On the premise that there is no time like the present to start worrying, here are the skeptics’ two main pieces of ammunition in questioning whether the Vancouver Canucks have what it takes to subdue the Boston Bruins and win the Stanley Cup.
In no particular order:
• Bruins ’keeper Tim Thomas has a 3-0 record and a 0.33 goals-against average vs. the Canucks, with two shutouts, the last three times he’s faced them.
• Henrik and Daniel Sedin have combined for zero points in their last four outings against Boston, in which the Canucks have scored a grand total of three goals. Henrik is minus-3, Daniel minus-2 in those games.
The only other post-lockout meeting of the teams, in 2005-06, Vancouver won 5-2, but we’ll toss that out of the case for the defence on the basis that it featured the goaltending duel of Hannu Toivonen and Alex Auld.
So, for all the perfectly good reasons to believe in the Canucks’ chances, there are those two fairly significant flies in the ointment.
Small sample group, you say?
In fact, that’s the Canucks’ entire counter-argument.
They did lose 3-1 to the Bruins here at the end of February, and that loss they’re willing to wear. But as for the other games, as widely-spaced as hen’s teeth ...
“One game in the season is probably not reflective of how both teams play on a regular basis,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “It can be, but since we don’t see each other very often, I don’t think you can put too much emphasis on the stats from that one game.”
“We played them, I think, twice in Boston in the six years I’ve been here,” said Alex Burrows, the third Sedin twin, “on long Eastern road trips, playing an afternoon game there, so I don’t think you can read too much into it.”
Daniel Sedin, the 2010-11 scoring champion and Hart Trophy finalist, professes not even to be aware of the stats.
So when asked what conclusion may be drawn from the Thomas mastery and the twins’ lack of production against Boston, Daniel Sedin said: “Nothing. We play them once or twice a year.
“You can have a bad game every 82 games and you happen to play Boston. Or you could have a heck of a game. So you can’t put too much emphasis on that, other than we know he’s a great goalie and we know it’s a good team over there, and it’s not going to be easy.”
That doesn’t mean anyone believes Boston’s recent ability to handle Vancouver is mere coincidence.
“I know they beat us last time in here, and it’s a top team in the league and they’re in the finals, so whoever you play you know it’s going to be a tough battle,” said Daniel.
A large — like, six-foot-nine large — piece of the puzzle in stopping the Sedins has been defenceman Zdeno Chara, and there is no lack of respect for the job he does in neutralizing most of what ventures inside his reach, which must be 20 feet from side-to-side, including stick.
“Obviously it’s a challenge for us to try to generate, when he’s on the ice,” said Vigneault.
And then there’s Thomas, the Vezina Trophy finalist with no known goaltending style but a staggering ability to stop the puck.
“He’s tough to read, and he battles like crazy for every puck,” Daniel said.
Thomas can be a game-changer, and though he’s been off and on in these playoffs, the comparison with Canucks’ Roberto Luongo is apt to be among the most analyzed elements of the series.
On the other hand, the Canucks have prevailed against heroic goaltending all through the post-season. If Thomas is any better than Nashville’s Pekka Rinne was in Round 2, we’ll have to see it to believe it.
Bruins’ head coach Claude Julien thinks Thomas’ experience in the playoffs this spring will be a factor.
“I think it’s been good obviously for him, but for our whole team,” Julien said, “what we had to go through these playoffs and the so-called ghosts that we had to overcome. And Montreal was one of them, Philly last year.
“Everybody talked about all the negative things that we went through in the past and we were able to stay focused and overcome that kind of stuff. So it’s helped us grow in regards to being prepared for the finals. That goes for Timmy and that goes for most of the team.”
For his part, Thomas doesn’t place too much stock in his ability to shut out the Sedins.
“I mean I played against this team this year once, so the other two times that I’ve played against Vancouver it’s not even worth really comparing because they were a different team and we were a different team,” said the 37-year-old. “It really has no relevance. It’s kind of like why did I have pretty good success against Ottawa? Or Philadelphia in Philadelphia? There’s no rhyme or reason to it, it just happens to be the way it’s worked out.”
Julien, though, believes there are things to learn from the last two Bruins-Canucks games, in particular.
“I know we went in there and played a pretty solid game (in February), but also we played a pretty solid game the last game we played (in Boston),” he said, of a 3-2, Saturday afternoon shootout win in early 2010, the fourth of the Canucks’ 14 consecutive road games around the Vancouver Olympics.
“There weren’t many mistakes in that game either and we played our game, played tight checking and forecheck and were a physical team and really battled hard against those guys. And that’s what is going to have to happen.”
‘Twas ever thus. The Bruins don’t play it any other way.