- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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ESPNBoston.com asked three NHL pro scouts (who asked to remain anonymous) for their takes on the upcoming 2011 Stanley Cup finals between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks. All three scouts predicted the series would go seven games, with two of them picking the Canucks as the team hoisting the Cup.
"You just look at both these teams and really in my eyes for the first time in a while I see two really evenly matched teams," one Western Conference pro scout said. "These have been two teams who have stayed around the top all season and proven to be two of the top four teams in the NHL throughout the season and in the playoffs. I just think for that reason it's going seven games.
"If I'm forced to pick, I go with the Canucks because of their overall depth on defense and think up front they hold a slight edge as well. They also have the superior power play and if the Bruins can't get it going on their PP, then it may finally catch up to them. It did against Tampa and they're lucky they didn't get any against them in Game 7. But you look at the goaltending and coaching and it's a toss-up. I still see a seven-game series but Canucks in 7."
Another Western Conference pro scout felt the same way.
"I like the Canucks in seven games and I think it will be a back and forth series, a war at times," the second scout said. "I like the physicality the Bruins bring and I think having [Zdeno] Chara and [Dennis] Seidenberg will help with the Sedins [Henrik and Daniel], but the Canucks still bring it up front with [Alexandre] Burrows and [Ryan] Kesler, and [Maxim] Lapierre has turned it up in the playoffs and is a good pest. The goaltending is a toss-up but I think [Roberto] Luongo is more consistent."
The final scout we talked to was from the Eastern Conference. He liked the Bruins in seven games to win the Stanley Cup.
"I've seen my fair share of both teams both in the regular season and the playoffs," he said. "I just think when it comes down to it, if the Bruins play their game of physical, north-south, disciplined in the neutral zone and their own zone, and [Tim] Thomas stands on his head as he has, they win this series. If [Milan] Lucic and [Nathan] Horton start banging up front and are strong skating and on the forecheck, they will wear down the Canucks' forwards and the defense. And yes the Canucks get more offense from their defense, but the Bruins' defense can prevent more offense and I see [Zdeno] Chara and [Dennis] Seidenberg eating up the Sedins down low. I like the Bruins in a hard-fought seven-game series."
You've heard from the scouts, now here's my breakdown on how the teams match up in several different areas. You'll have to wait another day or so for my prediction:
For all the criticism they have received throughout the playoffs, the Bruins' first line -- specifically Horton and David Krejci -- has delivered and Lucic (nine points) has played better as of late as well. Krejci and Horton are tied for the team lead in points with 17 a piece and Krejci has 10 goals (fifth in the NHL) to Horton's eight. Patrice Bergeron has been the team's best two-way player and enters the finals with 11 assists and 15 points. The Bruins have also gotten plenty of scoring depth from the likes of Brad Marchand (12 points), Michael Ryder and Chris Kelly (11 points apiece).
The Canucks have some depth as well but are led by Henrik Sedin, who leads the NHL in playoff scoring with 21 points, Kesler (18 points, fourth in the NHL in points) and Daniel Sedin (16 points). Burrows brings a great all-around game with 14 points. The Canucks will also benefit from the possible return of emotional leader Manny Malhotra, who has been out since mid-March after taking a puck to his left eye.
The Canucks by far have generated more offense from their blue line than the Bruins and are deeper in terms of versatility. Christian Ehrhoff leads the Canucks' blue line with nine assists and 11 points while Kevin Bieksa and Alexander Edler have nine points apiece. But players like Dan Hamhuis, Sami Salo and even Keith Ballard have stepped their games up in the playoffs as well.
The Bruins' blue line, meanwhile, is led offensively by the much-maligned Tomas Kaberle, who has eight assists. Seidenberg has brought his physical game to another level as a shutdown D-man next to the king of shutdown defensemen Chara, who has five points. The Chara-Seidenberg pairing against the high-scoring Sedin twins will be a matchup to watch.
Tim Thomas has been the Bruins' backbone in this playoff run, stealing plenty of games for the Bruins. Yes, he has had some soft ones go by him, but almost every time he has been called upon in the clutch, Thomas has saved the day. He has a 12-6 record in the playoffs with a 2.29 GAA and .929 save percentage. He is a legitimate Conn Smythe candidate.
After a shaky first round, Roberto Luongo has shed the label of choker this playoff season, getting his team into the Stanley Cup finals all while playing in a pressure-cooker hockey-crazed city like Vancouver. He too is a Conn Smythe candidate with a 12-6 record, 2.29 GAA and .922 save percentage. Starting with Game 7 of the first round, however, Luongo has given up an average of exactly two goals per game.
We'll give the slight edge to Thomas here, as he has proved to be better under pressure.
Power play: It's not hard to figure out who gets the nod on the power play here. The Bruins enter the Stanley Cup finals with the worst success rate ever for a finals team at 8.2 percent and are 5-for-61 in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Canucks are 17-for-60 on the man advantage with a 28.3 percent success rate.
Penalty kill: Both teams are very close on the penalty kill, with the Bruins killing 79.4 percent of the power plays they've faced and the Canucks 80.6 percent.
Claude Julien and Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault are longtime friends, but for the next two weeks at least, they're enemies. Chances are, they will be involved in some serious chess matches. Vigneault has been nominated for the Jack Adams award this season, an award Claude Julien won in 2009. This will be another evenly match aspect of the series.
How they'll hit the ice
Here's what the teams' forward lines and defensive pairings could look like for Game 1:
-- Tim Thomas
-- Tuukka Rask
-- Kevin Bieksa-Dan Hamhuis
-- Christian Ehrhoff-Aaron Rome
-- Sami Salo-Alexander Edler
-- Roberto Luongo
-- Cory Schneider
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
Positional breakdown, scouts' takes suggest evenly matched Cup finals.