It's June. The weather is beautiful. And there's a Bruins game on tonight. What a great way to start the summer.
The Canucks are the best team - on paper and on the ice - that the Bruins will face this postseason. They have fast forwards like Tampa, but their forwards are also strong. They have stalwart defensemen like Montreal. They have a Vezina nominee in net.
It's nice to see two traditional hockey markets in the Finals again. Last year saw Chicago vs. Philadelphia, which was a refreshing break from the streak of southern and Californian teams that just don't seem to belong in the sport. And in case you were wondering, Vancouver is as hockey-obsessed as Montreal and Toronto, as this video of the Vancouver skyline reacting to their OT win over San Jose demonstrates:
Frankly, I think Roberto Luongo is a bit overrated. He's Canadian born, plays on a Canadian team, and that's a formula for the hockey media to give him more praise and credit than he's due. But he's still very good. He does tend to get overly aggressive at times. And unlike Tim Thomas, he's sometimes not able to recover and make the save. He's also susceptible to being rattled.
I lost all respect for Luongo's character in the opening round of the playoffs. He was pulled twice, and in Game 6 the Canucks started backup Cory Schneider. Luongo didn't even sit on the bench with his teammates. He watched the game on TV from the locker room. Thanks to a Schneider injury, he found his way back between the pipes.
The strength of the Canucks is their top two lines. The Sedin twins will likely win back-to-back Hart (MVP) Trophies. Only five players scored 40+ goals this season, and two of them play for Vancouver: Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. The Canucks can get offense from beyond their top 2 lines, but these units have to be the focus of the Bruins defensemen. Not only do Chara and Seidenberg have to continue their epic level of play, Boychuk and Ference need to be almost as good. Boychuk was hit-or-miss against the Lightning. He's capable of so much better.
The Canucks' defensemen also contribute to the offense. Kevin Bieksa's 5 playoff goals are 4th on the team. Christian Ehrhoff is also a weapon, and should be healthy enough to start Game 1 tonight. Their defensemen also play some pretty solid defense. The grinding battles between forechecking Bruins' forwards and the Vancouver d-men will be very fun to watch, and will determine who wins these games.
The numbers are all on Vancouver's side. #1 in goals scored, #1 in goals allowed, #1 power play, #3 penalty kill. So what do the Bruins have?
Tim Thomas. He's the key. If he plays at his best, the Bruins have a good chance to win this series. He can keep them in every game.
Also, neither team has much Stanley Cup Finals experience. So as talented as Vancouver is, they're just as likely to succumb to nerves as the Bruins are.
For the Bruins to win, they need guys like Thomas, Chara, Seidenberg, Bergeron, Horton, and Krejci to continue playing at the level they've been playing at. They need contributions from Seguin, Paille, Peverley, and McQuaid. They need Michael Ryder to step up for more than two games per series. Mark Recchi also needs to show up and make an imprint on the game. Tomas Kaberle needs to be benched.
The power play MUST be productive. I'm not a huge fan of Chara playing in the crease, because it takes away his fearsome slapshot, and also his ability to sneak in to the faceoff dots from the backdoor. I don't mind if he rotates to the crease once and awhile, but don't like him starting there.
Horton should be the distributor on the halfwall, not Krejci. Although Krejci is a better passer, the threat of Horton shooting is much more imminent. Opposing penalty killers must respect that shot, which will open up space for the forwards down low.
I like the idea of rotating a forward into the very high slot, essentially at the blue-line. This is a good place to put Bergeron or Peverley. Vancouver will either have to stretch themselves to defend against it, or leave the points ample space to shoot.
The key to a successful power play is to make the opposing team work their asses off. Don't make it easy with perimeter passes. Don't make it easy with giveaways, forced passes, or low quality entries. Move bodies, not just the puck. These are simple concepts.
I think the Bruins will win this. I think Luongo will have a flustered game at some point. I think Thomas will steal a game. Bruins in 6.