How Do Canucks + Bruins Match Up – 2011 Stanley Cup Finals
With the Stanley Cup Final not starting until Wednesday, we have time to analyze the matchup, and it should be a good one.
Regular season record: 46-25-11 (103 points)
Playoff record: 12-6
Regular season record: 54-19-9 (117 points)
Playoff record: 12-6
It will likely surprise many bettors to know that the Boston Bruins were the NHL’s fifth-highest scoring team during the regular season. After all, leading scorer David Krejci had just 62 points. The key for the Bruins was depth; 11 different Boston players tallied at least 10 goals. During the playoffs, the Bruins actually average more goals per game (3.08) than the Canucks do (2.55).
However, that stat is a bid misleading. The Bruins faced the sieve-like Flyers goaltending in round two and tired, 41-year-old goaltender Dwayne Roloson in round three. This is still a blue-collar offensive team that relies on two-way centers Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, bangers Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, plus hard-shooting defender Zdeno Chara to generate scoring chances.
Vancouver is on another level. It led the NHL in scoring; it has the league’s last two scoring champions in Henrik and Daniel Sedin; and it has a 40-goal man in Ryan Kesler who can take over games with his physicality. Offensively, there’s no contest. Remember, Vancouver had to beat much tougher defensive teams to get here (Chicago, Nashville, San Jose).
Based on reputation, Boston is the superior defense club in this series. It allowed the second-fewest goals in the league during the regular season. It has perhaps the game’s best true shutdown guy in Zdeno Chara. It also has a deep group of rugged, physical, shot-blocking experts supporting him in Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid. And, uh, there’s Tomas Kaberle, too. We also can’t discount Krejci and especially Bergeron’s ability to be major defensive contributors from the forward position.
But the Bruins’ “D” loses marks for a lack of foot speed. Vancouver’s group of Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler, Sami Salo and Keith Ballard is superior in that regard. These guys are also a much more physical group than many people realize. Up front, Kesler is just as solid defensively as any Boston forward and Manny Malhotra’s return is a major plus. And, believe it or not, Vancouver, not Boston, had the fewest goals allowed in the NHL this season.
This is a tough category to handicap. Both teams are obviously in good hands. Roberto Luongo still has his shaky moments but he seems to be a new man after conquering his Chicago demons. The Canucks also do a solid job limiting high-quality scoring chances against Luongo.
The Bruins have allowed more shots than Vancouver have during these playoffs but they also have more of a “game stealer” in goal with Tim Thomas between the pipes. How many times did Tampa outshoot Boston in the Eastern Conference final only to lose? Even at 36 years old, Thomas is as elite as they come.
Should either netminder falter, the Canucks and Bruins each have a starter-caliber backup, with Corey Schneider and Tuukka Rask waiting in the wings. The goalie matchup is oh-so close but I give Boston the slight edge since Thomas has shown more of an ability to carry his team.
Special teams are arguably the most lopsided matchup in the tale of the tape. The Canucks had the NHL’s top power play during the regular season and were third in penalty killing. They’re humming along at 28.3 per cent with the man advantage during the playoffs (the best mark for a finalist since 1988) and their 80.2 per cent PK mark should only get better with Malhotra back.
The Bruins’ penalty killing has been decent enough during the playoffs but their power play has been pathetic. It sits at 8.2 per cent. Special teams could be the deciding factor in this series.
Alain Vigneault and Claude Julien are both former Montreal Canadiens head coaches, both also coached the Hull Olympiques in junior, both are highly respected, both skilled in the defensive arts, they were teammates in the AHL and they’re friends who regularly text each other. Can’t give an edge to one side when these two bench bosses are mirror images of each other.
The Bruins and Canucks are fitting combatants in the Stanley Cup final – tough, skilled, deep teams. Because they’re even in so many areas, I see this series going seven games. But, on the strength of their special teams and superior offensive touch, I like Vancouver to give Canada its first Stanley Cup since 1993.
Stanley Cup final prediction: Canucks in seven