Who will win Stanley Cup Finals?
Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins is Wednesday night in Vancouver. Here's a look at how the two clubs stack up.
How they got here: Having previously eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators, the Canucks defeated the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final in five games. The Bruins eliminated the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers, then went on to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games.
Strengths: Both clubs have strong goaltending in Vezina nominees Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo, who possess identical win-loss records and nearly identical postseason stats. The two teams also have nearly identical penalty killing percentages (the Canucks — 80.4%, the Bruins — 79.6%) and faceoff percentages (Bruins — 52.3%, Canucks — 50.4%). Vancouver has the third-best power-play (28.3%) in the playoffs, but the Bruins were the better team this spring at even strength.
The Canucks’ offensive punch is led by the superstar Sedin twins and all-round center Ryan Kesler, but the Bruins counter with David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, the surprising Nathan Horton and rookie Brad Marchand.
Vancouver can count on offense from their blueline, as Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa are three of the top five scoring defensemen in this year's playoffs. Both clubs also play a physical game, but five of the six leaders in hits are Canucks — Maxim Lapierre, Bieksa, Kesler, Edler and Chris Higgins. Vancouver's considerable blueline depth enabled them to absorb injuries in the regular season and playoffs without a significant decline in their defensive game.
Weaknesses: Thomas and Luongo are formidable goaltenders, but at times this spring they've struggled, giving up weak goals that proved costly to their teams.
The Bruins also displayed inconsistency against the Canadiens and Lightning, running into trouble whenever they strayed from their disciplined, defensive system. They also have the third-worst power-play in the playoffs (a paltry 8.2%), which some observers believe is due to their inflexible power-play system. Boston possesses a solid defense corps but doesn't have the same depth as Vancouver's blueline.
The Canucks were outplayed in their final three games of the Western Conference Final, including being outshot by a wide margin in the final two games. They've scored 18 fewer goals at even strength than the Bruins, who lead all playoff teams in that category. As the best team in the regular season, the Canucks will face considerably more pressure to win this series than the Bruins, who'll come in as the underdogs.
Players to Watch: Kesler's leadership and two-way play has many considering him the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, but it remains to be seen if he'll feel any after-effects from a groin injury suffered in the final game of the Western Conference Final.
Patrice Bergeron missed the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals to a concussion but appeared to regain his form as that series went on. He could also be a serious contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Who will win: This promises to be a well-played, hard-fought series between two talented teams and while both are deserving, only one club can win the Stanley Cup. The Bruins enter this series as the underdog, but they match up well against the Canucks in most categories. Still, Vancouver's blueline depth and power play, along with the determination to silence critics of their postseason play once and for all, should give them the edge needed to win it all.
Prediction: Canucks in six