VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks rolled through the regular season to capture the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the NHL. The Boston Bruins were near the top of the Eastern Conference all season, winning the Northeast Division for the second time in three years.
Vancouver avoided a historic collapse in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, yielding a 3-0 series lead against nemesis Chicago before escaping with a Game 7 victory. Since then the Canucks have looked like a Cup favorite, dispatching the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks.
Boston dropped the first two games of its opening-round series against archrival Montreal before rallying to win in seven games. Next, they exorcised some demons by sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers a year after collapsing against them. Finally, the Bruins sweated out another epic seven-game series against Tampa Bay before winning 1-0 in Game 7 at TD Garden.
Now, both teams are here -- Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is Wednesday night at Rogers Arena. Who has the edge in some key areas? Let’s take a look:
Boston has the advantage in depth, at least as long as Manny Malholtra remains out of the Vancouver lineup. The Bruins have future star Tyler Seguin on the third line and trade deadline additions Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley helping out among the bottom six as well. The Canucks lead in star power. Henrik and Daniel Sedin are two of the top players in the world, and could be known as back-to-back MVPs in a few weeks. Ryan Kesler is probably the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy at this point. The Bruins could use more from guys like Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand.
Here, it is the opposite of the forwards -- Boston has the best defenseman in this series in Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg has been a revelation during this postseason. Vancouver has great depth on the blue line. Kevin Bieksa has been a star this postseason, while Christian Ehrhoff, Alexander Edler and Dan Hamhuis round out a formidable top four. Even guys like Chris Tanev and Andrew Alberts are ready in a pinch. Tomas Kaberle has been inconsistent for the Bruins, but he could help keep this closer than it appears.
This should be a great battle in net. Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo have contrasting styles but are both Vezina Trophy finalists. Thomas has a Vezina in his trophy case already, but Luongo has a gold medal that he won in this city. Boston probably needs a great performance from its goaltender more, but either is capable of stealing games. Thomas is likely going to add a second Vezina Trophy to his resume in a few weeks.
This is the first time a Stanley Cup Final will feature two European-trained captains, but it is also the first time there will be two French Canadian coaches. Claude Julien and Alain Vigneault were teammates in the Central Hockey League and are good friends. Both began the year under a great deal of pressure to succeed, and both have seen their job security questioned. Now they have been vindicated and have their teams in the Cup Final.
Vancouver had the best power play among the final eight teams in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Boston had the worst. Neither team has been great on the penalty kill -- they are eighth and ninth among playoff teams. The Canucks have been shorthanded nine more times, and the Bruins will want to avoid excessive trips to the penalty box.
Vancouver has the weight of 40 years of waiting for a city, but also the hopes of people around the nation because a Canadian team has not won the Cup in 18 years. Boston also hasn’t won the Cup in a long time -- the Bruins' last title came in 1972. Expect the crowds in both cities to be boisterous, but also on edge if the home team doesn’t control games. The Bruins do have the incentive of Mark Recchi trying to win the Cup and ride off into the sunset of retirement, while British Columbia-born Milan Lucic (and Cam Neely) could also win at either of their homes.