VANCOUVER -- The 2011 Stanley Cup Final has been a tale of two teams led by polar opposite goalies playing what is essentially two different series -- one in Vancouver and the other in Boston.
The home teams are perfect, and since Game 7 will be played Wednesday at Rogers Arena -- where the Canucks have given up only two goals in the Final -- it seems only logical to think it will stay that way.
Then again, home teams have gone 7-0 in the Stanley Cup Final only three times, with the latest being the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks in 2003. Pittsburgh and Detroit were each 3-0 at home heading into Game 7 in 2009, but the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in Joe Louis Arena.
Maybe the Bruins will follow the lead of the Penguins and ruin the home-ice perfection in this series to bring the Cup to Boston for the first time since 1972.
Except, the Canucks have been so good at home all season. They've won a League-best 37 games since October. Maybe they win the Cup for the first time in franchise history.
Long story short: Determining which team will win the Stanley Cup on Wednesday isn't so easy, but determining which team might have a better chance at finishing on the top of the mountain is a bit easier.
Here's a look at how the team's match up in several key categories.
Vancouver: The loss of Mason Raymond hurts the Canucks in many ways. Someone will have to jump into their top six to play with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins. That could be Jeff Tambellini, but it also might require coach Alain Vigneault to double-shift Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen, which would mean the first and third lines would also be affected by Raymond's absence. Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler have combined for all of 6 points in the series, with Daniel owning 4 of them. Burrows has done nothing since his overtime goal in Game 2. Vancouver's third line has been its best production line, contributing 9 points.
Boston: The Bruins are spreading the scoring around, but they've done most of it at home. Boston has 17 goals at TD Garden and only 2 at Rogers Arena. David Krejci, Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi all have 6 points in the series. What's remarkable is they all play on different lines. Krejci leads the NHL in playoff scoring with 12 goals and 23 points. Ryder is tied with Brad Marchand for the team lead with 3 goals in the series. Recchi, who could be playing in his final NHL game Wednesday, had 3 assists in Boston's 5-2 win Monday. Rich Peverley has filled Nathan Horton's skates nicely on the top line and has 4 points in the series. Patrice Bergeron has played the role of shutdown center between Marchand and Recchi about as well as he can. He also has 3 assists.
Vancouver: The Canucks started the series with eight NHL defensemen and a rookie from their black aces that could jump in and play. They're down to six NHL blueliners, but Keith Ballard has been replaced by that rookie, Chris Tanev. The Canucks have been able to play solid defense in front of Roberto Luongo at home, but like their goalie, they've come undone on the road. The loss of Dan Hamhuis has hurt Kevin Bieksa's offensive rhythm as the Canucks' top defensemen has only 1 assist in the Final after contributing 4 goals and 1 assist against San Jose in the Western Conference Finals. Andrew Alberts was also dinged up in Game 6, but coach Alain Vigneault said he should be good to go for Game 7.
Boston: Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have done yeoman's work in shutting down the Sedins and Burrows. Chara is doing his best to hit Henrik and Daniel whenever he can, both before and after the whistle. He's received 18 minutes in penalties, but he's not hurting his team. He also has 4 assists. Andrew Ference has added to the offensive contributions the Bruins are getting from their defense with 2 goals and 1 assist. Tomas Kaberle has been shooting more lately, and he wound up with 2 assists in Game 5. Most importantly, the Bruins are playing a near flawless game in front of Tim Thomas.
Vancouver: We've seen both the good Roberto Luongo and the bad Roberto Luongo in this series. The good Luongo has actually been great and the bad Luongo has been atrocious. Fortunately for the Canucks, the good Luongo has shown up at Rogers Arena, where he is 3-0 with a 0.67 goals-against average, .979 save percentage and two shutouts against the Bruins. The road has been a tragically different story for Luongo, but he doesn't have to concern himself with that anymore.
Boston: Tim Thomas has been spectacular in this series. Win or lose, he probably has the Conn Smythe Trophy claimed. Thomas has allowed only 8 goals on 209 Vancouver shots. He has a miniscule 1.34 GAA and a ridiculous .962 save percentage. He's 32 saves away from tying Johnny Bower's all-time record for saves in a Stanley Cup Final (233), and 41 shots away from tying Bower's record for all-time shots faced in the Cup Final (250). Thomas needs one save to set a new NHL playoff record for most saves in a single postseason.
Vancouver: Alain Vigneault has had to deal with injuries and a suspension in this Final, yet he has held as firm as one possibly could in the situation. Perhaps his only noticeable blunder is that he listened to Luongo instead of what had to be his gut instinct in Game 3 and ended up watching his star goalie give up eight goals. Otherwise, it's hard to argue with anything Vigneault has done in the series. He hasn't been a major factor one way or another, but he also hasn't shown any panic on the bench or in front of the media, and he's given a lot of rope to his struggling star players.
Boston: Claude Julien pushed the right button in moving Peverley up to the top line with Krejci and Milan Lucic in the aftermath of the Horton injury. He has gotten more out of Ryder than anybody could have imagined. In fact, the Bruins' third line of Ryder, Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin has been underrated in this series. They have 9 points, the same amount as the Canucks' third line. Otherwise, Julien has been much like Vigneault in that he has remained relatively calm on the bench and in front of the media.
Vancouver: The Canucks' vaunted power play finally came through with its second goal of the series in Game 6. That it was a meaningless tally by Henrik Sedin early in the third period of a blowout takes some of the luster away from the goal, but it has to matter to the Canucks. They felt their power play was coming around in Game 5 and the dam was about to break. It finally did in Game 6, but they are still just 2-for-31 with the man advantage. They've also allowed 2 shorthanded goals. Vancouver's penalty kill has been burned five times in 26 chances, though it has given up only one power-play goal in 13 chances at Rogers Arena.
Boston: At times the Bruins' power play looks terrible, but other times it looks fairly formidable. For instance, the Bruins in Game 6 were able to take advantage of a bad boarding penalty by Alexander Edler and get a power-play goal from Andrew Ference to go up 3-0. Just when it appeared the Canucks might be trying to mount a comeback, they committed back-to-back penalties and Krejci was able to cash in on a 5-on-3 goal in the third. The Bruins have 5 power-play goals in the Final after scoring only 5 through the first three rounds. Their penalty kill has also been able to stymie the Canucks' power play. That has been a major factor in the series.
Vancouver: The Canucks dominated the regular season to earn home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Now it's paying off. They get to play Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in front of 18,860 of their most passionate fans, people that are paying top dollar to see the most important game in franchise history. They are 10-3 on home ice in the playoffs. The Canucks are also better in close games than the Bruins. They are 11-4 in one-goal games in the postseason, including 3-0 in the Final. Vigneault and Luongo are 2-0 in Game 7s. Vancouver has also shown the ability to come back in this postseason. It has won two games when trailing after two periods.
Boston: The Bruins haven't won in Rogers Arena in this series and are just 5-6 on the road. They are only 6-5 in one-goal games and 3-3 in two-goal games. Boston captain Zdeno Chara will be playing in his eighth Game 7, but he's won only two of them. Julien is 3-3 in Game 7s and Thomas is 2-2. The Bruins are 0-5 when trailing after two periods. But the Bruins will have their inspirational leader in the building Wednesday night. Horton made the trip with the club and will attend Game 7. He was shown on the center-ice scoreboard early in Game 6 and the Bruins banged their sticks on the boards while the fans roared from the stands in appreciation.
It's not just going to happen on its own. We have to have guys commit to the areas we need to improve on. We're going to be better than last year but there is still a long way to go. But I really like the pieces and where we're headed.
— Sabres forward Tyler Ennis on the progress of Buffalo's rebuilding process
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