies in the game, but also as a guy who cannot get it done under pressure. That has all changed this postseason, as he recovered from being benched against Chicago to win a pressure-packed Game 7, and played brilliantly against both Nashville and San Jose. A Vezina finalist along with Tim Thomas, Luongo has posted a 2.29 GAA and a .922 save percentage, numbers comparable to Thomas’ 2.29/.929.
As both teams are fantastic 5-on-5, this may very well be where the series in won or lost for the Bruins. Vancouver is deadly on the power play, scoring at a rate of 24.6 percent during the regular season and an amazing 28.3 percent in the postseason. Meanwhile, everyone knows the Bruins have struggled on the power play, scoring just 8.2 percent of the time. The Bruins have been OK on the PK (other than one game against Tampa), killing penalties at a 79.4 percent clip. They will need to be better (or just stay out of the box, as they did in game 7 against Tampa Bay) to win this series.
Going with my heart rather than my head, I will take Boston in seven games. This can happen if the Bruins stay out of the penalty box, Tim Thomas steals a game or two, and the Bruins net a few power play goals.
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Tags: Aaron Rome Alex Elder Alexandre Burrows Boston Bruins Chris Higgins Chris Kelly Christopher Tanev Chrustian Ehrhoff Cody Hodgson Dan Hamhuis Daniel Paille Daniel Sedin David Krejci Game 1 Gregory Ampbell Henrik Sedin Jannik Hansen Kevin Beiksa Mark Recchi Mason Raymond Maxim Lapierre Michael Ryder Milan Lucic Nathan Horton Patrice Bergeron Raffi Torres Rich Peverley Roberto Luongo Ryan Kesler Sami Salo Shawn Thornton Stanley Cup Finals Tanner Glass Tim Thomas Tyler Seguin Vancouver Canucks Victor Oreskovich