This week has been somewhat bitter sweet in the hockey world.
The return of hockey to the ‘Peg has Canadian hockey fans jubilant, while the folding of the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the Quebec Major Junior League reminds us that the hockey business is a just that, a business.
However, it is the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup that sits front and centre, a battle between the East and the West.
A battle between an Original Six team that plays in a city that has won Six major Sports titles since 2000 and a city that is still basking in the afterglow of a successful Olympics and the skill of a set of Swedish superstars.
How did the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins reach this point?
The Bruins battle their bitter rivals in the first round, edging the Montreal Canadiens in overtime of game 7, before sweeping a lacklustre Philadelphia Flyers. They faced a tougher opponent in the Tampa Bay Lightning, but took care of Dwayne Roloson and company in seven games to reach the Finals.
Across the continent, the Vancouver Canucks faced a familiar foe in round one, however this year they took care of their nemesis Chicago Blackhawks in seven games before taking care of business in the second round, knocking the Nashville Predators out in Six. A bigger test awaited the Canucks in the Western Finals, but the San Jose Sharks forgot to show up and were easily pushed aside in five games.
So there it is, a battle of the best in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Boston Bruins. The Vancouver Canucks.
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Vancouver Canucks (1) vs (3) Boston Bruins
With such talent on the ice and so many key players on either side of the puck, we look at the top three match ups in the series before making our predictions:
Roberto Luongo vs Tim Thomas – Both goaltenders of the highest pedigree, but both men have had a proverbial monkey on their back throughout these playoffs.
Luongo has faced his share of criticism and no player will receive more blame for their team losing the series than the Canucks netminder, on the other side of the puck Tim Thomas has show both flashes of brilliance and moments of the ridiculous. Pulling off amazing saves but followed up by some of the weakest goals we’ve seen Thomas let in.
Their numbers are so close it’s almost impossible to call.
Who has the edge? My edge goes to Luongo, winning the gold medal in Vancouver may be comparing apples and oranges in this case, but the experience and winning under pressure gives him my edge.
The Sedins vs David Krejci and Nathan Horton – Just looking at the names, it’s a lopsided battle, right?
Well, David Krejci is tied for the playoff goal scoring lead with 10 goals and Nathan Horton trails with 8 goals and a combined point total of 34 points, while the Sedin Brothers combine for just 9 goals but 37 points.
The Sedins post a plus/minus of -8 and just 3 game Winning Goals. On the other hand, the combination of Krejci and Horton have a pretty +15 plus/minus, 8 game winning goals
It was pretty obvious that in the first round the Canucks struggled with the Sedins shut down and when the Preds were able to keep the brothers off the score board in game one of their series they had success, but the super Swedes are the key to Boston’s success in this series.
Who has the edge? The edge goes to Krejci and Horton, but the Sedins are still waiting for their breakout of the playoffs and it has to happen sometime.
Ryan Kesler vs Milan Lucic – Yes, I know, they play a different position, but Kesler and Lucic are the passion behind each team.
Lucic is the breakout player the Bruins are waiting to explode and his big body presence, his grit and his work ethic can be game winning factors for the Bruins.
Meanwhile, Kesler has been Mr. Clutch for the Canucks, don’t think he means that much? How about the groan heard around the league when he limped off the ice last series?
Kesler has 7 goals and 18 points, a plus/minus of +6 and two game winning goals, while Lucic sits with 3 goals and 9 points, an even plus/minus and a whopping 43 penalty minutes. The numbers don’t say a lot, but these two players are as key to their teams winning as their high-flying scorers and goalies.
Who has the edge? The edge goes to Ryan Kesler, who in round one showed he is capable of putting his team on his back when needed. We’re still waiting for Lucic to do the same.
Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler and Dan Hamhuis vs Zdeno Chara – Big bad Chara had a blip on the radar in the first series, suffering from dehydration, but the Boston defensemen has been brilliant for the Bruins and continues to log key minutes, averaging 28:17 minutes a game and carrying a +11 plus/minus.
For the Canucks it has been defence by committee, eight players hitting the ice for the defence throughout the playoffs and someone different stepping up each night due to injuries.
Kevin Bieksa has been an overtime hero for the Canucks, while Edler and Hamhuis continue to be Mr. Reliable and helping to keep their opposition in check. All three Canucks defencemen log around 25 minutes of ice time a game and average 32 shifts a game.
Who has the edge? The fact that the Canucks have three defencemen who can log key minutes gives them the edge in this series, but the influence and game changing abilities of Chara makes this one too close to call. It’s a stalement between the defence corps.
What’s my prediction? It’s going to be a close series, a tough series that will be a battle on every single level and every single shift.
My heart tells me the Canucks should win, while my head shows that the Bruins are have got the pedigree and intangibles a team needs to lift the Cup.
I have a feeling the Sedins will seize the day and take over this series, so i’m going to call the Canucks in Six.