And then there were two…the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruin. These two teams have battled there way through three opponents and number of challenges to get here, now they stand just four wins away from skating the Cup.
It will certainly be the toughest four wins for either of them to get.
Vancouver, of course, entered the playoffs as the Presidents’ Trophy winners of the NHL. Their 54-19-9 record for 117 points was the best in the league. They finished 23 points ahead of the Calgary Flames. Boston’s 46-25-11 mark for 103 points was good enough to take the NE Division crown and the third seed in the east.
The Bruins and Canucks met only once this season with the Bs taking a 3-1 decision on February 26 in Vancouver. Nathan Horton tied the score at 1-1 half way through the second period while Milan Lucic’s wrister at 15:22 of the third proved to be the game-winner. Patrice Bergeron added an empty-netter with 73 second left to play while Tim Thomas stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced to earn the win.
Both teams found themselves in a struggle just to get out of the first round earlier…Vancouver almost blowing a three games to none lead against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks before taking game seven on Alexandre Burrows’ overtime goal. The Bruins fell behind the Montreal Canadiens two games to none before working their way back. Horton’s overtime goal in game seven propelled Boston to round two.
Since that time, the Bruins swept the Philadelphia Flyers and then won a very heated seven-game Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Canucks have gone 9-3 since losing game six on the opening round, knocking off Nashville in six and San Jose in five.
Even though they almost choked up their 3-0 lead against Chicago, Vancouver has never trailed in either of this springs playoff series. And learned a valuable lesson in first-round scare with Hawks.
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“They say the fourth win is the toughest one to get, and that’s been the case for us,” captain Henrik Sedin after his team disposed of the Sharks to advance to the SCF. “The other team is for sure treating it as a Game 7, and if you are not doing it yourself, it’s tough to win those games.”
Tim Thomas is 12-6 for Boston during the postseason with a 2.29 GAA, .929 SV% and 2 shutouts. He is 12-4 since the first two games versus the Habs and has played every minute in goal for the Bruins since postseason began.
“I think there were a lot of people thinking I was over the hill”, Thomas said following the 1-0 shutout win against Tampa Bay to clinch the east. “I knew it wasn’t true. But I put in a lot of work last summer. It’s amazing the year I had. I’m just so blessed.”
Thomas has faced 603 shots on his goal during 1,124:41 TOI this spring.
On the other end of the ice is Roberto Luongo, who sports almost identical numbers…12-6 with a 2.29 GAA, .922 SV% and 2 SO. He has seen 528 during 1,075:46 TOI.
Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin’s 21 overall points lead all skaters in this year’s playoffs, (2 goals, 19 assists), while Boston’s David Krejci’s 10 goals currently places him in a first-place tie with the Lightning’s Martin St. Louis. Former Thrasher Rich Peverley has 2 goals, 6 assists and is a +5.
Daniel Sedin is top goal-scorer on the Canuck’s squad with 8. He also has 8 assists. Ryan Kesler has been very impressive with 7 goals, 11 assists and a +6 rating.
Special teams favor Vancouver as they’ve continued their good work on the power play from the regular season. They have been successful 28.3% of the time when given the man advantage while the Bruins PP unit has converted just 8.2% of the time. The Canucks have killed off penalties at a rate of 80.6%, Boston’s PK unit has been successful 79.4% of the time.
Vancouver has taken an average of 31.2 Shots on goal in postseason play and has allowed 31.6 shots to be taken on their net. Boston numbers are 31.8 S/G and 33.6 SA/G.
The Canucks will certainly go into the series with a boost as it was learned Saturday that Manny Malhotra was cleared to play in the finals. His season had ended ten weeks ago when a deflected puck struck his left eye, requiring two surgeries to repair.
It still hasn’t been determined whether or not he will indeed play when the two teams face off for game-one Wednesday night, given he was cleared for full contact practice just last Friday.
“I realize there is a difference between taking two months off and coming back mid-January, and taking two months off and coming back the beginning of June,” said Malhotra, who tuned 31-years of age on the 18th of this month. “The pace and tempo of play is a lot higher, and you have the two best teams in the National Hockey League going at it. It’s been a dream of mine to play for the Stanley Cup, but at the same time I’m not going to put myself out there to be treated like a little brother.”
“I know there’s not going to be any gimmes out there.”
As for who I’m picking in the Finals, everything stats-related tells me this should be the Canucks to win. But I have a feeling this series will go seven games and in the end it comes down to the men between the pipes. So ask yourselves this question…if you had to pick one goalie in the league right now to go with to win just one game, who would it be?
For me, that man is Tim Thomas.
with fingers crossed…Boston in seven.