Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Canucks Bruins Stanley Cup Preview / Predictions

When the Canucks and Bruins meet in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, it will be a meeting between two storied franchises, although neither has won a Stanley Cup since 1972.  In the Canucks case, they've never won.

When the puck drops on Wednesday night, it will be the first time in over a week that the Canucks have hit the ice for a playoff game, after having watched the Bruins battle the Tampa Bay Lightning over a seven game series.  So will the Canucks be rested, or rusty?  Who has the advantage regardless of fatigue or complacency after such a long layoff?

PuckWatch breaks down the series...

At forward, the Vancouver Canucks boast an advantage in top-end talent, and perhaps in depth as well.  The Bruins have a lot of tough customers up front, especially Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic.  Both of those players were made for playoff hockey.  Despite their imposing presence, the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and others give the nod to Vancouver on skill.  David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and even Brad Marchand can put the puck in the net at key times, but the Canucks really do have the edge in fire power.

The Bruins are also not known for being the quickest team, whereas the outskated the Preds, looked faster than the Blackhawks on most nights, and broke down and 'exposed' the Sharks defence with their speed up front.

While the Sedin twins aren't the fleetest of foot, Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen have speed to burn.  Burrows, and Max Lapierre are no slouches either, and of course there's the potential return of Manny Malhotra.

Both teams do have good depth up front, but as you'd expect, the series will likely come down to how the top two lines match up against each other.  Will the Sedins face the Bergeron Marchand line?  Or will they play against Horton and Lucic?  Will Canucks' Head Coach Alain Vigneault place Kesler against Bergeron or Krejci?  You're likely to see a bit of both as the series wears on.

For the Canucks, the goal will be keeping the puck in the Boston end of the rink, which the Sedins were able to do so well against the Sharks.

Based on top end talent, the return of Manny Malhotra, and the emergence of the Canucks third line that was supposed to be devoured by the Sharks third line, let's give the edge to Vancouver.

On defence, the Boston Bruins provide yet another tough test for the Sedin twins.  Already having faced Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, the twins faced Shea Weber and Ryan Suter in round two.  The third round saw the Sedins explode against lesser defensive stalwarts Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray, but you're likely to see a tougher series for the twins against the 6'9" Zdeno Chara, and his German defense partner Dennis Seidenberg.  Indeed, the twins against Chara and Seidenberg may be the match-up that decides this series.  After those two, you've got Thomas Kaberle, Adam McQuaid, Andrew Ference, and Johnny Boychuk.  The top pairing has been playing 28 minutes a night, and the Canucks depth may be able to expose their lack of depth on the back end, especially in games in Vancouver where the Canucks have the last change.

On the Canucks' side, their depth on defense is well documented.  The shutdown pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis has been stellar all playoff, while the pairing of Ehrhoff and Edler should be reunited, and hope to regain their solid form from earlier in the post-season.  The third pairing will see a veteran pairing of Sami Salo and either Keith Ballard or Aaron Rome.  All three pairings are able to move the puck well, jump into the attack with timely goals, and take care of their own end defensively.  It's been the hallmark of the Canucks post-season run thus far, and should be able to handle a Bruins attack that is not as daunting as the San Jose Sharks, or even the Chicago Blackhawks.  The big bad Bruins do not appear to be any bigger or badder than those intimidating San Jose Sharks forwards, and for the most part the Canucks defence handled them just fine.

In fact, the Canucks will hope to expose the Bruin defence as Montreal did fairly well in the first round.  That being said, the Bruins still won that series.

Perhaps the biggest match-up aside from the twins and Chara will be Tim Thomas against Roberto Luongo.  Thomas has been somewhat inconsistent this post-season, letting in the occasional odd goal, or letting in 5-6 in a game, only to rebound with a shutout, or otherwise brilliant performance.

Roberto Luongo on the other hand has been pretty consistent since the Chicago series.  Some odd goals against Nashville somewhat tainted an otherwise amazing series for him, but he really proved himself (assuming he had to) against the San Jose Sharks. 

The two teams appear evenly matched here. 

The Canucks underrated physical play in the postseason may catch some by surprise.  They aren't likely to be pushed around by the Bruins, and should use their team speed to their advantage as they did against San Jose.  If their defense steps up in the neutral zone as they did so successfully against Chicago, Boston may have a tough time getting attack zone time.

The mobility of the Canucks' defense may also be key to reduce the amount of time spent in their own zone.  That worked well against the Sharks and the Predators, who were unable to sustain much pressure at many points during the series.

This series will be hard fought for a few reasons.  On the Bruins' side, you've got hometown boy Milan Lucic who will be doing his best to assert himself in this series after a poor showing thus far.  You also have Mark Recchi, a BC boy hoping to win the Cup for a third time and retire a champion.  Tim Thomas knows this will likely be his one shot at a Stanley Cup, and of course you have Cam Neely, the former Canuck, looking to win one as well.

Also, both teams have had a week to hear various prognostications, and most are picking Vancouver. This will not sit well with the Bruins and should motivate them to prove their detractors wrong.

On the other hand, the Canucks have a few good storylines of their own.  Ryan Kesler has been a warrior all playoff, and his play seems destined to help the Canucks' cause.  Manny Malhotra's potential return from a career threatening injury would be a tremendous emotional lift to the Canucks as well.  The most important storyline for the Canucks though, may be the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo.  All three men have had their character questioned time after time despite all their personal achievements and accolades in hockey.

Indeed the biggest story line of all might be the motivation given to these players to prove their detractors wrong.  The Sedin twins, after Olympic Gold medals and productive post-seasons are out to close the door on the suggestion that they are not playoff performers.  Luongo's tale is much the same.  An Olympic Gold Medal, a game 7 overtime victory against Chicago, a Game 5 double OT victory to get the Canucks to the Conference Finals, and various amazing performances in the past have done little to quell those who suggest he is not a big-game performer.  Those comments are not well-founded, but Luongo will no doubt seek to quash any of that sentiment in this series.

When all is said and done, the Canucks mobility on the back end, speed and skill up front, and dominance on special teams should be too much for the Bruins to handle over a full series. 

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