May 30 2011 12:34PM
Wow. Raffi Torres is REALLY, REALLY excited that Manny is coming back.
Ok... let's face it. We all are. The Canucks look to win it all with Manny back.
(Photo by Jessica Haydahl/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins both ended some serious droughts by making it to the Stanley Cup Final. Now, one of these two teams will end an even longer drought. Canucks fans are well aware of the fact that the Canucks have not yet won hockey's biggest prize in their 40-year history. However, the Bruins haven't won the Stanley Cup since the year AFTER the Canucks joined the league.
Two long suffering fans bases. Two teams that have some serious itches to scratch. Which team will raise Lord Stanley's Cup after decades of waiting?
Let's break down this series.
The Vancouver Canucks were the highest scoring team in the regular season, and it took them two playoff rounds to warm up. After being somewhat stymied against the Blackhawks, and then facing a defensive stalwart in Pekka Rinne and the Predators, the Canucks were able to open up more against Niemi and the Sharks. Their power play has been spectacular, but their 5-on-5 GF/GA hasn't been nearly as good as it was in the regular season. One of the Canucks biggest reason for that is that the Canucks haven't been their normal self in the faceoff dot. Then the Canucks White Knight rides in. Manny Malhotra, the league's second-best faceoff man during the regular season, will be making a miraculous return to the ice after an eye injury in March threatened his hockey career and his eyesight. The importance of Malhotra's return cannot be understated enough. First, it gives the Canucks 4 strong centres and an amazingly balanced set of 12 forwards. It gives the Canucks a faceoff specialist, something they need desperately if they want to control the puck against the Bruins, who are the league's best team at 5-on-5. It gives the Canucks another strong penalty killer. And most importantly, it gives the Canucks a HUGE emotional lift as one of the most popular players this team has seen returns to the ice in spectacular fashion. All that aside, the Canucks also boast the playoff's leading scorer and reigning league MVP (Henrik Sedin 2G 19A 21 Pts), the Art Ross winner and Hart trophy nominee (Daniel Sedin 8G 8A 16 Pts), and a Selke nominee and top 5 scorer (Ryan Kesler 7G 11A 18Pts). And if that wasn't enough, there's still Alex Burrows and Chris Higgings scoring a combined 11 goals, 4 of which have been game winners. The Canucks forwards have faced some of the toughest teams defensively and in net throughout the playoffs, and still came out on top. They were also doing that with three lines per game, as coach Vigneault was not given the fourth line many minutes at all. With Malhotra back, and the ability to balance four lines more as well as getting a faceoff specialist out there, the Canucks are a force to be reckoned with.
The Bruins haven't come close to facing a team as defensively strong as the Canucks in these playoffs. The Bruins scored 20 goals in only 4 games against the Flyers (who didn't have Pronger) and their horrible goaltending. And then they faced the Lightning who, despite Roloson's best efforts, allowed 21 goals in 7 games, which was actually pretty close to their season average of 2.85 GA per game. The Bruins have benefitted greatly by playing some weak goalies and weak defenses. That said, the Bruins offense is putting up soime great numbers. David Krejci is tied for the playoff lead in goals with 10, and is fifth in total scoring. Nathan Horton is also tied for fifth in scoring with 8G 9A 17Pts. Then there's Patrice Bergeron (4G 11A 15pts), Michael Ryder (5G 6A 11 Pts) and Chris Kelly (4G 7A 11 Pts). The one disappointment has been Milan Lucic, not for his overall play, but for lack of scoring production with only 3 goals. However, we can expect Lucic, a native of Vancouver, to play out of his mind in the Stanley Cup Final in his home town. The Bruins do have a forward system which allows them to roll four lines very effectively. But the fact remains that the Bruins have not faced a team as deep defensively as the Canucks. The Bruins will find their success if they can remain regimented and disciplined and play as much as possible at 5-on-5.
The Canucks have established themselves as the deepest team defensively throughout these playoffs. Even when Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome went out in Game 3 in the San Jose series, Game 4 introduced Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev and the Canucks never missed a beat. The Canucks defense is deep, mobile and skilled. They have also been contributing offensively throughout the playoffs. Against the Sharks, the Canucks D scored 8 goals, including 4 from Kevin Bieksa.
While the Bruins defense is solid, it's not nearly as deep as the Canucks. Of course, the Bruins have monolithic captain and Norris nominee Zdeno Chara patrolling the blueline. While Chara and partner Dennis Seidenberg have been a terrific shutdown pair this postseason, the rest of the Bruins defense is fairly slow and not very adept at moving the puck quickly up ice (with the exception of Tomas Kaberle). Furthermore, the Bruins have 8 total goals in the playoffs (remember the Canucks scored 8 goals in just 5 games against the Sharks). So they aren't getting nearly the offensive punch from their blueline as the Canucks are.
The bottom line is that the Bruins defense is good, but the Canucks is better.
Advantage - CANUCKS
It might be the turning point of the series. Which goalie will stand more on his head? The knee-jerk reaction from every non-Canucks fan and even some Canucks fans is to say "Well, it HAS to be Tim Thomas. Because Luongo can't make the big save."
Enough of this already. Since the Game 4/5 debacle against the Blackhawks (WHICH WAS NOT LUONGO'S FAULT), Luongo has been the best goalie in the playoffs. In his last 13 games, Luongo has a 1.88 GAA, 26 total goals against and a .935 Sv%, he has playing at the top of his game. Yes, Luongo has been better than Thomas across the board. And let's compare apples to apples and look at Thomas's last 13 games - because both goalies and their respective teams are 9-4 in their last 13. In his last 13 games, Thomas has allowed 31 goals, with a 2.38 GAA and a .929 Sv%. Very solid numbers indeed, but Luongo has been that much better. So we can dispell the myth right now that Thomas gives the Bruins a huge advantage in net. They're both playing at or near the top of their game. If one of these goalies cracks, it could decide the series.
Advantage - EVEN
Special teams are a funny thing in the playoffs. The Bruins were decent during the regular on their penalty kill, and were below-average on their power play. During the playoffs, their PK has failed them, slipping below a 80% kill rate, and their power play has been downright terrible. So bad has the Bruins power play been that they have resorted to putting Zdeno Chara (he of the hardest shot in the NHL) in front of the opposing goalie as a screen.
As for the Canucks, their almost-league-leading PK in their regular season has faltered but regained its form against the Sharks as the series rolled on. Their power play, on the other hand, has been absolutely ruthless, giving them the best PP% of any team playing past the first round, at 28.3%.
The Bruins have to try desperately to keep this game at 5-on-5 as much as possible. The Bruins are a great team at 5-on-5, scoring 1.74 GF vs GA. While the Canucks are top 5 in the playoffs at 1.07, it's nowhere near the Bruins' rate. The Canucks need to make the Bruins pay, if they start taking penalties.
Advantage - CANUCKS
This is the first Stanley Cup Final EVER to feature to francophone coaches. Given the history of the Cup and the legacy that French Canadians have had with the game, I find this stat astounding. Both coaches have their teams playing their respective systems very well. That said, I don't think that either coach provides a distinct advantage here. Mostly because the teams have only played each other 3 times over the past three years, and their player personnel has changed so much over that time. The only real advantage here is that the Canucks have the home-ice edge to start the series.
Advantage - EVEN
The Bruis forwards are playing really well right now, but Horton and Lucic can be loose cannons. If Torres and Lapierre start getting yappy and chipping with the Bruins top line, the penalties will start flowing and giving the Canucks an advantage. The real challenge for the Bruins forwards will be against a deep Canucks defense. As for the goaltending, it may be the difference maker here. Luongo looks like he's hitting his stride, while Thomas was equally brilliant and terrible in his last series. The Bruins defense, after a long and grueling series against the Lightning, will likely not be able to keep up with the Canucks speed at offense and the additional pressure from Vancouver's blueline.
Canucks in six.