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.)

The Buzzer: Mac attack, Barrie impressive

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Players of the Night:

  • Click here for details regarding a clutch night from Jakub Voracek, who played a huge role with two goals (including the OT game-winner) and an assist for the Flyers in beating the Habs.
  • Frederik Andersen was stellar for the Maple Leafs, pitching a 40-save shutout against the Florida Panthers. Toronto only won 1-0, so they needed every save from their franchise goalie. Andersen tends to face a lot of shots on goal, and he’s put out some stellar performances in the process:

  • Two Avalanche players take the cake for players of the night, overall.

Nathan MacKinnon didn’t return to action, technically, on Tuesday. This was actually his second game back.

That said, it felt like Mac was truly back here, scoring the overtime game-winner and collecting three assists to help Colorado scrap its way to an OT win against the Canucks. With this output, MacKinnon has set a new career-high for points, and he has plenty of time to add to his already impressive point total of 65 points (25 goals, 40 assists).

Tyson Barrie was outstanding in his own right, arguably more impressive than MacKinnon. Quite ridiculously, the Avalanche scored all five of its goals on the power play, and Barrie collected a point in all five. He scored a goal and generated four assists, with three of those helpers being primary assists.

Injuries make Barrie’s fantastic work in 2017-18 slip under the radar a bit. With these five points in mind, Barrie now has 36 points in just 45 games. Over an 82-game season, that would translate to almost 66 points.

Highlight of the Night: Another fantastic Nikita Kucherov goal.

Kucherov already has 32 goals and 78 points this season. He edges Taylor Hall, whose fantastic coast-to-coast goal was good enough for a post, but couldn’t quite get it done for the Devils, who fell to Columbus in regulation.

Factoids

You have to love the neat-and-tidiness of Anze Kopitar scoring his 800th point in his 900th regular-season game:

Where do you think Alex Ovechkin will end up once he hangs up his skates, hopefully a long time from now?

So far, pretty good for Dion Phaneuf in Los Angeles:

Scores

Maple Leafs 1, Panthers 0
Blue Jackets 2, Devils 1
Flyers 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Lightning 4, Capitals 2
Predators 3, Red Wings 2
Sharks 3, Blues 2
Kings 4, Jets 3
Bruins 3, Oilers 2
Avalanche 5, Canucks 4 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

U.S. men’s Olympic medal dreams die in shootout

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The U.S. men’s Olympic team will look back at missed opportunities as they recall going without a medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

They rode nice play from some NCAA talent and KHL goalie Ryan Zapolski on their way to the quarterfinals, but that’s where the ride will end, as the Czech Republic prevailed 3-2 via a shootout. Petr Koukal was the only player from either team to score during that shootout, even with Troy Terry generating enough T.J. Oshie comparisons to get some encouragement from Oshie himself:

The shootout wasn’t the only area where the U.S. might experience some regrets. Both teams weren’t exactly potent on the power play, with the United States going 0-for-5 while the Czech Republic went 0-for-4. Still, the U.S. enjoyed a man advantage that spilled over from the end of regulation and into overtime, yet they barely created any chances.

From the coaching staff to players, there might be some lost sleep regarding that special teams work.

With this loss, the chase for a medal is over for the United States. Tuesday’s missed opportunities will sting, but many take some good things out of this team’s scrappy run to the quarterfinal round. There are rumors that the likes of Brian Gionta might see some NHL interest after the tournament, too.

The Czech Republic advances to face the winner between the OAR (Olympic Athletes of Russia) and Norway.

It’s not all lost for USA Hockey, by the way. The women’s team advanced to the gold-medal round after beating Finland 5-0.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers keep finding ways to win

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A wave of injuries may eventually capsize the Philadelphia Flyers, but not yet.

With both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sidelined – not to mention bad news for power forward Wayne Simmonds – the Flyers are likely to be tested down the stretch. It’s key, then, to grind out wins while they can, and they managed a tough one tonight.

In this specific case, it came down to getting goals from a sniper who’s become far more of a playmaker this season. Jakub Voracek sent the game into overtime and then scored the game-winner in a 3-2 OT win for the Flyers against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. Those two tallies pushed him to 13 on the season, a rare bit of puck luck this season for a player who brought a 6.4 shooting percentage into tonight’s action.

Voracek also grabbed an assist, beefing up his league-leading total to 55. The Czech winger’s dynamic performance helped the Flyers win their third game in a row, extending a point streak that covers most of their February games (7-0-2 in their last nine contests).

Taylor Hall‘s fantastic goal was all the Devils could muster in their game tonight, falling in regulation to the Columbus Blue Jackets. With those decisions in mind, Philly is firmly planted at third in the Metropolitan Division with 72 standings points. They’re even in the running for a round of home-ice advantage, if they can catch the just-as-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.

Heck, they even gained on the Metro’s top team, as the Capitals fell to the Lightning 4-2 tonight:

1. Capitals: 75 points in 60 games played (31 ROW)
2. Penguins: 74 points in 61 GP (33 ROW)
3. Flyers: 72 points in 60 GP (30 ROW)
4. Devils: 70 points in 60 GP (27 ROW)
5. Blue Jackets: 65 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
6. Hurricanes: 64 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
7. Islanders: 64 points in 61 GP (26 ROW)
8. Rangers: 59 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)

If nothing else, the Flyers are separating from the wild-card pack, as they have a nice edge over the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Islanders.

Such strong play could empower GM Ron Hextall to add some firepower. Such moves could help ease the loss of Simmonds, and ideally give Philly solid depth when everyone is closer to full strength.

They’ve already taken that step by adding goalie insurance in Petr Mrazek, who should be as hungry as the team he’s joined. It’s truly remarkable how far this team has come since a 10-game losing streak that ended on Dec. 2. No doubt about it, players like Voracek have played a big role in this strong work:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Video: Taylor Hall’s splendid coast-to-coast goal

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You’re not supposed to be able to do this. Not against NHL defensemen, and certainly not against a goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky.

New Jersey Devils star Taylor Hall continues to impose his will with dynamic play, beefing up his Hart Trophy resume as he keeps adding games to his point streak. On Tuesday, he extended it to a whopping 19 games.

Hall did it in style, grabbing the puck near his own red line, then traveling the length of the ice before beating “Bob” on his short side:

That’s the 25th goal of 2017-18 for Hall, who now has 63 points (possibly and counting) in 55 regular-season games.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.