Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Into The Crystal Ball- 2011 Stanley Cup Final Edition

(W1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (E3) Boston Bruins

How They Got Here

Vancouver

Western Conference Quarterfinals: Defeated Chicago 4-3

Western Conference Semi-finals: Defeated Nashville 4-2

Western Conference Finals: Defeated San Jose 4-1

Boston

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Defeated Montreal 4-3

Eastern Conference Semi-finals: Defeated Philadelphia 4-0

Eastern Conference Finals: Defeated Tampa Bay 4-3

THE SKINNY

There shouldn’t be any surprise about the Finalists this time around- right from the start the season, both Boston and Vancouver were tabbed as Cup contenders, though as the season wore on Vancouver became the heavier favourites. Both teams entered the playoffs with lots of question marks, with the Bruins having to answer their epic collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 (becoming only the fourth team in major sports history to blow a 3-0 series lead) and the Canucks having to answer for years of playoff failures despite their contender status, mostly at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. For both, the 2011 playoffs would be all about redemption.

It didn’t start out that way, though. The Bruins looked like they were headed for an early exit when they fell behind 2-0 to the Montreal Canadiens in Round One, while the Canucks looked like they could have been the fourth team to blow a 3-0 series lead when the Blackhawks suddenly became unbeatable and stormed back to force a Game 7 overtime. Fortunately for both teams they won Game 7 in overtime- Nathan Horton for Boston and Alexandre Burrows for Vancouver- but that didn’t make anything easier. Vancouver saw a gamer Nashville Predators team in Round Two than many might have given them credit for, while Boston saw the Tampa Bay Lightning run rings around them in Round Three before just squeaking out a Game 7 victory. To say that these playoffs have been “eventful” for both teams is an understatement- it’s more like they went through many years of playoff experiences in just two short months.

Yet, here they are...and now it’s time to break down their matchup.

THE BRUINS WIN...IF

That power play ever gets going. The Bruins are sick of hearing about it, but there’s no way a team with an 8.2% power play clip can even dream of winning the Stanley Cup. To put it in perspective, the Bruins’ power play ranks third last- out of *all* the playoff teams. In fact, the only teams to rank below Boston- the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers- were bounced in Round One. Endemic in this problem is a lack of finishing, as the Bruins’ big bodies like Milan Lucic and Horton have shown they’re able to create space on the ice to move the puck but they just don’t seem to have the hands to bury the chances they’re getting. Boston also has a lot of problems moving the puck in the attacking zone, and that has a lot to do with the fact that Tomas Kaberle has been a colossal failure. If scorers like Lucic, Horton and David Krejci can get going- which they can- it’ll help the Bruins in the long run.

The other way Boston can win this series is with size. Though Vancouver can bring it physically as well, none of the Canucks are a match for the Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara, the biggest player in the world. The Canucks also showed in Game 5 against San Jose that a physical attack can wear them down, and Boston would be capable of doing that for a whole series. Boston also needs to make sure its defensive approach is working at full capacity, as even though they showed against Tampa that they can score with high scoring teams, it’s just not suited to their roster, so they can’t be caught in an up and down affair.

THE CANUCKS WIN...IF

Their offence continues producing. It hasn’t always been consistent, but their big guns- Ryan Kesler, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Alexandre Burrows- are producing, getting plenty of support down the lineup in guys like Maxim Lapierre, Chris Higgins and Raffi Torres. Their power play is also clicking, thanks mainly due to the offence they receive from the point from players like Kevin Bieksa- who is making a case for big bucks as a free agent this offseason- Christian Erhoff and Sami Salo, with Dan Hamhuis doing a great job patrolling the defensive zone. This says nothing about the job Roberto Luongo has done in net, playing like a man on a mission in finally bringing his regular season play to the playoffs, and the job of Alain Vigneault as head coach, who has been able to get the Canucks to play whatever style is necessary- freewheeling, physical, defensive- and still win.

The only question that remains is Vancouver’s mental fortitude. They may be the most complete team in the playoffs, but they have yet to play a “series”. Yes, Chicago pushed them to seven and Nashville to six, but the Canucks had a 3-1 series lead in each series, with the only time they’ve ever been tied in a series being after Game 2 against Nashville and never trailing. While the Bruins aren’t on the same level as the San Jose Sharks or the Predators may be, they are capable of making this a series with the Canucks, and that’s the only test that’s really left for this team. It’s also been the test that’s been their downfall, since they’ve only won one series- the 2010 First Round series with the Los Angeles Kings- when they’ve been either behind in a series or tied 2-2 after four games. Every other time they’ve lost. So when the going gets tough, do these Canucks get going?

WHO WILL WIN

The Vancouver Canucks, in a healthy six games. Yes, the Bruins aren’t quite the team that the Sharks or the Predators are, but they do have enough to make this a series with the Canucks. However, Boston’s lack of production on special teams as well as elite forwards (compared to Vancouver’s special teams prowess and their own batch of elite forwards) will be their downfall. Vancouver has already shown they can play the Boston game and do it well- no one has shown they can even keep up with the Vancouver game, because no one has the horses. Tim Thomas, Luongo’s equal in the Boston net, has the capability to steal a game or two for the Bruins, but it won’t be enough- Vancouver is just too deep and too well rounded for Boston to keep up.

-DG


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-DG

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