Tonight is the night when the long awaited Stanly Cup Finals get underway when the Boston Bruins travel to Vancouver to face the President Cup winning Canucks.
Many folks think that this will be a long seven game series that comes down to the final play of the game but I don't see that happening. Make the jump to see the reasons why and our final prediction of the year.
After a successful seven of eight first round, I fell to .500 in the second and their rounds going two of four and one of two respectively. I fell much more confident in my finals pick than any series so far to date.
Canucks (1) - Bruins (3)
Vancouver comes into the finals with eight days rest after disposing of San Jose in five games, albeit close ones. Boston's advancement was in jeopardy up to the last minute of play in game seven against Tampa last Friday night. Both teams should be well rested and the biggest issue could be if either show signs of rust.
During the regular season Vancouver (2.20) was best in the league in fewest goals allowed while Boston (2.30) was second. Vancouver led the league in Goals per game with 3.15 while Boston ranked fifth at 2.98. The teams were 1-2 in five on five play with Boston on top with a 1.40 ratio to 1.32 for the Canucks.
The Canucks led the league on power play conversion (24.3) while Boston was mediocre at 16.2%. Vancouver was third in the NHL on the penalty kill (85.6) while the Bruins were average, landing in sixteenth place (82.6).
We have seen similar trends int he playoffs with Vancouver going at at 28.3% clip on the man advantage while Boston has been miserable at 8.2% with only five goals in 18 games and only one of those on the road. The two team's penalty kills have been similar with Vancouver holding a slight edge 80.6-79.4.
The key for Boston will be to keep play at even strength where they have led all teams in the playoffs during five on five play.
Of their three series in the post-season, Vancouver was most frustrated against the Nashville Predators. I'm sure the Boston coaching staff has spent plenty of time in the film room watching what was done to slow the Canucks potent offense.
Nashville plays a brand of hockey that Boston would have a hard time emulating. The Bruins have quality goaltending and a good top defensive pairing but I don't thing that top to bottom with 18 skaters that they can frustrate the Canucks with their team defense like the Predators were able to do.
Offensively, if Ryan Kesler has recovered from his ailment during the Sharks series and Manny Malhotra is able to contribute, I don't see Boston being able to stop the Canucks offense.
Boston showed streaks of offense in the series against the Lightning but were generally inconsistent inputting the puck in the net over the seven game series.
On defense, the Canucks have the deepest defense of any team in the playoffs, using nine different players through 18 games. They have been able to rotate three lines in every series. Boston has a significant fall off in talent past their first pairing which will be devastating against the deep Canucks offense.
In goal, the match is a toss-up with Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo both having Vezina quality seasons. Both have won 12 games, have identical 2.29 GAA, are over .920 in save percentage, and each have two shutouts. Luongo appears to be breaking free of the label that he doesn't do well in the playoffs while Thomas probably has more heart that any goalie in the game.
As much as I disliked Alain Vigneault when he was in Nashville, he has done an excellent job guiding the Canucks and appeared at his best against the Sharks. Claude Julien has been a steadying influence on his team but has admitted in the past that he doesn't like playing the Western Conference brand of hockey.
Winning the Cup has been elusive for both teams with Boston last winning in 1972 and Vancouver never winning in their 40 year history. It will be a highly satisfying victory for the winning team that will be celebrated by the players and fans alike. Unfortunately for Boston fans my prediction is Vancouver in five.
Vancouver in six.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass