Monday, May 30, 2011

Stanley Cup Preview: Canucks vs. Bruins

By Mike Chen

A few weeks ago, Vancouver and Boston were on the verge of Game 7 first-round ousters. Now they're battling for the Stanley Cup. On one hand, you have Canada's latest hope for taking Lord Stanley home, and on the other hand, you have an Original Six franchise in one of America's true hockey strongholds. Who will win the Stanley Cup? The fearless prediction below:

Offense: Advantage Vancouver

There's no doubt about it, the Canucks' forward depth is among the best in the NHL. And since the NHL is really just two teams right now, they get many high marks over the Bruins. From the top line featuring the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows to the gritty third and fourth lines, there's simply no matching the speed or wave-after-wave attack system of the Canucks. The best defense is a good offense that maintains control of the puck, and Vancouver's cycle game could have Boston's defense seeing circles.

Defense: Advantage Boston

Boston may not have the roster depth on the blueline that Vancouver does, but they do play a more dedicated team-defense system. Led by Zdeno Chara, much of the Bruins game is about protecting the space around Tim Thomas, and while the defense pair comparisons lean toward Vancouver in terms of pure talent, sometimes a structured system can do more for defense than pure talent.

Goaltending: Advantage Boston

Tim Thomas recorded freakish save percentage numbers, and he's continued rolling into the playoffs. His ability to take over games is probably the reason why the Bruins overcame a talented Tampa Bay attack. Roberto Luongo is no slouch, either, and both are prone to bad goals and bad games, but this just seems to be Thomas' year. His periods of domination are longer and his brain-cramp goals are fewer, so despite Luongo's strong performance so far this season, Thomas gets the nod.

Coaching: Push

It's a bit ironic that these two coaches were on the hot seat due to near-disasters in the first round, and yet now here they are facing off in the Stanley Cup Final. Alain Vigneault has the Canucks firing on a speed-based game that emphasizes cycling, puck control, and forechecking. Claude Julien wants a steady, defense-oriented team effort that shuts down the opposition — if you take a big-picture view of how the Bruins play, it's not surprising to see almost all of their players collapsing in to protect the puck. The systems are essentially opposites of each other, and it may be less about how the coaches adapt as how the refs call the game.

Special Teams: Advantage Vancouver

Boston's power play woes have been well noted throughout the playoffs, and the intermittent appearances by their penalty kill nearly did them in against Tampa Bay. Vancouver's special teams turned the tide in the San Jose series; in the pivotal Game 4, Vancouver killed off five straight power plays before scoring on their own man advantage to take control of the series. If the refs call this series tight, it'll be tough for Boston to come out of it unscathed.

Prediction: Vancouver in 6

Tim Thomas will steal one game and the Bruins will win another game out right, but the Canucks talent will overload the Bruins to capture Canada's first Stanley Cup since 1993. And no one will be happy with the inconsistent officiating.

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