Well, Vancouver Canucks’ fans, you seem to have almost everything you’ve ever wanted. Your team won the Presidents’ Trophy during the regular season. You have the reigning Hart Trophy winner on your roster. And you probably have the next Hart Trophy winner on your roster. You have a man many consider as the best netminder in the National Hockey League. But, in about two weeks, you’re not going to be happy. That’s because the Boston Bruins are going to win the 2011 Stanley Cup.
Despite my background, I’m not a stats guy. I’m a “feel” guy. The feel says that the Bruins have it over the Canucks in almost every key area. They’re better in goal, so let’s start there. Entering the Stanley Cup Final,
Tim Thomas’ and Robert Luongo’s numbers are almost identical. It’s spooky, really. Each has a goals-against average of 2.29. Each has recorded two shutouts. Each has played 18 games. Thomas has started 18, Luongo had one mop-up job in relief of Cory Schneider. Thomas’ save percentage is slightly better than Luongo’s – .929 to .922. But here’s the key goaltending question in this series. If you were coaching one of these teams, who would you want in goal – Tim Thomas or Roberto Luongo?
That’s right. You’d want Tim Thomas. A veteran guy who has never – not even once – been referred to as flaky or flighty. Does Tim Thomas let in bad goals? Hardly ever. Does Roberto Luongo let in bad goals? Does Pamela Anderson sleep on her back? Tim Thomas athletic ability is exceptional. Luongo stops a ton of pucks, too. Mostly by being in the right position. But when he’s out of position…yikes! You don’t think the Boston Bruins aren’t going to take advantage of that? Remember Dustin Byfuglien’s in-your-face presence in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Get ready for a redux, Canucks’ fans.
Up front, clearly, both teams can score. That’s David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in black and gold. On the other side, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows can be equally lethal. But there’s a big difference. The Bruins’ forwards, to a man, are mean. Nasty cusses. Once you get past Kesler, Burrows, Maxim Lapierre (who only plays about 13 minutes per game) and Raffi Torres (11 mins per game), you’ve got no toughness left. Are you counting on big hits from Christian Ehrhoff or Alexander Edler or Mason Raymond? Neither am I. IF, capital I, capital F, Manny Malhotra plays for the Vancouver, that will add a spark of energy.
Remember, these are the Stanley Cup Finals. There’s no foolin’ around now. Milan Lucic is going to run the Sedins right out of the rink. One good hit and they’re gone for the night. And Lucic’s Bruins’ brothers are going to back him up. On the blueline, it’s pretty much a wash. For Claude Julien’s Bruins, Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara are the keys. Each plays about half the game, and neither has a smile on his face.
Canucks’ D-man Kevin Bieksa is turning into a bonafide star. He can score and mix it up.
Mark Recchi provides invaluable Stanley Cup-winning veteran leadership in Boston. In Vancouver, that comes from Mikael Samuelsson – who’s out for the remainder of the playoffs. Behind the benches, neither Julien nor Canucks’ Alain Vigneault has had a glittering NHL coaching career. No matter, by the middle of June one of them will be a Stanley Cup champion. Says here that will be Julien.