We're guaranteed one thing with this Stanley Cup Finals showdown, some city that has been waiting a long time to hoist the Cup will finally get the chance. For Boston, it's been since 1972. Vancouver has never held the Lord Stanley's prize, something that pains the hockey-crazed city. So who will end the respective droughts? CBSSports.com Eye on Hockey bloggers A.J. Perez and Brian Stubits debate.
Stubits: I am a firm believer this series is a tighter matchup than a lot of people think. The overwhelming favorite is Vancouver, but I am not willing to write off Boston, not by a long shot.
All along, the Bruins were my pick to make it out of the East. I'm a statistics guy, and the Bruins were the league's best team this year in a very important category: plus-minus. Yes, they were even better than the Canucks, who were No. 2 in the NHL this season. Moreover, there was no better team in hockey this year than the Bruins in five-on-five action. As everybody has seen this postseason, it's in the special teams where the B's trail significantly.
Coach Claude Julien needs to reinforce the message to stay out of the penalty box. Take no dumb penalties and the Bruins will be right in this series.
Perez: You mention the 39-year Cup drought in Boston, but what about Canada? The nation where hockey is king hasn't seen one of its franchises win a title since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. Sure, they'll tell you it doesn't matter much since half the NHL players are Canadian, but come on. It matters. The Canucks could certainly end it, something the Edmonton Oilers (2006) and Ottawa Senators (2007) failed to do since the lockout.
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Here we are after three rounds and I'm not sold on either team. I am going to give the edge to the Canucks, who, like you mentioned, have better special teams than Boston. I have a feeling this will be going at least six games. The Canucks -- with the Sedins and Ryan Kesler -- are just too deep offensively.
Stubits: Agreed, no team can match the Canucks offensively. No arguing here. But, I think the B's can pair up well defensively with them. The top pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg has been fantastic. Both teams have excellent defensive units, but if I'm giving an edge to either side, it's going to Boston in this department.
That includes the men protecting the cages, too. These are two of the top five goalies in the NHL, the Vezina watch list confirms that. So admittedly, we're splitting hairs. Since that first-round series, Roberto Luongo has been remarkably solid for Vancouver, while Tim Thomas has been a bit up-and-down. But the ups are way up there, evidenced by two shutouts of the high-powered Lightning. If I'm forced to choose one, I'm hesitating, but I'm picking Thomas. His numbers this postseason are ever-so-slightly better (identical goals against while Thomas' save percentage is .929 to Luongo's .922). Nathan Horton, David Krejci and company have enough talent to give Thomas a little support, which he is capable of taking a long way.
Perez: It will be interesting to see if Bruins rookie forward Tyler Seguin shows up again. He had six points (three goals, three assists) in the first two games of the conference finals, but was held scoreless the rest of the way. He did put up a solid effort in Game 7 (even if he didn't score), but I wouldn't be surprised to see Shawn Thornton back in Boston's lineup at some point.
|Tim Thomas is Boston's best defense against Vancouver's high-powered offense. (Getty Images)|
As far as the Canucks' roster, the week break after they dispatched the Sharks in five games hasn't hurt. Defensemen Christian Ehrhoff (upper-body injury) and Aaron Rome (likely concussion) missed the final two games of the conference finals, but are expected to be in the lineup on Wednesday. They even might have Manny Malhotra, out since March 16 after a scary eye injury, back at some point. He's been cleared for light contact in practice. Even if he doesn't make it into a game, the fact they'll have such a solid guy in the locker room will only help the Canucks.
Stubits: In regards to the rest and the Bruins having less, I don't think it will matter much. The bigger factor will be the cross-country trip. The B's have stayed pretty healthy all postseason and the one guy that was hurting, Patrice Bergeron, came back with an absolute bang. It's a team that is prepared and pretty much intact. You won't find the chemistry among the lines that you will see with Vancouver's top unit, but it's a group that has played well together. Now, if they could just find the same fluidity on the power play ...
In regards to Seguin, pretty wild how all that talk wondering why he wasn't playing disappeared so quickly. He's a great young talent and all, but you're right, Boston might be better off leaving him out in favor of Thornton.
The bottom line
Stubits: Vancouver is the favorite entering this Final, as it should be. Boston will not win in a high-scoring series, it just doesn't have the firepower to match the Canucks. No team does. But I think Boston has the defense to hang in this series and keep the Cup in the States. They will need Thomas to get out of this nasty habit of giving up quick goals, though.
Perez: Luongo put to rest some of the "can't win a big game" talk by leading Canada to gold in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. If the Sedins keep trending as they were late in the San Jose series and Kesler is, well, Kesler, a lackluster effort by Luongo could be the only thing keeping Vancouver from its first Cup. Boston had a hard enough time solving 41-year-old Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson, so I think Luongo should be alright.