There are two teams left to play for the Stanley Cup. And with Game 1 being played tonight in Vancouver, the final series of the 2011 NHL playoffs will begin. Boston and Vancouver met earlier this season, when the two teams squared off in Vancouver Feb. 26. The Bruins came away with a 3-1 victory, handing the Canucks a rare home loss this season. Vancouver lost on Rogers Arena ice nine times during the regular season.
Statistically, both teams were among the top in various categories. But it was Vancouver who dominated most of the statistics if you compare the teams head-to-head. During the regular season, the Canucks were the best team in hockey. They had the ability to score from every line and in every situation.
For the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup, they have to score first. During the regular season, the Canucks had a record of 41-2-6 when scoring first. The Canucks actually had a losing record when allowing the first goal, a record of 13-17-3. Boston was 30-6-6 when scoring first, and had a better winning percentage (.400 compared to .394) when they allowed the first goal of the game.
When it comes to the forwards, we all know about the big guns on both sides. But it could be the second and third lines for both teams that could prove to be the difference. Vancouver can be helped big time if Manny Malhotra is able to play. He is currently cleared by the doctors after suffering a eye injury two months ago. Many thought it would not be possible for him to play, but if he can play and contribute it would be a big bonus for the Canucks. Boston on the other hand, have gotten tremendous help from Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley this playoff season. They have combined for 19 points in the postseason and will be big if they can find a way to put the puck past Roberto Luongo.
On the blue line, Boston has a slight advantage. They have Zdeno Chara, and he’s one of the biggest and best players in the league. His main job will be to shut down the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler. We can be sure Boston bench boss Claude Julien has set up several scenarios and game plans for Chara to be on the ice at the same time as the twins. When the series shifts to Boston, look for them to use the last line change to their advantage in their aspect. Vancouver has one of the surprises of this year’s playoffs in the blue line in Kevin Bieksa, the soon to be UFA has five goals and four assists in the playoffs. His biggest goal was the series-clinching goal versus San Jose. The Canucks also have three of the top five scoring defensemen in addition to Bieksa with Alexander Edler and Christian Ehrhoff. Ehrhoff has 11 playoff points (second to Dan Boyle), but his -6 rating is something left to be desired. Chara and Bieksa are the top two defensemen in the +/- statistic, as Chara is +11 and Bieksa is +10.
In goal, this can be a tossup as well. Both Luongo and Thomas are solid in net. Both can be streaky and both can allow soft goals. As for their careers, both have taken different paths. If I were to pick one goalie with the advantage, it would be Luongo simply because of his performance in last years Olympics.
Speaking of Olympics, there has been a little-known streak of Canadian cities that have hosted the Olympics winning the Stanley Cup the following year. Montreal won the 76-77 Cup after hosting the 76 Summer Games wile Calgary won the 88-89 Cup after hosting the 88 Winter Games. Could the streak continue as Vancouver hosted the Olympics last February?
As for my selection on a winner, I believe this year is the year the Cup returns to Canada. It is karma that Atlanta loses a team to Canada for the second time, and that Winnipeg will get a franchise for the second time. Western Canada seems to be the place to be, and why not have the Stanley Cup take residence at a franchise for the first time since 1993 when the Canadiens hoisted the trophy. Vancouver in 5 Games.