Leading up to Wednesday's Game 1, Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy and Greg Wyshynski are previewing every facet of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks— on the ice and off the ice.
There are a lot of similarities between the forwards groups of the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks.
For starters, there's guys on either side that can bring both a physical and offensive game to the table. The likes of Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows can mix it up with the best of them, while putting one past your goalie at the same time.
Both have bottom lines that feature effective checkers who've chipped in offensively at times, as well as dynamic pivots in Henrik Sedin and Patrice Bergeron.
Both teams also added pieces at the trade deadline that have contributed more than they were expected to.
Who has the better group of forwards: Boston or Vancouver?
Before this year, Nathan Horton was sitting in Florida with the Panthers and barely got a sniff of the playoffs. Now in his first opportunity to play meaningful NHL games past mid-April, Horton's grasped the chance and run with it. His three game-winning goals in the playoffs are second behind David Krejci's four, with two of Horton's coming in Game 7's against the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Krejci had to sit and watch the Philadelphia Flyers come-from-behind last season as he was nursing a wrist injury that ended his season prematurely. Healthy through Boston's 18 playoff games so far, Krejci leads the playoff goal scoring race with 10 and has points in 10 of his last 12 games.
Rounding out Boston's top line is Milan Lucic, who after a career year during the regular season with 30 goals, has slowed down in the playoffs with just three heading into the Cup Final.
As the Bruins' top line will face Vancouver's top checkers, the second line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi will be key. Bergeron netted three points in his first three games after returning from a concussion suffered at the end of the second round, but he was shut out in the final two games against Tampa Bay. While offensively he wasn't there, Bergeron plays a huge role in the faceoff circle and helping Boston earn possession. His 62.3-percent success rate in the dot leads all players and if they get the opportunity, Bergeron versus Kesler will be something to watch in the circles.
The 43-year old Recchi is the only player in the series born before the Canucks were even a gleam in the NHL's eye. He's already said that should Boston win the Cup, he's hanging up his skates for good. Recchi's declined in the postseason, while rookie Brad Marchand has continued playing his hard-nosed game and is one to sell-out the body to block a shot.
Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, Michael Ryder and Chris Kelly make up the bottom half of Boston's four lines. Ryder continues his inconsistent ways, while Seguin is pointless in the five games after his six-points-in-two-games feat that had some declaring a star was born.
Peverley and Kelly were acquired via trade and the 19 points between them in the playoffs is a nice surprise for. Both have also played responsibly in the defensive zone blocking shots and have each won over 50-percent of their draws.
The bottom line for the Bruins' forwards is their depth needs to provide adequate scoring should the guys carrying the minutes struggle against Vancouver's checkers. A key goal here or there could make a difference, but in the end, if Lucic, Horton and Krejci go cold, things could be over quick.
Remember before the Canucks' series against the San Jose Sharks the talk about Henrik and Daniel Sedin needing to step up their games?
Well, they probably didn't have to, considering their production levels at the time, but in the Conference Final they made sure they were noticed as Daniel netted six points and Henrik quietly took over the points lead with 12 in the series. While Kesler slowed down a bit with just three points against San Jose compared to the 11 he scored against the Nashville Predators, he was a beast in the faceoff circle neutralizing Joe Thornton.
You know what you're going to get from the Sedins and Kesler. They're big game players who likely won't be missing from the scoresheet during the Cup Final.
Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond and Chris Higgins complete the top two lines. Burrows and Raymond complement the Sedins and Kesler quite well, but it's Higgins who's been much more valuable than the Canucks thought when they acquired him at the trade deadline.
In the past, Higgins has been relied upon to provide goals, but coming to Vancouver, that pressure wasn't there and he was slotted off the top line and was a checker for the Canucks in the early rounds, while potting four goals and dishing out 48 hits.
But important for the Canucks will be their checking lines to shut down the Lucic/Krejci/Horton troika up top. Keep them quiet and the Canucks will be looking good.
Jannik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre and Raffi Torres make up three of the seven Canuck players who are plus players. Lapierre leads all players with 63 hits, while Torres and Hansen bring energy to games that doesn't go unnoticed by their teammates.
"That's the energy we need from that line," [Mason] Raymond said. "When you got them doing that and contributing, that's huge. They are a real good mix. Raffi is a big body presence, he's going to finish his hits all the time. Jannik's got great speed that will stretch the D back, and Max is an all-round player. That's by far the most effective they've been."
Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault has played around with his fourth line plugging in Cody Hodgson, Victor Oreskovich, Alexandre Bolduc, Jeff Tambellini, and Tanner Glass throughout the playoffs, but the biggest addition might be Manny Malhotra, who was cleared to play after suffering an eye injury two months ago. Not only is Malhotra defensively responsible and capable of winning key draws, his presence back in the Vancouver lineup will definitely provide a boost.
We're going with the Canucks here.
It seems when part of their top lines have gone quiet, the rest have stepped up their games. Between Kesler's second round and Henrik Sedin's rise to the playoff scoring lead in the conference final, stopping the firepower that Vancouver will throw at the Bruins will be an incredibly feat.
Both teams are healthy heading into the Cup Final and should Malhotra play, he won't be a series-breaking addition, but he can be a difference maker and Vancouver has more of those guys playing at that level at the moment than Boston does.
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