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.

***

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.)

Kraft Hockeyville: Blues beat Penguins in tune-up for season-opener

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Much like Sunday night, the St. Louis Blues will visit the Pittsburgh Penguins for a game in Pennsylvania on Oct. 4. With that in mind, the more heated moments from tonight’s Kraft Hockeyville preseason match might be fresh on the minds of both teams when the games start to count.

In this case, the Blues carried the play from a variety of perspectives, including the final score of 4-1.

The Penguins got the first goal when Jake Guentzel finished a nice one-timer sequence set by Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary, yet St. Louis was able to leverage its possession advantages to goals that beat Matt Murray up high.

The first one came from a familiar face in Vladimir Tarasenko, who aims for a Maurice Richard Trophy in 2017-18.

The game-winner was from 19-year-old Jordan Kyrou:

Paul Stastny then iced the game with a 3-1 empty-netter with a little less than 30 seconds remaining. Dmitrij Jaskin then made it 4-1 with a nice, patient score with Murray sprawling on the ice.

Carter Hutton deserves credit for a sharp win, but the final score didn’t do Murray’s alert evening justice, as the Blues fired 45 shots on him. This was probably the save of the contest:

While the Blues and Penguins wanted to be alert in this one, the stuff they might remember came down to rougher moments. Things started to escalate when Crosby mixed it up with Alex Pietrangelo.

As a preseason contest, some of this will likely be forgotten by veteran Penguins and Blues, but the people of Cranberry, Pa. and Belle Vernon, Pa. won’t soon forget the Kraft Hockeyville experience.

WATCH LIVE: Kraft Hockeyville featuring Penguins vs. Blues

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are set to host the St. Louis Blues to celebrate the latest edition of Kraft Hockeyville USA, with the game beginning at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Find out more about Kraft Hockeyville winner Belle Vernon, Pa. in the video above this post’s headline (and also in this post). The game itself is taking place at UPMC Lemieux Sports complex in Cranberry, Pa.

NHL.com captures some of the spectacle, as about 2,000 fans showed up and players signed autographs during what sounded like a very fun event.

Speaking of very fun, all signs point to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin being among those players suiting up for the game itself.

Predators marvel at Fiala’s ‘beautiful’ work in preseason win

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Confession: It was difficult to shake the memory of Kevin Fiala‘s frightening injury from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you need a reminder of the scary moment that ended what seemed like a breakthrough run, the video can be seen above this headline.

Another confession: personally, there’s been some concern about how well Fiala can bounce back, at least early on. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the young forward is his blazing speed; what if that’s been taken away from him?

Now, scoring two goals in the Nashville Predators’ 5-3 preseason win against the Columbus Blue Jackets doesn’t mean Fiala will avoid missing a beat in 2017-18.

Forgive Predators fans for getting excited, anyway, especially with goals like these.

Wow.

Filip Forsberg got borderline-romantic about what Fiala did on Sunday, and again, can you really blame him?

Again, the true tests for both Fiala and the Predators begin in October. Still, it’s better to look impressive at this time of the year instead of to go in slow (or injured, as the unlucky St. Louis Blues seem to be doing).

Gaudreau, other NHL players approve of crackdown on slashing

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When slash after slash broke one of Johnny Gaudreau‘s fingers, he called it part of the game.

The Calgary Flames winger known as “Johnny Hockey” is one of the NHL’s most marketable players, so broken bones should be a problem.

Slashing has become such a regular element in NHL games that it necessitated 791 minor penalties last season with countless more going uncalled. Gaudreau’s broken finger and Marc Methot‘s lacerated pinkie brought enough attention to the issue that the league is taking a stronger stand on flagrant slashing this year to cut down on injuries and obstruction.

“I think it’s tough for the refs to make those calls in games: You don’t really know how bad a slash is,” said Gaudreau, who sat out two and a half weeks after surgery to repair a fractured finger on his left hand. “But if they can harp down or look at it a little more closely, I think it might cause a little less injuries. Guys won’t be missing substantial time. I think it’d be huge.”

It was impossible to ignore slashing when Sidney Crosby sliced Methot’s finger open during a game in March, forcing the defenseman to miss three weeks. No penalty was called, and Crosby didn’t receive any supplemental discipline.

After members of the league’s competition committee recommended a closer look at slashing, officials have been instructed that it’s OK to call it more this season. NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom said the rise in slashing over the past decade came about after the stricter enforcement of hooking and holding following the 2004-05 lockout with players finding new tactics to slow the game down.

“Players started slashing in between the hands and on the hands, and the whacking became hacking became something that became the norm in the game,” Walkom said. “It’s time to have a stronger enforcement to let the players know what they can and can’t do. If you’re going to be whacking a player’s hands six, eight feet from the puck, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be penalized if it’s seen by the officials on the ice.”

So many slashing penalties were called in the first few preseason games that it was somewhat comical. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere understands slashing but said he doesn’t know if it should be a penalty when no one knows why the whistle was blown.

Walkom sent a note reminding referees that the intent was to focus on slashes around the hands, not every time a player’s stick hits an opponent in the heavily-padded pants. Slashing at players’ hands will not only be an area of emphasis on the ice but also from the league office where new vice president of player safety George Parros is watching closely.

The former enforcer said slashes delivered with greater force or directed at players’ fingers will be met with fines and/or suspensions.

“We’re going to try and change player behavior,” Parros said. “We’re certainly trying to get rid of a pattern of a certain type of slash. If that’s like a harder slash on the fingertips as opposed to maybe in the elbow pad or something, that might be something we look at. And if it’s a pattern of a certain type of location slash or if it’s a pattern of a player, we’re going to look to eliminate both of those.”

Reducing unnecessary injuries is just one piece of this tighter enforcement. As with the crackdown on the hooking, holding and interference that mucked games up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, fewer slashes should open the ice up for offensive players at even-strength and potentially lead to more power plays.

“In some ways it’s going to put even bigger premium on getting body position and not being stuck in a position where you have to reach for a guy,” Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner said. “Usually that’s a positive sign for getting more opportunities to produce.”

St. Louis Blues coach Mike Yeo said he already noticed players slashing less often a few games into the preseason. That’s one of the intended consequences of calling certain types of slashes more.

“The players are the smartest people in the game relative to the game and they will adjust because nobody wants to sit in the penalty box,” Walkom said. “A lot of it’s reflex and habit, but the players will break old habits with a consistent enforcement.”

Old habits die hard, but it’s easier than healing broken bones.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey