"I guess there is no one to blame, we're leaving the ground again, will things ever be the same again, its the final countdown" are the lyrics of course to Europe's hit song the Final Countdown as we are on the eve of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Memorial Cup is over; the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Saint John Sea Dogs are the 2011 champions. The Alaska Aces are champions of the ECHL, the Dubuque Fighting Saints are the champions of the USHL and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs captured the Robertson Cup in the NAHL. In the college ranks, the University of Minnesota: Duluth are the NCAA Div. I champions, and the St. Norbert's Green Knights were the champions of Div. III for the men and the University of Wisconsin for Div. I, and the Norwich Cadets for Div. III for the women. Finland was the winners of the 2011 World Championship for the men and Team USA was victorious on the women's side. Only the American Hockey League and the NHL's Stanley Cup remain. So by every measure it is indeed the final countdown for competitive hockey for the 2010-11 season.
With the Calder Cup Finals already begun; and both teams the Binghamton Senators and Houston Aeros knotted at one game apiece the hockey world waits in great anticipation for the Stanley Cup Finals to begin. In the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals you have all the hallmarks of a classic sports story; the redemption of the Bruins who were maligned as chokers after squandering a 3-0 lead to the the Philadelphia Flyers to the rush an entire nation feels towards the possibility of the Stanley Cup being won by a Canadian team for the first time since the Montreal Canadiens did so in 1993. It has an epic goaltending battle between Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas. Can Vancouver erase the ghosts of 1994 and bring championship to a fanatical hockey city; or will Boston prove they can join the rest of the cities' sports teams and add another championship to one of America's best sports communities?
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2.78 Goals For per game (8th in the NHL Playoffs)
2.56 Goals Against per game (6th in the NHL Playoffs)
28.3% Power Play (3rd in the NHL Playoffs)
80.6% Penalty Kill (8th in the NHL Playoffs)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #33 Henrik Sedin ~ 2G 19A = 21pts
2. #17 Ryan Kesler ~ 7G 11A = 18pts
3. #22 Daniel Sedin ~ 8G 8A = 16pts
4. #14 Alexandre Burrows ~ 7G 7A = 14pts
5. #5 Christian Ehrhoff ~ 2G 9A = 11pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #40 Maxim Lapierre ~ 54 PIM's
2. #3 Kevin Bieksa ~ 37 PIM's
3. #13 Raffi Torres ~ 22 PIM's
1. #1 Roberto Luongo (12-6) 2.29GAA .922%SP 2 SO
2. #35 Cory Schneider (0-0) 3.09GAA .878%SP
3.22 Goals For per game (5th in the NHL Playoffs)
2.50 Goals Against per game (3rd in the NHL Playoffs)
8.2% Power Play (14th in the NHL Playoffs)
79.4% Penalty Kill (9th in the NHL Playoffs)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #46 David Krejci ~ 10G 7A = 17pts
2. #18 Nathan Horton ~ 8G 9A = 17pts
3. #37 Patrice Bergeron ~ 4G 11A = 15pts
4. #63 Brad Marchand ~ 6G 6A = 12pts
5. #73 Michael Ryder ~ 5G 6A = 11pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #17 Milan Lucic ~ 43 PIM's
2. #18 Nathan Horton ~ 35 PIM's
3. #63 Brad Marchand ~ 18 PIM's
1. #30 Tim Thomas (12-6) 2.29GAA .929%SP 2 SO
Wednesday, June 1st @ Vancouver 7PM ~ NBC, CBC, RDS
Saturday, June 4th @ Vancouver 7PM ~ NBC, CBC, RDS
Monday, June 6th @ Boston 7PM ~ Versus, CBC, RDS
Wednesday, June 8th @ Boston 7PM ~ Versus, CBC, RDS
*Friday, June 10th @ Vancouver 7PM ~ NBC, CBC, RDS
*Monday, June 13th @ Boston 7PM ~ NBC, CBC, RDS
*Wednesday, June 15th @ Vancouver 7PM ~ NBC, CBC, RDS
It is almost eerie how similar these teams match up statistically. Especially between the pipes where Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and Boston's Tim Thomas have almost identical numbers. Any slip in either Luongo's or Thomas' performance will make for a quick series. Boston's defense will have to be alert and physical to disrupt the cycling of Daniel Sedin and his brother Henrik Sedin who is currently the top scorer in the playoffs with 21 points. This ability to cycle the puck may not be something Boston is used to seeing and without question the Bruins are going to lean heavily on hulking defender Zdeno Chara and experience of vets Denis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference to keep the area near Thomas' crease free of traffic. That still will mean youngsters Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk will have to log important minutes but both are rugged enough to be physical to shut down the cycle but their lack of experience could play a factor as well. The Canucks defense is a major source of strength as it combines mobility with strong physical play. Kevin Bieksa has really come into his own this post-season being a force at both ends of the ice and chipping in timely goals, and Alexander Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome take away time and space and sweep away loose pucks from turning into 2nd chances. Hip checking master Keith Ballard still looks like the odd man out on the Canucks blueline.
At forward the Bruins will hope their offense can be the difference in the series as David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Brad Marchand and Michael Ryder as well as rookie Tyler Seguin who was a nice boost to Boston's attack in the Eastern Conference finals. Boston will also try to utilize the big-bodied Milan Lucic much in the same way Chicago used Dustin Byfuglien a season ago. Lucic must be a factor if Boston is to have a chance and the Bruins power play must find a way to be a factor because the Canucks are very tough to score on at even strength. The Canucks have a balanced attack of their own led by the Sedin twins, the ever versatile Ryan Kesler and the sniping agitator Alexandre Burrows. The Canucks also could get a huge dose of inspiration from injured center Manny Malhotra who received clearance from doctors to resume practices with the team. It is a minor miracle he's even able to play at all with an eye injury that some felt may put his professional hockey career in jeopardy. Malhotra will likely not have a big impact with his play, but emotionally he will give Vancouver a jolt.
Neither Claude Julien or Alain Vigneault have won a Stanley Cup as coach, but their ability to adapt and outcoach the other could be the x-factor that wins this series. Injury-wise for the Canucks, Ehrhoff and Rome are listed as probable for Game 1 on Wednesday, while the Bruins will still be without Marc Savard who is still battling concussion symptoms. So who will win? If you have any faith in computers or video games; according to Electronic Arts' popular NHL '11, it will be a Canucks victory. Just a video game you say, but Electronic Arts has correctly predicted the winner 13 out of 14 times and at the beginning of the season it predicted the Canucks and Bruins would meet in the final.
PREDICTION: I think the Stanley Cup will be going to Canada this summer. As a Wild fan it pains me to say that, but I just think the Canucks balance and its strong blueline will be too much for the Bruins to overcome.