History will be made in this 2011 edition of the Stanley Cup Finals as the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins look to break decades of playoff defeats and give their fans a long-awaited championship.
In this their 40th anniversary season, the Canucks have yet to hoist the Stanley Cup. They’ve come close in 1982 and 1994, only to lose out to higher-powered Islanders and Rangers teams.
But this year the President’s Trophy winners go into the Finals as the favourite, much like the Bruins did all the way back in 1972 – the last time they won they hoisted Lord’s Stanley. That 1971-72 season saw Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito led Boston past the New York Rangers in six games, which was the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup victory. Since then, the Bruins have lost their last five Cup appearances, most recently in 1990 against Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers.
Both Boston and Vancouver have had to vanquish their demons to get to this year’s Cup Final. The Bruins avenged last year’s historic 3-0 collapse by dispatching the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of these playoffs. The Canucks survived a similar collapse, going up three-games-to-none against their own nemesis, the Chicago Blackhawks, before hanging on to win the series in a pressure-packed overtime in Game 7.
The Canucks and the Bruins are two of the deepest teams in the league, but the similarities stop there. Vancouver has forged its identity in these playoffs by outskating, outhitting, and outmanoeuvring the competition. Conn Smyth Trophy candidate Ryan Kesler (7G, 11A) is setting the example with his superb play in both ends of the arena, as is Defenseman Kevin Bieksa (5 G, 4 A), who is second only to the Bruins Zdeno Chara (2 G, 3 A) in post-season plus/minus (plus-10 to Chara’s plus-11).
Vancouver feeds its prolific offence from the back-end, where they now have a full stable with Christian Ehrhoff deemed fit to play. The Sedin Twins are now in top form after languishing through the Nashville series. Henrik (2G, 19A) and Daniel (8G, 8A) ventilated the San Jose Sharks in the third round and Henrik now leads the playoffs with 21 points. Forward Manny Malhotra is sure to inspire his teammates with a return to the ice after suffering a career-threatening eye injury in March.
Five-on-Five play has been the Bruins forte in these playoffs. While the Canucks have been good with 30 even-strength goals, the Bruins have been excellent –scoring a playoff leading 47. Boston forechecks with a great deal of tenacity, and has spread out its scoring thus far. Forwards David Krejci (10G, 7A) and Nathan Horton (8G, 9A) are leading the charge, with Patrice Bergeron (4G, 11A) not too far behind. Fellow forward and Vancouver native Milan Lucic (3G, 6A) hasn’t put up big offensive numbers, but will hope to make a big impact against his hometown team.
Special-teams play could be the difference in the series. The Canucks are making teams pay dearly for their infractions, going a sizzling 28 percent on the power play. The Bruins, on the other hand, have struggled mightily on their power play, going 5-for-61 this postseason.
In the crease, two Vezina Trophy candidates round out the match-up, as Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Boston’s Tim Thomas go head-to-head. Their styles of goaltending couldn’t be any more different, but their playoff numbers are remarkably similar (both have a 2.29 GA), with Thomas’s save percentage (.929) slightly better than Luongo’s (.922)
The Bruins beat the Canucks in their only meeting this season, a 3-1 win at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Lucic had a goal and had two assists in the tight-checking effort, while Malhotra scored the lone Canucks goal.
The Canucks use their speed and skill, draw penalties, and capitalize on the PP. The Bruins keep the games low-scoring, but cannot sustain enough offence against a mobile Canucks D.
Prediction: Canucks in five.