Canucks, Bruins are rested and ready for battle

By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor


Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It may not be the best way to keep fans interested in the playoffs, but the Bruins and Canucks can't be too upset about the time off they've received since winning their respective conferences.

Professional athletes generally say that they don't like down time between playoff rounds because they'd rather keep playing than sitting around waiting for an opponent. Some think that the time off can result in a team coming out flat when the next round finally begins.

But, when both teams have significant time off any negative effects of playing the waiting game should cancel each other out.

When Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals gets underway tonight in Vancouver, what we should see are two teams primed to resume their quests for a championship. In both the Canucks and Boston's cases, the goal is quenching the franchises' long-suffering fan bases for a championship.

For the first time in 17 years the Canucks have earned the right to play for Lord Stanley's Cup. The Canucks, who have never won a title, were last in the Cup Finals in 1994 when they were bested in seven games during a classic series with the New York Rangers.

The Bruins, meanwhile, have claimed five Stanley Cup titles in their lengthy history, but the Original Six franchise hasn't won one since Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito led the franchise to the 1972 crown. This year's Eastern Conference championship also has Boston back in the NHL's final round for the first time since it lost to Edmonton in 1990.

Vancouver has been simply deadly on the power play this spring, scoring 17 times in 60 opportunities.
When it's been such a long time since the club's last title like Boston, or forever in the case of Vancouver, a few more days of waiting is not the worst thing that could happen.

In terms of television viewership in the United States, the layoff could hurt the numbers for Game 1, but a long series almost always cures sagging ratings in the States. It's also a good sign that Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals between Boston and Tampa Bay was the highest-rated conference finals game since 2002, when the NHL postseason was still being broadcast in the U.S. by ESPN.

But, most of all, the hope is that the extra rest will help energize both clubs and result in a fast-paced, entertaining series.

THE MATCHUP

The Canucks won the Presidents' Trophy as the club with the best record in the regular season, and after a slow start to the postseason they are firing on all cylinders once again.

Alain Vigneault's club blew a 3-0 lead to Chicago in the opening round before winning the series in Game 7. The Canucks then ousted Nashville in six games in Round 2 before beating San Jose in five tests to earn the franchise's third conference title.

Before ousting Tampa Bay with a 1-0 win in Game 7 of the East finals, Boston defeated Montreal in seven games in the first round and then swept Philadelphia in the conference semis.

The biggest question for the Bruins heading into the final round is whether or not they can get their power play going. Boston has scored just five times on 61 chances with the man advantage this postseason. On the other hand, Vancouver has been simply deadly on the power play this spring, scoring 17 times in 60 opportunities with the extra man.

Goaltending should not be an issue for either club as both Roberto Luongo of the Canucks and Boston's Tim Thomas are Vezina Trophy finalists this season.

Luongo has gone a long way this spring towards dispelling the notion that he doesn't have what it takes to win big games. The 32-year-old netminder had a rough series in the opening round against Chicago, but it has been pretty much smooth sailing since. In fact, one of Luongo's best efforts of the playoffs came in Vancouver's double-OT win over San Jose in the clinching game of the conference finals. Luongo stopped 54-of-56 shots in that contest and halted all 20 Shark attempts in the overtime periods.

The Montreal native and 2011 Vezina Trophy finalist is 12-6 with a 2.29 goals- against average and .922 save percentage in 18 playoff games this year.

Thomas, the 2009 Vezina winner, has been fairly consistent this spring, as the 37-year-old is 12-6 with a 2.29 GAA and .929 save percentage.

A key matchup will involve Boston's superstar defenseman Zdeno Chara and Vancouver's Sedin twins. Chara can dominate games with his combination of skill and size and many critics of the Sedins believe the twins can be neutralized with physical play. The 2009 Norris Trophy winner is 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds and he may be able to disrupt the Sedins.

However, Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin is coming off an amazing conference finals series, as he compiled an 12 points in just five games against the Sharks. Thanks in large part to that monster series, last year's Hart Trophy winner is leading all NHLers with 21 points (2 goals, 19 assists) in 18 games this postseason

Identical twin Daniel, meanwhile, notched two goals and four assists against the Sharks and has eight goals and eight helpers in the postseason.

Chara and the Bruins will try to be physical with the twins and limit their time with the puck. However, if Boston allows the Sedins to get off to a quick start in this series the B's Cup dreams could be dashed in a hurry.

The Canucks hope to find the soft spots in Boston's defense just like Tampa Bay was able to do in the conference finals, and although Vancouver doesn't have the speed of the Lightning, the Canucks are even deeper skill-wise.

Expect the Sedins and Ryan Kesler's second line to continue their steady production and for Vancouver to bring Lord Stanley's Cup back to Canada for the first time since Montreal won it all in 1993.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Canucks in 6

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.

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