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Offence, special teams give Canucks edge in Cup matchup with Bruins

The Canadian Press
By:
The Hockey News
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Offence, special teams give Canucks edge in Cup matchup with Bruins

The Canadian Press
By:

Having both survived playoff close calls, the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins are now free to fight it out for the Stanley Cup.

The Canucks let a 3-0 lead slip and then pulled out a nervy Game 7 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, while the Bruins dropped the first two games at home and then got a Game 7 overtime winner to oust their nemesis, the Montreal Canadiens, early on their journey to the final.

Once past that adversity, they both got stronger and more confident. Now they meet in the best-of-seven final.

Here's a look at how the two clubs match up (with each element rated one to 10):

Goaltenders

Boston: It couldn't get much closer statistically. Boston's Tim Thomas and Vancouver's Roberto Luongo each has a 2.29 goals-against average in 18 games. Thomas has a slight lead in save percentage, .929 to .922. With his sprawling, scrambling style, Thomas has had rough games, but has also been brilliant when it counts. 7.

Vancouver: There was fear the long-limbed Luongo would lose it mentally and he had some struggles against Chicago, but since then has been solid, especially against a high-powered San Jose attack. The backups are also a saw-off with Corey Schneider for Vancouver and Tuukka Rask for Boston. 7.

Defence

Boston: The shutdown pair of Zdeno Chara, who leads the playoffs at plus-11, and Dennis Seidenberg, who leads with 55 blocked shots, has excelled and the other two pairs, Andrew Ference with Johnny Boychuck and Tomas Kaberle with Adam McQuaid, have improved each series. Kaberle has laboured to adapt in Boston, but his recent improvement could prove crucial in the final. 7.

Vancouver: The Canucks top pair has not been shabby either: Kevin Bieksa plus-10 with Dan Hamhuis. Where the Canucks have the edge is in depth and mobility. Sami Salo, Alexander Edler and Christian Ehrhoff are all strong puck-movers. Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome are due back after suffering injuries in the conference final. And they have Keith Ballard in reserve. 8.

Forwards

Boston: There are no dazzling scorers, but four hard-working, defensively sound lines. First-line centre Patrice Bergeron is having a brilliant playoff and is the faceoff king at 62.3 per cent while his winger Brad Marchand has been key in many areas even as right-winger Mark Recchi has struggled, although Rich Peverley is a solid fill-in when needed. Second-line centre David Krejci leads the playoffs in goals with 10, while linemate Nathan Horton has been Mr.Clutch with two Game 7 winners. The third man on the line, Milan Lucic, has been a step behind. The third line of Chris Kelly, Michael Ryder and Tyler Seguin is also dangerous. 7.

Vancouver: Henrik Sedin leads the playoffs with 21 points while Daniel Sedin has 16 and their gritty winger Alexandre Burrows snaps in what they leave behind. But the real strength follows with Ryan Kesler as second-line centre, bringing grit, scoring and faceoff skill with Mason Raymond and, lately, Chris Higgins. The return of Manny Malhotra from an eye injury should boost a nasty checking third line with Raffi Torres and Jannik Hansen and allows useful Max Lapierre to play on the fourth unit. 9.

Power play

Boston: How bad does it get? Five goals, 61 chances, 8.2 per cent. Not even many good scoring chances on most of them. There's Chara's big shot and then an almost total lack of movement and creativity. Ray Bourque must shake his head. 2.

Vancouver: The Sedins seem to love the extra open space to whip the puck back and forth and create chances. Salo's late return from injury gives them even more options as they make good on 28.4 per cent of their opportunities. 9.

Penalty killing

Boston: A middling 80.6 per cent, despite PK talent in Bergeron, Kelly and others. 4.

Vancouver: A little worse at 79.4 per cent. Teams rarely win unless they are in at least the 85-plus per cent range. 4.

Coaches

What a coincidence: Boston's Claude Julien and Vancouver's Alain Vigneault played together in the minors, coached the Hull (now Gatineau) Olympiques in the QMJHL and got their NHL start with Montreal.

Boston: Julien likes physical hockey and strong team defence. His inability to sort out special teams has been a drawback, but his team's even strength play is impressive. 7.

Vancouver: Vigneault has the league's top offensive club thanks mainly to the Sedin twins. He likes to control the puck and keep the defence involved in the attack. Biggest success to date is helping to get Luongo over his Chicago yips. 7.

Special factors

Boston: The Bruins' special teams are bad, but they are the best even-strength team in the playoffs by a wide margin. While many teams labour to score 5-on-5 in the tight post-season checking, that's where the Bruins are most at home. 8.

Vancouver: The Canucks have five of the top six hits leaders in the post-season with Lapierre (63), Bieksa (62), Kesler (56), Edler (55) and Chris Higgins (48). That's a lot of wear and tear on opponents. Lucic leads Boston with 43. 7.

Intangibles

Boston: The Bruins are 68-24-16 all-time against the Canucks in the regular season and beat them 3-1 in Vancouver in their only meeting this season on Feb. 26. Lucic has been quiet in the playoffs thus far, but he is a Vancouver native who could bring his bruising best in the final. 7.

Vancouver: The Canucks were first overall in the 30-team NHL with 117 points. First-overall teams have won the Cup 38 per cent of the time, but are especially tough when they reach the final. The last to do it was Detroit in 2008. Then there's the much talked about Olympic thing: Montreal won in 1977 a year after hosting the Games, Calgary did the same in 1989. Vancouver had them last year. 9.

Totals:

Boston 49

Vancouver 60

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Offence, special teams give Canucks edge in Cup matchup with Bruins