The 2011 Stanley Cup Final is a little different than most because it features a chance for a Canadian NHL team to win the Stanley Cup. Most pundits thought the Canucks felt this pressure since before the puck dropped. They were the strongest of all of the Canadian teams in the league this season. Both teams faced similar paths in getting here. Both were trying to exercise past playoff disappointments (Blackhawks and Flyers), both had to win a 7th game at home (Canadiens, Blackhawks, Lightning) to advanced and both had to dispatch their arch rivals in a series to advanced (Canadiens and Blackhawks). Actually it’s quite unique that both teams beat their rivals in the 1st round at home in a 7th game overtime. Talk about destiny.
1 Vancouver Canucks vs. 3 Boston Bruins
Season Series: 1-0 Bruins
Playoff Series History: Never
Season Goal Differential: Boston +51, Vancouver +77 Both therefore make the superstitious cut-off (+25) for being a champion in the modern era.
What We Learned: Boston and Vancouver can play some great inspired hockey when needed. They both have resilient goalies that bounce back when needed.
Stars to Watch: Well when you get to the Finals both teams have a handful of stars to watch but I will pick one from each side. We all saw how well the Sedins played against the Sharks, which is a good thing since they had disappeared for a bit. But the Canucks heart and soul is Ryan Kesler. Kesler took a slight step backward against the Sharks and also got a little banged up. He will need to continue to grind, do the dirty work and be a force in front of the net for the Canucks to win. On the Bruins side it’s all about Nathan Horton. The Bruins haven’t lost a single game when Horton has scored a goal. They have only lost once in a playoff game when Horton produced at least 1 point. As Horton goes so do the Bruins. The Bruins top line might go against the Sedin line a lot, so it’s important they aren’t playing defense most of the time. Otherwise it coul dbe bad news for the Bruins.
X-Factor: Did somebody say Manny Malhotra? After sustaining a horrible eye Injury in March, Malhotra looks cleared to play. Besides being a defensive and face-off ace, Malhotra can also produce some points. Don’t forget the emotional lift teammates will have when they see him step onto the ice. The return of Malhotra may just tip things in the Canucks favor. But there’s still a chance he won’t go. For the Bruins their x-factor is the young Tyler Seguin. Seguin started out strong in his first two playoff games but didn’t produce any points in the next five. But he still played well even without any points. He has a minus in only one game. Seguin will need to produce again to counter the deep Canucks team.
Goalie Problem: Roberto Luongo vs Tim Thomas, again. You should remember that this two were both the back-up goalies for Team Canada and Team USA in the Olympics. Luongo ended up being the starter and Thomas didn’t really play at all. But it further adds to the similarity and continuity of the team’s paths. Both goalies are also Vezina finalists, just in case you didn’t know they were good. Both are more known for strong regular seasons and no so stellar playoff seasons. However, both have played real well this postseason. They both also have a pair of shutouts and twelve wins a piece. You might have noticed that the goalies are just as mirrored as the teams are. So who has the edge? Well despite the immense pressure, Luongo has persevered and hasn’t had a bad game since moving past the Blackhawks. I’d still give the slight edge to Thomas though. Thomas still tends to overplay shots and scoring chances. If he continues to do that, Vancouver will make him pay.
Fun Fact: The Canucks won their first series in 7, the 2nd in 6 and the 3rd in 5. Would they win this round in a sweep? It would follow the pattern but it’s extremely unlikely.
Prediction: This should be a dandy of a series. Great goaltending, great depth, great defense, good hitting and long cup droughts. Hockey fans have been fortunate to witness some great Stanley Cup Finals the past few seasons. I view the Bruins as more of blue collar underdogs with a slightly harder to path to get here. While the Canucks are the more glamorous record setting team. I know the Canucks did not have an easy path to the Cup and they also boast blue collar players but it’s just what it looks like to me. The Canucks are having what you may call a magical year. The only thing they need now, to cap it off, is to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup. Vancouver has already seen magic in the building with Team Canada’s Olympic win and the fact that Luongo was their goalie. This Finals will serve as an encore with the same results. I see the Canucks winning in seven and finally getting that monkey off of Canada’s back. Of course the Canucks are led by two Swedes and an American but who’s keeping track.