Coming into the series much was made of the fact that Daniel and Henrik Sedin are likely to win the Hart Trophy back to back. A truly worthy accomplishment. This accomplishment is no doubt aided by a division that was almost certainly the weakest in the NHL last season, but still requires hard work. As the conference finals ended there was even talk of one or both of them being near the front of the pack for the Conn-SmythTrophy. The title up above is not in jest, it is a serious question. At a total cap hit of $12,200,000.00 they make up a larger concentration of salary than any two Bruins forwards. And yet of all the forwards who have been in the Bruins lineup for all five games this series they combine for as many points as Kelly, Lucic or Paille.

The surprise isn’t that there are so few names on that list, or even who they are just that there is a list. Not only are they not scoring, the other elements of they game they could bring are sorely lacking. At center Henrik has dismaying 40.78 faceoff win percentage to go with his zero points. Daniel Sedin at wing has two points, and four points. In comparison Patrice Bergeron has three points and a 54.04 win percentage in faceoffs. Michael Ryder who’s had to adjust to ever changing linemates has four points, and seven hits.

Unlike Ryan Kesler who is well known to be nursing a lower body injury, there has been no hint of an injury to either Sedin. True, a physical injury could well be something that happened in a practice or even while traveling or at home. I watched much of the San Jose Sharks series, and all of this one and I haven’t seen any sign of physical ailment despite their going up against several physical players and even one of them flying into the boards after charging Brad Marchand. I still have no idea why, other than facing the Bruins defense, the Sedin twins have so lacked in effectiveness in this series. If you eliminate a physical ailment, that leaves a vanishingly small number of possibilities.

With the extra day off since the last game you have to wonder which two teams will be seen on the ice tonight. The last time the Canucks skated the Garden ice they were hardly in position to impose their will on anything. Somewhere between the third period of game four and the start of game five, the Bruins lost their edge.

  • How bad is Kesler’s injury, and will the Bruins go after him early and often with solid body checks?
  • Can the Sedin suppression system keep them smothered?
  • What will the special teams look like tonight?
  • Will the Garden crowd stay with the Bruins all the way through the game?
  • Will there be cameos by Horton and Savard?
  • What insane things will be said by the talking heads tonight?

Do you Believe in Boston?

Like many hockey observers I’ve been puzzled by the Vancouver Canucks for a quite some time. They have a solid amount of talent. They even assembled some pretty impressive depth. What mystified me for most of the last week or two is how they could have assembled so many misfits and insensible boors in one place.

One of the Sedin’s went on a clearly well rehearsed rant the other day about what a talking head said about him and his dear twin. Well, guess what? When you’re an athlete or other entertainer the people who’s job it is to dissect the performance of your branch of entertainment will occasionally do something other than pat you on the head and say “good boy”, especially when you’ve earned a swat in the head. Anyone who can take shots at the maturity of another adult but who together has held up NHL franchises not once but twice by refusing to play without your twin brother has no basis for questioning other peoples maturity. Clearly there’s nothing in the world more offensive than a pop culture reference to describe the play of more than twelve million dollars worth of not very much. Personally I’d have gone with Flora and Fauna Addams, but that’s just me.

Riding shotgun with the Insecurity Twins is a player who actually bit another player during a scrum. He then claims he didn’t bite him or that it wasn’t intentional. Somehow he didn’t get suspended. Ruutu and Avery among others would love to get that leeway.

The Aaron Rome hit speaks for itself, and I’ve covered it in previous posts. In summary at best it was a case of a mental lapse. Most likely it was the arrogance this team has shown from the word go. Functionally it doesn’t matter, except to Nathan Horton who was knocked cold by a disgusting lack of sportsmanship, his family, the Boston Bruins, their fans, and of course the millions of people who have come to loathe this iteration of the Vancouver Canucks.

The latest is of course the waffling of the Canucks goalie on his statements regarding the man likely to beat him for another Vezina trophy.  First he claims to he would have made the save on the one goal Thomas allowed. Which brings you to wonder how he could possibly have allowed 12 goals on less than sixty shots in the previous two games. Anyone who’s had the chance to peruse the stats for the two goalies has to ask themselves if Luongo’s graps of reality would be helped with a little less time spent on his well oiled locks.  Tim Thomas not only has better career regular season numbers than Roberto Luongo but also has better career playoff stats. This is no doubt surprising to anyone who only looked at or heard his comments given that Luongo is claiming to be a better goalie. Not only is the Vezina winner consistently better in both the regular and post season he’s consistently improved upon his regular season numbers in the playoffs, this is not something anyone well informed could say about Luongo’s own post season adventures.

But the on ice arrogance of the Canucks should surprise no one. The front office is clearly culpable in crafting this masterpiece of moral ambiguity. Just before the series started the favorite hatchet man, drinking buddy, and advice guru of General Manager Mike Gillis penned an opus declaiming the evil aligned against Vancouver’s brave warriors. I’m hardly a fan of Colin Campbell (go search his name or ‘wheel of justice’ in the search box) but it was amazingly coincidental that Tony Baloney dropped this article just days after the Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in years? Neither Campbell or the office of discipline have shown themselves to be friends of the Boston Bruins over the past few years. One wonder what he and they would have spun up had another team advanced.

Earlier today Aaron Rome of the Vancouver Canucks was suspended for four games. I’ll save the behavior of Henrik Sedin and Alain Vigneault for another post since that could easily spiral into pages. As a fan who’s team has been on both sides of suspension rulings I’m heartily ambiguous about this suspension. When Marc Savard was hit by Matt Cooke I felt that was clearly an intent to injure and should have been a very long suspension. When Marc Savard was again laid out by former Bruins defenseman and current member of the Colorado Avalance Matt Hunwick I watched the replay three times and said “clean play”. When Marchand was suspended earlier this year I looked at the play, said “Ok, I get why and how this happened late hit, boneheaded, but not intent to injure.”

Comparing this to some of the other suspensions from the season we see repeat offender Matt Cooke with four games for charging and boarding, Daniel Paille two games for a hit to the head, James Wisniewski for two games for an obscene gesture to another player. So we’re lead to be the confusing conclusion that actually knocking someone out of the game for who knows how long in the Stanley Cup Finals is equally as bad as boarding and charging, twice as bad as a penalty that at worst left a player offended and likely amused, but also only twice as bad as another hit to the head by a first time offender. Diving a little further into the suspensions list, apparently smashing your stick into someones head is one fourth less bad than hitting someone with your body, as Olli Jokinen’s suspension clearly illustrates.

With that pure and unambiguous set of guidelines let’s dive into the case. Some of these are reasons I believe, others are what different people ahve put forward, and some are merely probable conjecture.

Too Long:

  • It’s the longest suspension in Stanley Cup Finals History, and is in fact longer than all three other suspensions put together.
  • Rome is a first time offender.
  • The rule is ambiguous and based on the precedent of intent on the Burrows bite, intent is important.
  • It was a clean hit.

 

Too Short:

  • The rule has been in place for a year, and players have had time to adjust
  • The other events of the series mean there was “a history” between the players.
  • Its the Stanley Cup Finals, the games are very important and a player who is knocked out through no fault of their own is lost to their team for far longer than any suspension.

While, for the sake of the game I could wish the suspension was longer, I actually think there NHL got this one as close to that near-mythical-beast “right” as is possible. By setting a bar this much higher than previous situational suspensions (preseason vs regular season vs playoffs vs Stanley Cup Finals) they have a clearly stated precedence they can apply to future escalations.

Having watched the hit about twenty five times now for the sake of uniformity I have to give my opinion. So:

  1. Yes it was late.
  2. Rome did leave his lane, step into the path  of Horton and turning his body to apply his shoulder.
  3. There was head contact.
  4. Rome’s hands, stick and elbows were down.

Those are the salient points. While the hit was clearly late, I can’t honestly call it malicious. If Rome hadn’t left his own lane and realigned his body it would be incidental contact.

 

The Bruins played forty solid minutes that while not spectacular, were of major breakdowns in game one. At one point they kept the Canucks from getting a shot on goal for several minutes at a time. The third period is a different story. Tonight the keys are simple.

 

  • Keep the Sedins from cycling.
  • Make efficient line changes.
  • Keep the defensive quality high.
  • Drive the net, jostle Loungo early.
  • Screen Loungo whenever possible.
  • Play sixty minutes.

 

 

Over the last two and a half days the watering down of the potential storylines has become greatly apparent. It isn’t a surprise, or news that this leads to some pretty putrid press production.  But the influx of non hockey media into the sport at this time of year just makes it worse. After reading stories in various newspapers by baseball and football journalists who decided to notice hockey every few years, I’m 100% convinced that having shy four year olds with missing teeth and chocolate smeared on their face asking players questions would be better than some of what I’ve seen.

  • “What’s your favorite color Mr. Kesler?”
  • “Can your Mommy tell you twins apart?”
  • “Are you scared to fly?”
  • “Why didn’t you bite him back?”

And half a hundred other questions would make for more compelling reads than entirely too high a percentage of the sewage being poured out in bits and bytes.

One of the most nausea inducing questions turned story length waste products is the “Oh what a devastating loss this was for the Bruins?” article and talking point that has been running across sports radio and media like a bad flu. Really? These guys have this year lost after taking large leads, had blatantly biased officiating against them, seen three players go down with concussion on the ice, and lost a game in which their captain was ejected for a clean, if late hit in an unfortunate area of the rink. On the scale of devastating running from merely ok sex to having to listen to Gary Bettman kvetch about not knowing how to explain something to his daughter, this loss probably ranks pretty low,  right around having the in-flight meal delayed by turbulence for half an hour.

As I mentioned over at Inside Hockey the core groups on these two teams are a little different, as is the team balance. A few more posts will break down other portions of the teams.

Canucks:

Top Line: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows (except when it’s Kesler) This is purely an offensive line. Burrows does what heavy defensive lifting this line does. Daniel Sedin is the shooter, Henrik is the setup man.  Burrows is also what physical presence this line has. With 26 hits in his 18  post season games Burrows is 8th on the team in hits, the twins have combined for 11.  Together the line is a -4, all three see heavy powerplay time with the brothers Sedin ranking one and two. Henrik Sedin won the Hart last year, Daniel is likely to have one for his very own this year.

2nd Line:

Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler, Chris Higgins this is as much a second offensive line as a checking line. Kesler who most will remember from his play for USA during the past Olympics is second on the team in points, tied for second in goals, leads all Vancouver forwards in TOI and is instrumental to the lineup in all situations. Raymond also gets a lot of PK time. This trio is a combined +12. With 118 hits between them this is a very different look from the first line.

3rd line:

Jannik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre, Raffi Torres, with a combined five goals in the playoffs its easy to overlook this line. Torres is the teams best know walker of the fine line between legal play and suspension worthy violations. Lapierre leads the team in post season penalty minutes, has four 10 minute misconducts to his credit, 1 diving, and 1 unsportsmanlike among the standout to his credit he’s also second for forwards on the team in blocked shots, and has an over 50% rating in the faceoff circle. Hansen was healthy enough to play all 82 regular season games, and each post season game with respectable minutes, and few penalties.

4th line and others:

Tanner Glass, Cody Hodgson, Victor Oreskovich, make up the 4th line as currently configured and average under eight minutes a game each. Combined they have about fifty hits, are a -11 and have one point.

Manny Malhotra is a faceoff guru with strong defensive skills who hasn’t played since March. He suffered an eye injury, and has just recently been cleared to practice and or play again depending on which source you are listening to. Vancouvers head coach has been coy on if he would play or not, and Vancouver and national media have speculated that if he does he would be matched up against the Bruins top line.

 

Bruins:

Top line:

Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Nathan Horton, with a heavy hitter with loose gloves on either wing a quick look at the regular season statistics page might convince you they were fourth line bangers. On the other hand, both Lucic and Horton have racked up thirty goal season in their careers, Lucic with his first this season, and Horton with his in 2005-6. David Krejci is the center, he is often very high or very low in production, but has either lead outright or tied for the Bruins points lead in the last two seasons. The three were together most of the season and own seven of the Bruins 12 game winning goals this post season. This line is a combined +24.

2nd Line:

Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi, while non of the three on this line is particularly large, they don’t appear to know it. With none of the three topping two hundred pounds they own three of the teams top six hit slots for forwards with Bergeron second only to Vancouver native Milan Lucic in hits. Bergeron is the playmaking, faceoff dominating center who is good in all three zones, owns a short handed goal this post season, and has a knack for unassisted goals. Marchand is a speedy pest with good hands, vision and looks nothing like a rookie. Mark Recchi is the NHL’s elderstatesman and the future hall of famer has a finely tuned sense of where to be and which way to lean. Not as fast as he was ten years ago, he still manages to make his time on the ice count. This line is a combined +19

3rd line:

Tyler Sequin, Chris Kelly, Michael Ryder. The teen sensation has only played seven of the post season games, but has applied lessons picked up all season to be effective. He had a four point period against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and possesses both breakaway speed and hard, accurate shot. Could be slightly more effective defensively. Michael Ryder has had his best post season in a Bruins uniform, he’s been physical at need, defensively sound, and has used his quick hands to score five goals, two were game winners. Kelly, is the steady defensive rudder at center on this line, plays tons of time short handed and generally one of those players who flies under the radar unless you follow his play closely. This line is a combined +15

4th line and others:

Rich Peverley, Greg Campbell, Daniel Paille make up the fourth line we’ve seen the last several games. Peverley and Paille own above average speed, and neither Paille or Campbell shy away from a hit, if it can be made without giving up defensive position. All three are among the top five penalty killing forwards and frequently on the ice to protect a lead in the waning moments. Peverley had been on the third line before an injury to Bergeron allowed Seguin back into the lineup, and will likely see time on other lines as forwards are rested, injured or penalized. This line is a combined +1

Shawn Thornton, resident beat cop and generally rides with Paille and Campbell, while more known for his work with his gloves off did rack up ten goals and ten assists this season. He was made the odd man out when Seguins ascension and Bergeron’s returned. Quietly important team leader.

 

Final comparison:

While the Canucks have the clear advantage on the powerplay, at even strength the advantage is muted or removed entirely. The Bruins come into this series with more goals scored (58 to 50), and quite a few more even strength goals, with the Bruins putting together 47 even strength goals and the Canucks just 30 the teams are even in four on four goals with one a side. Essentially the Canucks have higher scoring players, but the Bruins have more players scoring.

This is short series of posts that together with the one I have written for InsideHockey about the cores of the two teams, will give the fans of all degrees and access to the teams a basic understanding of who is on the ice. I probably watched ten to twelve Vancouver regular season games and about as many post season games. For the Bruins, the regular season number is around seventy, and I did see all the post season games.

Team power matrix:

Vancouver: Fast moving, team with high end scoring talent, a goalie that is just starting to be recognized as a playoff producer, and a concentrated high end talent group with good role players. The defensive depth of this team is impressive, but has suffered various injuries

Boston: A hard working, physical team who excel when they stick to the system, scoring and defense have definite leader but the scoring burden is spread out over more shoulders and sticks than Vancouver.

Forwards:

Vancouver:  Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Daniel Sedin and Alex Borroughs lead the Vancouver Canucks in scoring. Together they have combined for ten powerplay goals this post season, the rest of the roster has seven.

Boston: David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand are the points leaders and they have about 2/5ths of the teams post season powerplay goals.

Defense:

Vancouver: The Canucks defense is fueled off the time on ice leaders Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamuis, who have each averaged a bit under twenty six minutes a game. A solid workload, but not crushing. Bieksa is a +10 and Hamuis is a +5 with a bit less scoring to go with it. Behind them are Ehrhoff and Edler as the next two most important defensemen, the two have combined for more points than the nominal top defenders, but have been less reliable defensively speed plays a big part in both of their games.

Boston: Norris trophy winning, player voted toughest to play against, and largest man to ever play the game Zdeno Chara leads the Bruins defense. He uses both the four “s’s” (smarts, speed, stick, strength) to keep himself in the game at all times. Frequently paired with him is Denis Seidenberg who has exploded this post season into one of the stories media types and fans alike love, he’s actually averaging more minutes this post season than Chara. Behind these two the picture is a little less clear. Adam Mcquad has very quietly picked up more hits than Ference or Kaberle who play more minutes, without a single penalty. Johnny Boychuck has had the highest of highs with a game winning goal and the lowest of lows in game 6 vs Tampa Bay where he was on the ice for all five goals against (and two for). Andrew Ference is fourth in total time on ice, and is the fastest of blue liners to suit up this post season. Thomas Kaberle has had more than one shakey game since arriving just ahead of the trade deadline but seems to shaking down into place. Kaberle leads the blueline in powerplay time.

Goaltending:

Vancouver: Roberto Luongo is the starting goaltender for the Canucks, and has started all but one game this post season. He’s been chased twice in favor of backup Cory Schneider who started one game. In 18 games they have allowed 48 goals on 523 shots on goal. Luongo is a more traditional goaltender than his Bruins counterpart, but is is a bit more likely to move the puck and to drop his stick to make a save.

Regular season numbers: Luongo 60GP .928 sv% and 2.11 GAA, Schnieder: 25 GP, .929 sv% 2.29 GAA.

Boston: Tim Thomas spent played all 18 games of the Bruins post season allowing just 43 goals on 603 shots. Any goalie coach putting together videos of unorthodox goalies in the hockey world today will probably begin and end their video with Tim Thomas. Often criticized for his scambly, acrobatic style, he’s got one Vezina trophy to say it’s not a fluke, and a second one is likely to be awarded this summer to punctuate that statement.

Regular season numbers: Thomas 57  GP.938 sv% and 2.00 GAA.

Today is the day. By the time the last and most enduring hockey fan has wound down and gone to bed, we’ll know who managed cowboy up and get’erdone, and who more greatly resembles the Joe Thornton of Playoffs Past. The three different series will be played in two nations but the lingua franca of the street is success at any cost.

In the Bell Centre, we’ll see the Boston Bruins face down their rivals and personal demons when they take on the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs jumped out to a two game lead in this series and looked like they would dominate it the way they did the regular season series. Then came game three right in the Bell Centre where tonights game will be played. The Bruins took a 2-0 lead in the first, and maintained their lead the rest of the night for a 4-2 win. The next game was a much closer affair that featured both amazingly good, and amazingly bad goaltending in each cage.  Michael Ryder opened and closed the scoring with the type of goals that will always make highlight reels.

Then the teams returned to the Garden. Boston has had a well covered weak performance at home all season. Despite the momentum of two wins up north, no one was certain what would happen.  It took almost three quarter of regulation for someone to find the back of the net as both Thomas and Price shined in net and performed at the level their fans hoped they would. Halpern would tie the score ten minutes later. What followed capped off the best game of hockey I’ve seen since the first match between the USA and Canada at the Vancouver Olympics. Regulation was not enough. A single overtime, was not enough. The game took over Twitter, Facebook and other social media. In double overtime in front of millions of fans, Nathan Horton proved he had the chops to get it done in the playoffs.

 

Vancouver is the Presidents Trophy winner, The Chicago Blackhawks, despite being the defending champions squeaked into the playoffs when the Minnesota Wild failed to qualify on the last day. The Canucks started the playoffs out with a blast, shutting out the Blackhawks in game one, and winning games two and three without the need for overtime. No one has seen that team since. In game four Chicago would fill the score sheet with seven goals and six different goal scorers. Game five was as five nothing pasting that saw Hossa and Keith draw blood twice and Kane light the lamp. Game six was at least a better showing, the game went to overtime, but they coughed up a lead after the first period.

 

The two versus seven matchup in the east couldn’t have greater contrasts if you’d designed them in from the ground up. While both teams have their superstar leaders, Miller and Pronger, that’s about all they have in common. The Sabres are as blue collar as teams get in the current NHL.The well traveled Mike Greier is just as heavily relied upon as rising defenseman Tyler Myers. The Flyers were among the elite in scoring with six players who had twenty or more goals. The Sabres were more towards the middle of the pack with just four. Pronger is known as an abrasive, sometimes dirty and physically imposing figure. Miller has always been more contained, cool and focused.

The series has swung back and forth between the two teams with Philadelphia picking up games two and three between to 1-0 shutouts, games five and six were both split in overtime and tonight we find out which team has the stones to advance.

While the Boston-Montreal series is only at game six, in this case momentum wears a spoked-B. The Bruins will need leading scorer Patrice Bergeron to continue his dominance, and the Canadiens will need Mike Cammalleri to assert himself and be accountable defensively in order to succeed. The Buffalo-Philadelphia series will be won by whichever team puts in a complete game effort tonight. The question in the Vancouver-Chicago matchup is if the Wonder Twins and Ryan Kesler can snap out of their funks and rise to the occasion or if they will continue to be out scored by the likes of David Bolland and Corey Crawford. Whichever way each game goes, there is zero chance of it being boring.