The Vancouver Canucks were the best team of the 2010-11 regular season, but they came up one game short against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
It was a tremendous accomplishment by the Bruins, who played a patient, physical defensive game against the Canucks in Game 7, buoyed as usual by the solid goaltending of Tim Thomas, who at 37 became the oldest player in NHL history to be awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.
The Bruins’ Cup championship, their first since 1972, was the result of a complete team effort, led by their best players. Thomas was outstanding between the pipes, but he wasn’t the only one who raised his game in this series.
Team captain and top defenseman Zdeno Chara silenced doubters who wondered early in the series if he was fatigued or injured.
Chara was a tower of strength on the blueline, leading all playoff skaters in plus-minus with plus-16. He also blocked what would’ve been a game-tying goal with Thomas down and out early in the second period when the game’s outcome was still up for grabs.
He was ably supported by Dennis Seidenberg, who emerged from Chara’s shadow in this year’s playoffs, leading all playoff performers in blocked shots (74) and was second to Chara in plus-minus (+12) among defensemen.
Forwards David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand led the way offensively in this series, with Bergeron and Marchand scoring twice apiece in Game 7.
They could also count on the invaluable leadership of 43-year-old Mark Recchi, who ends his long NHL career with his third Stanley Cup title, as well as the inspiration of playing for Nathan Horton, who was knocked out of the series by a concussion from a late hit in Game 3.
The Bruins had struggled to score in the previous three games in Vancouver in this series, but were able to rise to the occasion when it mattered most.
The same cannot be said for the Canucks.
Despite being the highest scoring team in the regular season as well as giving up the fewest goals, and despite having the third-best power play entering the Finals, the Canucks were stymied by the goaltending of Thomas and the physical pounding their best players absorbed from the Bruins.
The high-scoring Sedin twins were all but shut down. Daniel Sedin posted points in only two of the seven games, while his clearly hobbled brother Henrik managed only one goal. Their linemate, Alex Burrows, had a two-goal, three-point night in Game 2, but never got back on the scoresheet again.
Two-way center Ryan Kesler, who entered the Finals as one of the favorites to win the Conn Smythe, was slowed by what was suspected to be a nagging groin injury, as well as the physical toll the Bruins extracted from him throughout the series. He managed only one assist.
Vancouver’s vaunted blueline depth failed to neutralize Boston’s offense in the four games the Bruins won, giving up 21 goals in those games.
Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa entered the series among the top five scoring defensemen in this year’s playoffs, but Edler managed only two points, while Bieksa and Ehrhoff had only one each.
Injuries and suspension also took a toll on the defense. Dan Hamhuis was injured in Game 1 and never returned to the series. Aaron Rome was suspended for the remainder of the series for his hit on Horton.
While Thomas was outstanding in the Bruins goal throughout this series, the same cannot be said for Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo, who only gave up four goals in the first three home games, but couldn’t stop a beach ball in the three games in Boston, getting lit up for 15 goals.
In the crucial seventh game in Vancouver, Luongo couldn’t recover his previously solid home-ice form. He couldn’t be blamed for the first goal, a screen shot through a mass of legs he never saw until it was behind him, but the next two goals should have been stopped.
Luongo rarely received his due for helping the Canucks reach the Finals or for the three victories – two of which were shutouts – in this series, but the sad fact is he was unable to elevate his game when his team needed him most.
The Canucks’ once-lethal power-play dried up against the Bruins, managing to score only twice throughout the series. Worse, they also gave up four short-handed goals, including Bergeron’s back-breaker in Game 7.
Ultimately, the Boston Bruins outscored, outplayed and outhit the Vancouver Canucks in this series. They were the better team, and this championship is one they fully deserved.
The Bruins answered their critics, and in winning their first Cup title in 39 years, won’t take a backseat this year to the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics. This year, for the first time in many years, hockey is king again in Boston.