VANCOUVER — Rumor has it that were it not for some confusion over how to spell “Oreskovich,” the Stanley Cup already would be engraved with the names of the 2010-11 Canucks.
Yet the Bruins have to be feeling A-OK after advancing to the finals for the first time since 1990. As a result, it should be interesting to watch the “underdog” Bruins, who beat the Canucks 3-1 in the regular season, try to prove a lot of people wrong.
Here is how the two teams math up position-by-position, as well as the latest attempt at predicting the series (so what if we said they’d be knocked out In the first round?):
The Canucks, who led the league in regular-season scoring, boast far more star power than the B’s offensively, and it seems they will be getting some depth back as well in Manny Malhotra. The team had announced in late March that Malhotra was done for the season due to a scary eye injury suffered on March 16 in which a puck to the face left him bleeding from the eye as he left the ice. This weekend, however, he was cleared for contact and could be back as soon as Game 1 wearing a clear full shield (not the Chris Kelly/Steven Stamkos-style cage).
While Malhotra’s return is a great sign for the Canucks, it’s their top guys who the Bruins ultimately will need to stop if they want to win the Cup. The Sedin twins are a handful for anyone, but the Bruins have done a decent job. Daniel has five points in 10 career games vs. Boston, while Henrik has four points in 11 games. They are minus-4 and minus-3, respectively, against the B's. As a result of their good-but-not-great numbers against the Bruins, the Sedins should simply focus on what they’ve been doing. Daniel leads all postseason skaters with 21 points.
Then there’s 41-goal-scorer Ryan Kesler. Like Nathan Horton did in the Bruins’ series-clinching Game 7 vs. Tampa, Kesler left Game 5 vs. the Sharks briefly due to injury but returned to score a huge goal late in the third. Kesler’s goal tied the game and sent it to overtime, while Horton’s third-period goal after leaving in the first ended up sending the Bruins to the finals.
Staying on the subject of Horton, his line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic really is coming along, and after a series in which Krejci torched the Flyers for nine points in four games, he picked up points in all but two of the conference finals games.
Patrice Bergeron will be an asset and a half in this series, and though he struggled in Game 6 vs. the Bolts (posting a minus-1, zero shots on goal and a faceoff and losing the majority of the draws he took), it’s good for the Bruins to see that he doesn’t look like a guy coming off a concussion. His two-way play will be instrumental in limiting Vancouver’s chances while also providing an offensive punch for the B’s.
Also keep an eye out for Tyler Seguin. He cooled off after an impressive showing through the first three games vs. Tampa Bay, but he showed enough Lightning defensemen and Dwayne Roloson that all he needs is the puck with speed in the neutral zone to do something special. He is also playing more physical at times, which is the best thing Julien could ask for from his developing star.
When the Bruins bring the type of game they did in Game 7, there is no better defensive squad. Dennis Seidenberg deserved to wear the 1980s jacket every bit as much as Horton did following Friday’s game due to his eight blocked shots. Even Tomas Kaberle and Johnny Boychuk, who at times have looked astoundingly bad defensibly, played sound games. How Zdeno Chara and Seidenberg handle the Sedins could tell the biggest story of the series.
Kevin Bieksa has to be feeling pretty good about himself right now, as he scored the game-winner in overtime to send Vancouver past the Sharks. His play with partner Dan Hamhuis has been strong this postseason, and Bieksa leads Vancouver with a plus-10 rating. He also has logged the most minutes.
Christian Ehrhoff figures to return for Game 1 of the series after missing the last two contests. While his presence was something the blue line missed in Games 4 and 5 vs. San Jose, the Canucks were able to clinch the series without him.
Remember when Malhotra scored on a rebound in the first period of that Feb. 26 game? That would be the first and only goal Thomas has allowed to the Canucks in three career starts vs. Vancouver. For the non-math wizzes out there, that means Thomas, who will receive his second Vezina trophy this summer, has two shutouts in three games vs. the Canucks. Still, he was hit-or-miss vs. the Lightning, blanking them twice but allowing four or more goals in four of the other five games.
Once again, the Bruins won’t be seeing a repeat of Philadelphia. There’s a Vezina finalist (in a year in which the winner is so clear, it’s borderline silly that there are other “finalists”) in Roberto Luongo down the other end. Like Thomas, he has a 2.29 goals-against average and two shutouts this postseason. Unlike Thomas, he has been yanked twice and benched once in favor of Boston College product Cory Schneider. All three of those instances occurred in the midst of Chicago’s comeback in the first round, and since then he has been what those working in finance would call “money.” Luongo has allowed two goals or less in nine of his 12 starts since Game 7 of the quarterfinals, a stretch over which his team has lost only three times.
Many disagreed when I applied the forthcoming line of thinking to the first round’s matchup, but I’ll use it once again. As was the case with Carey Price, Luongo does not need to be as good a goaltender as Thomas in order to be equally capable of stealing a game. That’s what great goaltenders do, and though Thomas is the best in the league, the possibility of Luongo dominating the Bruins means there is no “edge” to be had — at least not going in.
When Peter Chiarelli can say unequivocally that the other team is better on special teams, as he did Saturday, it’s safe to say he isn’t using any Guy Boucher tactics, and is simply stating the obvious.
Boston has just five power-play goals on 61 man advantages this postseason, good (that’s not the right word) for a hideous 8.2 percentage. The Canucks, meanwhile, carved through San Jose’s penalty kill with nine power-play goals last round. They are 17 for 60 (28.3 percent) overall this postseason.
The Bruins’ power play looks much better with Chara out in front making things harder for the goaltender, and it should pay off if they stick with it. Many have said all along that a team can’t win without a good power play. Thanks to their outstanding 5-on-5 play, the Bruins are four victories away from doing that.
The Bruins’ penalty kill has been very good for the most part this postseason. The B’s compiled a three-game stretch in which they held the Lightning’s high-powered man advantage unit without a goal.
Lost in the shuffle of how good individual players performed in Game 7 vs. the Bolts was just how well coached a contest it was for Julien. He trusted Seguin with important minutes in the third period of a scoreless game and didn’t see it come back to bite him in the rear. On he other hand, nobody was calling for Julien to utilize Rich Peverley better during the regular season, but Julien used the winger wonderfully, giving him time on each line rather than keeping him buried on the fourth line.
Like Julien, Alain Vigneault saw his team get bounced in the second the past two seasons, and when Chicago made its comeback in the quarterfinals, it looked like he may have been headed for the same up-3-0 embarrassment. Both coaches will be looking for their first Stanley Cup victory.
It’s quite interesting that these two teams are playing for the Stanley Cup given how close they each were to being eliminated in the first round, but here they are. At the end of the day, it’s a matchup of two teams who all year figured to have a real shot at making it, but because neither team had reached the finals in at least 17 years, people also had their reasons to doubt each team.
Make no mistake: This should be far and away the Bruins’ toughest test of the postseason, so if you’re hoping for what happened when the B’s struggled past Montreal before sweeping the Flyers, you’re in for some bad news. On paper, the Canucks have a clear advantage, and that could not have been said definitively for any of the Bruins’ first three opponents. If the B’s can keep the Sedins and Kesler quiet like they did at times with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis (Games 3, 5 and 7 regarding the latter) in the conference finals, maybe the 39-year drought will end.
At any rate, the B’s realistically stand much more of a chance than they are generally being given in this series. If they play the way they did in Game 7 against the Lightning consistently, the series would not only be incredibly entertaining, but it might have a nice outcome in Boston. Flip a coin as to which team wins this series in six games.
Prediction: Bruins in six.