Stanley Cup Final Preview

05/28/2011 5:29 PM -  Ian Gooding

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The city of Vancouver is about to go mental, one way or the other.

It’s been 17 years since the Stanley Cup Finals have been in Van City, just one year after the Montreal Canadiens were the last team to bring the Cup to Canada. We might not be talking the kind of wait that Toronto has experienced (44 years and counting since the last Cup Finals appearance for the self-proclaimed Mecca of Hockey), but the finals wait has been long enough in a Canadian city that has not held the Stanley Cup since 1915. That’s two years before the NHL was even formed, and possibly before your grandparents were born. (And no, I wasn’t at the Vancouver riot of 1994. I had just finished two semesters of college and was back in my hometown, eight hours away from Vancouver, working at the local sawmill for the summer.)

However, the Canucks’ opponent is in a mini-drought of its own. The Boston Bruins have not been to the Cup Final since 1990, a year in which my father and brother and I cheered unsuccessfully for them to defeat the hated Edmonton Oilers. In fact, I’ve never seen a Bruins Cup-winning team in my lifetime, as the 1972 Bobby Orr – Phil Esposito unit was the last to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug around Beantown. The Bruins have experienced their own heartbreak since then, from falling victim to the Broad Street Bullies’ first Cup, to the Don Cherry too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty and many more losses to their most heated rival in Montreal, to the lights-out performances of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, to the moves of Mario Lemieux and the knee-on-knee hits of Ulf Samuelsson.

In spite of the geographical distance between the two finals participants, they are linked in a few interesting ways. Even though the Bruins are the last Original 6 team to face the Canucks in a playoff series, the two squads happened to play in the same division during the early 1970s. As well, there is the infamous Cam Neely trade, where prospect Neely and a first-round pick that turned out to be Glen Wesley were the asking price for proven scorer Barry Pederson, who did not quite turn around the fortunes of one of the league’s worst teams at the time. Then there is Cam Neely 2.0, East Vancouver product Milan Lucic, who will attempt to convert as many Vancouver locals as possible to the other side.

But something tells me that unlike the finals in 1982 and 1994, when the Canucks were underdogs against stronger teams from the New York area, this year’s team has what it takes to win it all. If for no other reason, the following numerical coincidence involving Canadian hockey teams and the Olympics could prove that it’s the Canucks’ time.

1976: Montreal hosts Summer Olympics
1977: Montreal Canadiens finish with the most regular-season points and win the Stanley Cup

1988: Calgary hosts Winter Olympics
1989: Calgary Flames finish with the most regular-season points and win the Stanley Cup

2010: Vancouver hosts Winter Olympics
2011: Vancouver Canucks finish with the most regular-season points and… you get the point

By the way, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver are the only three Canadian cities to ever host the Olympics. If Vancouver wins the Cup, imagine how hard Toronto will be pushing for the games!

Okay, so I’ll need more substantial proof as to why I think the Canucks will win the Stanley Cup, which I will get to shortly. But first, I’ll provide my usual information for playoff poolies. Unlike the articles of the first three rounds, I’m not going to list studs, duds, and sleepers. If you play in any playoff pool like the one going on at Fantasy Postseason, just about any player playing for the two participating teams is fair game at this point. Heck, I used my number one waiver claim to pick up Maxim Lapierre before the Stanley Cup Final. The same night, I added Brett Clark and Mike Lundin prior Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. These adds probably won’t turn into the most savvy pickups I’ve ever made in a fantasy league, but I can at least brag about adding Tyler Seguin before the start of the Eastern Conference Final. So, you never know what might happen. If your league runs out of players, perhaps your player pool will expand to include trainers, Zamboni drivers, and even the dudes who sell popcorn and 50/50 tickets.

If there is one goalie in the NHL that has the Canucks’ number, it could well be Tim Thomas. The Bruins’ unorthodox-style keeper has allowed a Gerry Cheevers-like one goal in three career games against the Nucks. Following two shutouts, Thomas led the Bruins to a 3-1 win over Vancouver in the teams’ only meeting this season on February 26 at Rogers Arena. You might also want to buy stock in local boy Lucic, who impressed the local fans with a goal and two assists and a +3 that night. The Bruins will probably try to use Lucic (6’3”, 228 lbs.) and Nathan Horton (6’2”, 229 lbs.) the same way the Blackhawks were able to successfully implement Dustin Byfuglien last season – wreaking havoc in front of Roberto Luongo’s face. The Canucks will likely throw goal scorer and pugilist Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis on the ice whenever the Bruins’ big bodies are out there.

Bruins coach Claude Julien also seemed fond of using Zdeno Chara to shadow Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin during the February 26 meeting. The Sedins had struggled against the Duncan Keith/Brent Seabrook tandem in Round 1 and the Shea Weber/Ryan Suter tandem in Round 2, but they seemed able to skate circles around the Dan Boyle/Douglas Murray tandem in their last series. (Overhead at a Vancouver-area Costco today: One staff member telling another what the Bruins are like, saying that Chara is a 6′9″ European tower of power that would even scare Nicklas Lidstrom.) The Sedins may be in for a tougher time in this series, although it’s worth noting that Henrik’s faceoff record (11-4) was considerably better than Patrice Bergeron’s (4-11) in the teams’ previous encounter.

If there’s a clear advantage that the Canucks hold over the Bruins, it’s in special teams. The Canucks led the NHL with a 24.3% power-play percentage during the regular season, with that percentage only improving during the playoffs to 28.3%. The Bruins, by comparison, have scored only five power-play goals in 61 attempts over the entire playoffs for a meager 8.2% success rate. Although the two teams’ penalty kill percentages have been similar during the playoffs, the Canucks had the third-best penalty kill (85.6%) during the regular season. In other words, the Bruins better hope the entire series is a carbon copy of Game 7 against Tampa Bay – a rare penalty-free game.

Prediction: Canucks in 6. A few of my friends have already texted/emailed me saying that this thing will be over in four or five games. The temptation here would be to write off the Bruins as an easier opponent for the Canucks than the Sharks or the Blackhawks were, but some of the stats listed above suggest that we shouldn’t be so hasty. However, I haven’t even gotten into Ryan Kesler, who could be a difference maker in this series the same way he was against Nashville. Since the Bruins don’t roster a front-line center of the caliber of Jonathan Toews or Joe Thornton, Kesler should be able to return to a more offensive role against the Bruins, creating matchup problems for Julien. My early prediction is that a strong series against the B’s will ice him the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

I’m crossing my fingers for that parade… but feel free to weigh in on my prediction below.

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  1. [...] Ryan Kesler prediction hasn’t exactly come true. Kesler has just one assist during the six-game series and is [...]

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