Monday, June 13, 2011

One Win Away

This is it. For just the second time ever the Vancouver Canucks are playing to win the Stanley Cup. "Surreal" is the only word I can think of to describe what's going on in Canuck Nation. The Dream can be fulfilled tonight!

Throw all the numbers out the window. This is one hockey game and the Stanley Cup is on the line!

Pre Game Thoughts...

  • The obvious key to the game is scoring first, but perhaps more importantly the Canucks can't let the game get away from them by trying to be the team to score first. They played with fire in game 5 and got away with it. They can't allow numerous odd man rushes, Boston is bound to take advantage at some point.
  • Unlike games 3 and 4, the Canucks got something out of the 2nd line. They will need the same tonight.
  • Luongo was back on his game, but can he bring that game to Boston? If his team plays well in front of him, expect Luongo to deliver.
  • The Canucks need to score on the power play and they need to stay out of the penalty box. Blatantly obvious, yet so critical.
  • On the road the Canucks D is going to have a much bigger challenge. They've been awful in Boston, but the Cup is on the line. Time for the game of your life.

One hockey game.

One win.

Bring it home!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Two Wins Away

The Vancouver Canucks have been great in third periods all season long and game two of the Stanley Cup finals was no different. After a weak 2nd period the Canucks took over in the third and tied the game on a Daniel Sedin goal. Vancouver fans barely had time to sit down for the overtime as Alex Burrows ended it 11 seconds in on a great individual effort. Just like that Vancouver is just two wins away from the Stanley Cup!

The Keys to the Stanley Cup

The X Factor: Officiating
Unlike game one the zebra's finally let 'em play and called one of the better games we've seen for a while. The only bad call was Kevin Bieksa's delay of game where it was obvious on replay that the puck hit the glass before exiting play. Both teams got away from the post whistle scrums that were so common in game one and both teams were much more disciplined overall. The result of all that was fewer powerplay opportunities for both teams.
When they did get a chance the Canucks' powerplay struggled, but they managed to score late in their first opportunity as Burrows quickly shot the puck on net, fooling Tim Thomas who may have been expecting the puck to come off the backhand of Higgins stick. Boston took over play in the 2nd and looked confident and sharp on their second period opportunity which resulted in a Mark Recchi deflection finding the back of the net.
The prevailing theory heading into the series was that Boston would not be able to win the special teams battle. So far that hasn't been the case and that's a big reason why Boston almost escaped Vancouver with a split.
Battle of the Vezina Finalists
Roberto Luongo was once again razor sharp. He nearly stoned Lucic in the second, but the puck just managed to slide under his pad and he had no chance on the Mark Recchi deflection (although you could argue that he was a little deep in his net). His rebound control was once again stellar and he did an excellent job playing the puck out of his net. Tim Thomas on the other hand was good, but also over aggressive. He was often far outside his crease, getting caught up with players. His over aggressiveness resulted in both the tying goal by Daniel Sedin and the stunning OT winner by Burrows. So far the edge in this series goes to Luongo.
The Canucks Defense
The Bruins failed to get a forecheck going in game one, but they found one in the second period of game two. With Dan Hamhuis out of the lineup the Canucks' defense was much slower and was not nearly as good going back to retrieve pucks in their own end. Aaron Rome was forced to play more minutes than he should and while Andrew Alberts played well, the lack of footspeed really worked in Boston's favour. If I was Boston, I would find away to get more speed up front. David Krejci has been dangerous in both games, but with no speed on his wings his line hasn't been as effective as it could be. With last change in Boston the Bruins should be able to exploit Alberts and Rome a little more.
The Battle for the Conn Smythe
With Ryan Kesler quieting down offensively and Henrik Sedin pointless in the finals, another name may be emerging in the Conn Smythe race - Alex Burrows. Another game winner or two and he has to be considered. That said, Roberto Luongo has to be the front runner right now. His 2.16 GAA and .928 SvPct are absolutely stellar. Heading into the series I said that the Canucks needed just one of Henrik or Kesler to have a great series, turns out they may not need either of them to be great.

The biggest story of game two was of course the miraculous return of Manny Malhotra. Malhotra did exactly what you'd expect. He was outstanding in the faceoff circle, helped out on the PK, gave AV some confidence in the 4th line and inspired the home town crowd. The only negative aspect to his return was that Vigneault may have played the 4th line a little too much in the 2nd period. They got caught out against the Krejci line and as a result of their ice time the Sedins were limited to under 11 minutes through two periods. Henrik had just 6 shifts and 3:36 of ice time in the 2nd - that's simply not enough.

Finally, this is one of the funniest things I've ever seen in a hockey game:

2 Wins Baby!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Three Wins Away

It took until the final seconds of the third period, but the Vancouver Canucks finally beat Tim Thomas. Raffi Torres scored the winner on a great passing play by Ryan Kesler and Jannik Hansen. The Canucks are now just three wins away from the Stanley Cup!

The Keys to the Stanley Cup

Let's take a look at the four keys to the Stanley Cup...

The X Factor: Officiating
One of the biggest questions heading into game one was how were the officials going to call things? The answer: pretty tight. Both teams had six powerplays during the first two periods including 5 on 3 advantages, but neither team scored. The Bruins PP looked dangerous at times, but failed to really get any great chances. Their performance on a lengthy 5 on 3 was extremely tentative and a key turning point in the game. The Canucks on the other hand failed to show any urgency on their power plays. They hung on to the puck too long, didn't move around much and failed to get shots on goal. Expect the Canucks PP to be better in game two, but will they get many opportunities?
Also expect Vancouver to get away from the scrums after the whistle. The Canucks played into Boston's game plan in game one. Alex Burrows in particular got away from what the Canucks have done all year. The Canucks need to return their focus to the play between the whistles.
Battle of the Vezina Finalists
Both Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo were outstanding in game 1. Thomas came up with some huge saves early and was spectacular throughout. Roberto on the other hand didn't need to be spectacular because he was absolutely air tight - there were no rebounds or second chances. As the game went on it became clear that the Canucks were trying to get Thomas to move side to side as much as possible. Eventually it paid off on the Torres goal. Expect that to be the game plan in game 2 and beyond.
The Canucks Defense
As expected the Canucks defense core was excellent at retrieving pucks in their own end, negating the Bruins forecheck almost entirely. As a result Lucic and Horton were basically non-factors 5 on 5 and it was the speedier Boston forwards like Marchand who were the most dangerous. Without Dan Hamhuis the Canucks are going to have a little more trouble in their own end. The ability of Ehrhoff and Edler to go back, protect the puck, then move it to a supporting player was crucial in game one. Can Ballard or Alberts be as effective in game 2? At times both have struggled in that department this year.
The Battle for the Conn Smythe
Heading into the series it was Henrik vs Kesler. Now a new name has emerged, Roberto Luongo. Luongo's numbers since game 6 of round 1 are absolutely stellar. If he continues to play like he did in game 1 he will add a Conn Smythe & Stanley Cup to his Olympic Gold Medal and no one will ever be able to question his ability to win when it counts.

Game Two goes tonight. The Canucks will almost certainly be without Dan Hamhuis, but it's looking like Manny Malhotra will make his amazing return to the lineup. Malhotra skated today and is a "game time decision". Considering how much the 4th line played in game 1 I would say Malhotra is a go. Just having him sit on the bench all night would be a bigger contribution than Alexander Bolduc's 1:39 from game 1.

3 Wins Baby!