This is what it all comes down to. This is what players have battled like warriors for, fighting through injuries big and small. Coaches have looked for weaknesses in their opponents and guided their players in exploiting these weaknesses. Goaltenders have stood on their heads, dived on pucks, committed grand larceny to get here. This is what it is all about.
The glory of the Stanley Cup Finals. But only one can claim the ultimate glory. Who will it be?
Both teams have had to battle a few demons to get here.
The Canucks have had to face their post-season elimination fears early on by facing the team that has a habit of knocking them out of the playoffs: the Chicago Blackhawks. However, seven games later the Canucks out on top and have been going strong, taking out the Nashville Predators in six games and the San Jose Sharks in 5 games.
The Bruins began the post-season by facing a bitter rival in the Montreal Canadiens. That series was a long, close battle with intense overtimes and seven games. Boston came out on top, but it has not been easy going since then. They faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. Not only are the Flyers another bitter rival, they are the team that knocked the Bruins out of last year’s playoff – after the Bruins took a 3-0 lead in the series. This time around the Bruins took the Flyers out in four games, sweeping them. The Tampa Bay Lightning were next in the Eastern Conference Final. This would be another long series for the Bruins, going to a game seven that Boston won by scoring the only goal of the game.
Clearly both teams have worked hard to be here. But as Lance pointed out, there can only be one.
It’s would be enough to give this to the Canucks on the merit of the Sedin twins alone. Daniel Sedin led the NHL in points during the regular season with 104 points and brother Henrik was right behind him with 94 points. And they have not disappeared in the post-season. Henrik leads all players in the playoffs with 21 points. There just seems to be some unspoken rule that states:
“If one Sedin passes the puck to another and that Sedin passes the puck to a third player, this will result in a goal.”
Case in point:
That would be enough, right? But they also have Ryan Kesler. I don’t care who you root for, it just seems impossible to not like Kesler. It also seems impossible to stop him. The Sharks practically through the entire team at him and he fought his way through them. But the Bruins are a gritty team with bigger bodies to throw at him so that might be able to find a way to at least slow him down.
The Bruins don’t have the offense of the Canucks, but they do have offense. David Krejci isn’t far behind Henrik Sedin with 17 points in the post-season. Nathan Horton has been a force to reckon with as Mr. Clutch, scoring goals when his team needs them the most. Not to mention that they have a rather productive rookie in Tyler Seguin and Mark Recchi continues to play like he is unaware of the fact that he is 43 years old not 33 years old.
Advantage: Vancouver Canucks
Are you aware that Zdeno Chara is 6’9” tall? That is six feet, nine inches tall. That is big. And do you know what is hard to do to big things? Stop them. And do you know what is easy for them to do? Stop you.
Combine that with Chara’s linemate Dennis Seidenberg, who I swear stopped more shots than Tim Thomas in game seven of the Conference Finals, and Andrew Ference and you are staring at a pretty solid wall of defense. Not to mention that the entire team takes a defensive mindset to their game.
The Canucks answer with what is sort of the opposite: defensemen that can score. Dan Hamhuis, Sami Salo, and, of course, Kevin Bieska are constant threats. And if Christian Erhoff returns from his injury (he will), he’ll be looking to score a goal or two (and he will.)
Overall, the Canucks have more depth to their defensive lines but the Bruins are an entire team of defense. They also have Zdeno Chara.
Advantage: Boston Bruins
This is a hell of a goalie match-up. Two Vezina Trophy candidates. Identical numbers in shutouts (2), wins (12), and goals against average (2.29). Roberto Luongo has more experience playing in high-pressure situations, but also has more experience falling apart in high-pressure situations. But this year, he looks like a different Luongo and don’t think he’ll be cracking this time. Tim Thomas on the other hand has been a machine. I swear that he only lets goals in to keep us from catching on to the fact that he is a cyborg. I mean how else do you set a new NHL record with a .938 save percentage? I’ll say it again: Tim Thomas is a machine. And if The Terminator movies have taught me anything, it is that machines are very hard to stop.
Advantage: Boston Bruins
This is rather simple. Vancouver’s special teams have been unbelievable during the regular and post- seasons. They score power play goals. They stop other people from power play goals. And they do it really well. Boston, on the other hand, has had a decent penalty kill and that seems to be the only special team they have. So…wait. What’s that? They do have power play units? Huh. Go figure. I guess I haven’t noticed, you know, with them not ever scoring.
Advantage: Vancouver Canucks
Both teams have coaches that have struggled with and succeeded in the face of adversity. Boston’s Claude Julien had the embarrassment of last year’s playoffs as well as several close series this year where the Bruins dropped leads and ended up at game sevens. However, Julien always managed to rally his players together and get them focused to come back from the brink. Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault would seem to have it easy with the embarrassment of riches on his team. This would be true if his riches weren’t being stolen by injuries. But Vigneault has managed to guide his players through these injuries to a President’s Cup and now to the Stanley Cup Finals. Those are the kinds of actions that get you nominated for the Jack Adams award for coaching, which Vigneault is.
The teams would seem evenly matched. If you tally it up, they split the categories. So is it anyone’s game? No. I think that Vancouver’s advantages are going to be the one’s that count. Tim Thomas may be a machine, but machines can be beaten. The Matrix taught us that. The Canucks can and will lay down a relentless assault. The Bruins have an incredibly strong defense. But defenses crumble when assaulted enough. Even the Walls of Jericho fell after seven days.
Prediction: Vancouver Canucks in 7