First look at the 2011 Stanley Cup finals: Are the Bruins the junior varsity Canucks?

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While the Vancouver Canucks took advantage of a lucky bounce or two to neatly beat the San Jose Sharks in just five games, the Boston Bruins faced a much bumpier road to the Stanley Cup finals. They managed a nail-biting 1-0 win against Tampa Bay in Game 7 Friday night thanks to a Nathan Horton goal and Tim Thomas shutout to get to this point.

With a bountiful amount of time between last night’s Game 7 and Wednesday’s Cup finals opener, PHT will cover all the angles for the upcoming Bruins-Canucks series. Yet as anticipation builds for each fan base (Vancouver hasn’t been to the final round since 1994, and Boston has been waiting since ’90), we thought it might be fun to take a quick look at how these teams match up.

If there’s an ultimate takeaway from this matchup, it’s that the Bruins almost seem like a poor man’s version of the Canucks. Both teams lead their respective conferences in goal-differential (one of my favorite simple “bottom line” stats), with Boston finishing +51 and Vancouver earning a league-leading +77. Each team has a Vezina-caliber goalie, multiple scoring options and coaches with similar backgrounds and styles. OK, let’s get to the matchup breakdowns:

Team offense
Canucks Goals For (regular): 262; Canucks Goals For (playoffs): 50
Bruins Goals For (regular): 246; Bruins Goals For (playoffs): 58

Both teams have strong first lines, second-line centers beloved by hardcore fans and solid depth surrounding them. Vancouver boasts possibly the best first line in the NHL in the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows, the possible 2010-11 Selke Trophy winner in Ryan Kesler and plenty of snarl and speed in their lower ranks.

The Bruins are a more offensively gifted squad than many realize, especially with the Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton line on fire in the last two rounds of the playoffs. Patrice Bergeron isn’t as explosive or agitating as Kesler, but he’s a fantastically versatile two-way center in his own right.

Team defense
Canucks Goals Allowed (regular): 185; Canucks Goals Allowed (playoffs): 46
Bruins Goals Allowed (regular): 195; Bruins Goals Allowed (playoffs): 45

The Canucks allowed the least amount of goals in the NHL while Boston was next on the list. The two teams accomplished the task in different ways, as the Canucks excel thanks to their strong depth while the Bruins lean heavily on their top pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. Vancouver’s defense managed to contain the dangerous San Jose Sharks attack while the Bruins’ corps was frequently exposed against the speedy and talented Tampa Bay Lightning.

Defense seems to be a significant advantage for the Canucks, but Chara could make things interesting if he successfully smothers the Sedin twins.

Special teams
Vancouver PP %: 24.32 (reg); 28.3 (playoffs); Vancouver PK %:85.58 (reg); 80.6 (playoffs)
Boston PP %: 16.17(reg); 8.2 (playoffs); Boston PK %:82.64 (reg); 79.4 (playoffs)

The Bruins won Game 7 against the Lightning in a penalty-free game. Boston might want to bargain for more of those, because they face a serious disadvantage in special teams. Their penalty kill has been solid-to-strong, but an already bad regular-season power play has taken a well-documented tumble in the postseason. The Canucks’ power play has been outright scary at times, with Henrik Sedin’s surgical passing leading the way.

Goaltending
Roberto Luongo’s regular season: 38 wins, 92.8 save pct.; postseason:12 wins, 92.2 save pct.
Tim Thomas’ regular season: 35 wins, 93.8 save pct.; postseason:12 wins, 92.9 save pct.

This is a matchup of two Vezina Trophy candidates. You might assume Thomas is more likely to steal games until you realize Luongo did just that in Game 5 against the Sharks, making 54 saves in Vancouver’s double overtime win. It seems like a match between the unorthodox (Thomas) and the butterfly prototype (Luongo), but both are aggressive and emotional goalies.

Coaches
Alain Vigneault vs. Claude Julien

Both coaches have a tendency to slip into “turtle mode” with leads. Each experienced some heartbreaking losses in previous playoff years. They also share ties to the Montreal Canadiens organization and have spent quite a bit of time behind their current benches (Vigneault’s been the Canucks coach for five seasons, Julien has been with Boston for four).

Overall, these are two very similar coaches who might not get the respect they deserve in many circles.

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Vancouver looks like a heavy favorite going into this series, arguably holding advantages in all areas except (maybe?) goaltending. That said, the Canucks carry a lot of pressure on their shoulders while the Bruins’ talent and all-world goalie should not be underestimated. If Thomas, Julien and the Bruins can make this a series that comes down to bounces rather than special-teams efficiency, the junior varsity might just make the varsity sweat on hockey’s grandest stage.

(Want to cast your vote for the winner of this series? Vote in the poll.)

Brian Gionta goes from U.S. Olympic team to Boston Bruins

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Brian Gionta was hoping to use the 2018 Winter Olympics as an opportunity to showcase his game to NHL teams after not being re-signed by the Buffalo Sabres last season.

On Sunday, the Boston Bruins felt he could help them down the stretch and signed the 39-year-old forward to a contract for the remainder of the season. Gionta will earn a pro-rated $700,000 salary.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has been busy. He’s traded for Nick Holden to bolster his blue line, acquired Rick Nash to strengthen his forward group and now added Gionta for some depth up front. “If there is an area we can continue to supplement our group, we will do that,” he said on Saturday.

[Rick Nash addition shows Bruins loading up for Stanley Cup run]

In order to play in the postseason, Gionta, who’s no stranger to Boston having helped deliver a national title to Boston College in 2001, needed to sign a contract by Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.

Despite spending all summer as an unrestricted free agent, Gionta still hadn’t shut the door on the NHL. “If the right situation came across, I’d have to think long and hard about it, for sure,” he told me in November.

Gionta went pointless in five games in PyeongChang while captaining the Americans, who were bounced in the quarterfinals by the Czech Republic. He looked very much his 39 years on the big ice, but maybe a return to the NHL could rejuvenate him? He did score 15 goals and recorded 35 points in 82 games with the Buffalo Sabres in 2016-17.

It’s a low-risk move for the Bruins. If it doesn’t work out, Gionta’s not an anchor on their salary cap and they can part ways. If he can contribute, it was worth the lottery ticket for Sweeney.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Trade: Blue Jackets welcome back a familiar face in Mark Letestu in three-way deal

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Trade deadline day could be a snoozefest at this rate.

The trade: Predators acquire Mark Letestu from the Edmonton Oilers for Pontus Aberg. Predators then trade Letestu to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Why the Predators are making this trade: Picks are nice. Teams like draft picks. Aberg also hadn’t played in 10 days and his future in the Music City was in doubt. Perhaps the deal is part of a bigger plan for general manager David Poile, who apparently are in the running for Erik Karlsson. (Wouldn’t that be something.)

Or maybe another conspiracy?

Why the Oilers are making this trade: Two words: Fire. Sale. The Oilers need to dump pending unrestricted free agents and get something in return. Aberg is the return. He wasn’t a fit on a very strong Predators team but perhaps could offer something to the Oilers going forward. He has one year left on a two-year, $1.3 million deal.

Or maybe not:

Why the Blue Jackets are making this trade: The Blue Jackets needed help in their bottom six and get some with veteran center Letestu, who will likely be hungry to perform as he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Letestu knows the area well, having played parts of four season with the Blue Jackets. He has eight goals and 19 points in 60 games this season.

Perhaps some further context as well:

Who won this trade: Another one of these even deals, for the most part. Blue Jackets get depth, Predators grab a pick. But what do the Oilers gain in Aberg? He’s a cheap player going forward, but his metrics aren’t great. Maybe a change of scenery will help. Edmonton got something for a pending UFA, so that’s something.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Trade: Maple Leafs add depth, acquire veteran center Tomas Plekanec

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Trade deadline day could be a snoozefest at this rate.

The trade: The Toronto Maple Leafs acquire Tomas Plekanec and Kyle Baun from the Montreal Canadiens for Rinat Valiev, Kerby Rychel and Toronto’s second-round draft pick in 2018. The Canadiens will retain 50 percent of Plekanec’s salary in the deal.

Why the Maple Leafs are making this trade: Plekanec slides right into a fourth line center role with the Leafs as an upgrade over Dominic Moore. The 35-year-old’s production might be waning, but he’s still a solid two-way center that can be counted on to be responsible in the defensive zone. He could also move right into the mix on Toronto’s top penalty kill unit. Immediately, he could also help fill the gaps with Auston Matthews out of the lineup due to injury.

With the Canadiens retaining 50 percent of Plekanec’s salary in his final season of a two-year, $12 million contract, the Leafs can still stay busy in the trade market without immediate worry about cap woes.

According to CapFriendly, the Leafs still have $3,423,334 worth of cap room to play with.

Why the Canadiens are making this trade: Well, for starters, getting a return for Plekanec, a pending unrestricted free agent, was a must. And they certainly got a nice haul for him. The Canadiens, who look to be entering a time of rebuilding, now have four second-round picks — and nine total — in the 2018 draft after Sunday’s trade. That pick is the primary factor in this trade.

Rychel led the Toronto Marlies in scoring last season, but hasn’t been able to crack the Leafs after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Rychel was taken 19th overall in the 2013 draft and has 37 NHL games under his belt.

Valiev has 10 NHL games. He’s shown some promise as a depth, safe defenseman.

Who won the trade? It’s a trade that benefits both sides. The playoff-bound Maple Leafs add depth to the spine of the forward contingent. Also, they get a guy who has quite a bit of playoff experience. Plekanec has played in 87 postseason games, amassing 16 goals and 49 points, including 11 points in 19 games during the 2009-10 season. The Canadiens add another pick to their stable, and get two prospects that will likely get looks before the end of the season.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

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WATCH LIVE on NBC – 12 PM ET

PROJECTED LINES

St. Louis Blues

Forwards

Ivan BarbashevPaul StastnyVladimir Tarasenko

Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Sobotka

Alexander SteenPatrik BerglundNikita Soshnikov

Scottie UpshallKyle BrodziakDmitrij Jaskin

Defenseman

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo

Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko

Vince DunnJordan Schmaltz

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

Nashville Predators

Forwards

Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson

Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith

Scott HartnellNick BoninoCalle Jarnkrok

Miikka SalomakiColton SissonsAustin Watson

Defenseman

Roman JosiRyan Ellis

Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban

Alexei EmelinYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck