Yes, yes, we're all excited about Winnipeg. Unless, of course, you live in Atlanta and are actually familiar with this sport we call hockey. But let's try and concentrate on the game between the boards.
Here we stand upon the final stage of the 2010-11 season. The Conference Finals could best be described as a small step-up from the second round, although the excitement levels never came close to the openers. A battle of wits between set systems. A physical battle that left many bruised and unable to smile. And a bounce to win a series that would make a trick-shot expert blush. Every strategy was implemented to gain an advantage, although we somehow avoided the dreaded bait-and-switch.
So who will lift the hallowed receptacle and claim victory over all comers? Will the Canucks take their first trophy and reclaim Canada's worth in this league? Or can the Bruins provide the New England region with a complete collection of the major titles in the last decade?
Stanley Cup Finals Preview
(W1) Vancouver vs. (E3) Boston (Season series: Boston 1-0)
Boston beat Vancouver on the road 3-1 back in February, but that result can quickly be forgotten. That was then, this isâ€¦well, much later. When two sides build this much momentum and have displayed sufficient strength in the last six weeks, it's pointless to judge a future champion based on a one-off situation.
The battle in net is too close to call. Tim Thomas may be 37, but has shown why he is clearly Boston's difference maker. And even if Roberto Luongo is arguably the best NHL netminder never to have won a Cup, he still owns the skills to shut down the opposition. Comparing their postseason stats turns is moot, since they're nearly identical (matching 2.29 GAA, slight edge to Thomas with .929 SV%).
On D, the Canucks boast more depth but a couple members have been or still may be injured. And while Vancouver has an advantage when it comes to offensive potential (13 to eight in goals scored), this group is more susceptible on the back end. Zdeno Chara gets most of the attention, but it's easy to forget about his partner, Dennis Seidenberg who adds to the attack (goal and seven assists) but also blocks a few shots (leads all playoff skaters with 55) and takes out a few victims (third on the team with 39 hits). Meanwhile, Tomas Kaberle may be the co-leader in points (at eight) but has done little else and has gained more attention for setting up opponents' goals.
Up front, both clubs enjoy enough scoring from multiple sources. After taking off most of the first two rounds, the Sedins (who combined for 18 points vs. San Jose) are rounding back into form. Ryan Kesler (18 points, plus-6, 55 hits, 22 blocked shots) has played the part of overall dynamo. The key for Vancouver lies in the performances of Chris Higgins (three in six), Mason Raymond (five in 11), and a solid contribution from anyone from their third line and beyond. And if he returns, Manny Malhotra will add a further defensive dimension and another solid faceoff man. Boston has been successful spreading out the attack among all four lines, noted by the added accomplishments of Chris Kelly (11), Rich Peverley (eight) and once-forgotten rookie Tyler Seguin (six in only seven contests). No worries about the top unit, as the trio of David Krejci, Nathan Horton, and Milan Lucic cemented their worth in the Tampa series (combining for 18 points).
Prediction: All the buzz surrounding this series should translate in the games, concluding the season on a high note. Either way, a near-40 year drought will end and a fitting champion will be crowned. Vancouver may possess an elite top line, a solid defense, and one of the steadiest goalkeepers in recent history, but Boston can match most of that and then ram more depth down your throat. Being Canadian, I may be in the minority when I sayâ€¦Bruins in six.
It may seem like an easier task to select the top-5 Conn Smythe contenders, but the decrease in teams can only lead to an increased debate over who should be placed where. Let's just say it almost doesn't matter in what position a certain player is now since their value will almost certainly change by the time the Cup is awarded. Heck, if I was giving out the MVP, I'd probably give it to everyone since anyone who has made it to this point is a winner in their own way. But since a list must be made, here you go: 1. Tim Thomas; 2. Ryan Kesler; 3. Roberto Luongo; 4. Henrik Sedin; 5. Nathan Horton.
After the Finals are done, you may want to spend time partying with friends and family. But it's important to keep hockey in mind this summer. Like when it's hot as hell outside and the opportunity to find a cold sanctuary is limited. Just remember you're never far away from the next drop of the puck. I'll be keeping tabs on y'all the next few months just in case you need that fix.
Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble. If you have anything to say about Evan's work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.