Meet the Canucks: Five things you should know about the Bruins’ Stanley Cup opponent
|05.28.11 at 4:57 pm ET|
The start of the Stanley Cup finals is still four days away, but it’s never too early to start studying up on the Bruins’ opponent. The Canucks finished the regular season with the best record in the NHL (54-19-9), the best offense (3.15 goals per game), the best defense (2.20 goals against per game) and the best power play (24.4 percent).
They nearly blew a 3-0 series lead to the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs, but they bounced back to win Game 7 in overtime to avoid suffering the same disastrous fate that befell the Bruins last year. From there, the Canucks won a tight-checking series against the Predators in six games, only one of which was decided by more than a goal.
They then punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup finals by knocking off the Sharks in five games. The Canucks were badly outshot in each of the last two games — 35-13 in Game 4 and 56-34 in Game 5 — but they managed to come away with a pair of wins thanks to some great goaltending, an opportunistic offense and a lucky bounce in double overtime of the final game.
Here are five more things you should know about the Canucks, along with what the Bruins can do to counter them.
1) The Sedin twins — Henrik and Daniel — are arguably the best 1-2 punch in hockey. Daniel led the NHL with 104 points this season on 41 goals and 63 assists, and he is one of three finalists for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Henrik, who won the Hart last season, ranked fourth with 94 points, including a league-leading 75 assists. Henrik leads all players with 19 assists and 21 points in the playoffs, while Daniel’s eight goals are tied for fourth.
The Sedins struggled in the second round while matched up against Nashville‘s top defensive pair of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, as they combined for just seven points in the series. Then they blew up against the Sharks — a team that doesn’t have a true shutdown pairing — and tallied 18 points in five games. Containing the Sedins will likely fall on the shoulders of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, who have been stellar defensively all postseason. Frustrating the Sedins like Weber and Suter did would go a long way toward helping the Bruins’ chances.
2) Even if you limit the Sedins’ opportunities, the Canucks still have another offensive star in Ryan Kesler. After recording 41 goals and 32 assists in the regular season, the second-line center has a 7-11-18 line in the playoffs. While the Sedins struggled against Nashville, Kesler exploded for 11 points in the series. He switched places with the Sedins in the conference finals, though, as he notched just three points against San Jose.
Kesler is a better defensive forward than the Sedins and he’ll challenge Patrice Bergeron for the title of best two-way player in this series. Speaking of Bergeron, it will be interesting to see which line Claude Julien chooses to match him up against. He could try getting Bergeron, Chara and Seidenberg all on the ice against the Sedins and really key in on them, or he could save Bergeron for Kesler. If Julien goes with the latter, Bergeron vs. Kesler would be one heck of a battle at both ends of the ice.
3) Given weapons like the Sedins and Kesler, it should come as no surprise that Vancouver has a great power play. After ranking first in the NHL in the regular season, it has been even better in the playoffs, converting at a rate of 28.3 percent. The Canucks were at their best against the Sharks, when they scored on nine of their 24 man advantages (37.5 percent).
At this point, you pretty much have to accept that the Bruins are going to struggle on the power play, meaning staying out of the box and killing penalties will be as crucial as ever. The Bruins’ penalty kill had been great for most of the playoffs before giving up three power-play goals to the Lightning in a Game 6 loss. Simply put, that can’t happen against the Canucks. Given how great the Bruins have been 5-on-5, they don’t have to necessarily win the special teams battle, but they do have to keep it close.
4) Roberto Luongo isn’t a playoff goat any more. The Canucks goalie, who joins Tim Thomas as a Vezina Trophy finalist, has come under criticism in recent years for not performing as well in the playoffs as he has in the regular season. That trend continued in the first round this year when he was pulled from Games 4 and 5 against the Blackhawks before starting Game 6 on the bench.
Luongo has been great since then, however, as he is 9-3 with a .935 save percentage in Vancouver’s last 12 games. It sounds simple enough, but the Bruins are going to have get pucks to the net and get traffic in front if they hope to crack Luongo. They’ll have to play more like they did in Game 7 against the Lightning, when they peppered Dwayne Roloson with 38 shots, than they did in Games 5 and 6, when they tallied just 40 shots combined.
5) Of course, Luongo isn’t the only reason the Canucks are such a good defensive team. He has a great group of defensemen in front of him, led by the top four of Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Christian Ehrhoff (who is expected to be back for Game 1 after missing the last two games of the San Jose series with a shoulder injury). Bieksa and Edler both rank among the top five in hits in the postseason, while Edler and Hamhuis are both in the top 10 in blocked shots.
Not only are Vancouver’s d-men good in their own zone, but they’re not afraid to get involved on offense, either. Bieksa leads all defensemen with five goals in the playoffs and Ehrhoff is second in points with 11. The best way for the Bruins to counter that will be with a quick transition game that can create some odd-man rushes the other way. That starts with backchecking, winning puck battles and making good breakout passes — something they’ve been a bit inconsistent with in the postseason, but something they did a great job of in Game 7 against the Lightning.