The eternity that has been the time between the NHL Stanley Cup semi-finals and the NHL Stanley Cup Finals has finally come to an end. Tonight starts the stretch-run to the Stanley Cup as the series opens up between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks.
Recapping my prognostication for the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, I was 7-for-8 in the first round. The Tampa Bay Lightning upset the perfect record. In round two, I was 3-for-4. The Tampa Bay Lightning upset the perfect record. In the semi-finals, I was obviously 2-for-2 as my pre-playoffs pick for the finals have actually arrived along with a 12-2 post-season picks record, though the Lightning tried their best to undermine me again. Not too shabby.
Boston Bruins vs. Vancouver Canucks
For the finals, everyone is in love with the aging goaltenders who have performed like stalwarts in the prime of their careers. Roberto Luongo has been clutch. Tim Thomas has been steady-as-she-goes this entire season and these two veterans are likely to be the focal point of what I anticipate being a long finals series.
Luongo is following up his 2010 Olympic Gold with a shot at having his name engraved on Lord Stanley’s Cup. Tim Thomas is a former Vezina Trophy winning goaltender with an eye on adding another to his mantle along with his name on The Cup. We’ve watched Roberto Luongo steadily improve throughout the playoffs. We also watched Tim Thomas struggle mightily (at times) against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Of course, several teams struggled against the Lightning. However, only one goalie pitched a shutout in a game 7 against them to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals – and that’s Tim Thomas.
It’s damn near impossible to pick between the two of these guys. If forced to give an edge to one team, I’d give it to the Vancouver Canucks and Roberto Luongo if only because I believe he’s given up fewer “bad goals” than Thomas, particularly in the semi-finals round. There is no shortage of firepower on either side, but I also watched the defense in front of Thomas falter at the most inopportune times, too.
For the Bruins, the embarrassment of the 2010 post-season is long behind them. In their semi-finals series against the Philadelphia Flyers, they embarked on a collapse of epic proportions, coughing up a 3-0 series lead, including a 3-0 goals advantage in game 7 to limp into the post-season. This year, gritty performances and a whole lot of hard work have landed them in the finals.
For the Canucks, well… they’ve come from a virtual no-man’s land to take the President’s Trophy for the best record during the regular season and, for the most part, cruise through the post-season much the way many so-called experts expected.
At even strength, both sides have plenty of star-power, fire-power, power-power, whatever it is you want to call it. Plenty of goal-scoring capability on multiple lines means that our two highly touted goaltenders will see their fair share of rubber blasted their way. Vancouver’s Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik have certainly heated up after a lackluster start to the playoffs. Rookie, Ryan Kessler is among post-season scoring leaders. Alexandre Burrons and Christian Erhoff round out the top scorers for the Canucks. The Boston Bruins bring the likes of David Krejci and Nathan Horton, both Top 6 in scoring during the 2011 post-season to bear on Roberto Luongo. As if that wasn’t enough, four of the top 12 scoring post-season players include Bruins when you throw in Patrice Bergeron and Mighty Joe Thornton.
On the special teams, the Boston Bruins have made this far while having a pathetic power play scoring only 8.2% of the time. It’s truly a wonder that they’ve made it this far without a power play. They could literally double their power play output and still be very near the basement for the entire post-season. On the penalty kill, both teams are right around the 80% mark. What’s the difference-maker here? Vancouver Canucks sporting a lofty 28.3% power play scoring rate.
With things being so close in goaltending and equally close in offensive and even defensive prowess, I keep falling back to the special teams on this one. With both teams committing about the same number of penalties in the same number of games, I can’t help but take a look at the huge difference between the teams on the power play. It’s hard to imagine that the Boston Bruins are suddenly going to find the mark during the hot glare of the Stanley Cup Finals spotlights.
Therefore, I will anoint the Vancouver Canucks the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions and believe that they will do it in 6-games.