NHL Stanley Cup preview
The Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins will drop the puck on Wednesday night in game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals with both teams desperate to end long droughts and get their hands on Lord Stanley's mug.
The Canucks have twice been to the finals but have fallen short on both occasions - 1982 and 1994 and bear the weight of expectation from not only their own fans but also the rest of Canada as the last Canadian winners were the 1993 Montreal Canadiens. Boston will be in their 18th Stanley Cup finals but their last appearance was 1990 and they have lost their last 5 straight and will want to make up for those near misses.
The Vancouver Canucks are the justifiably the favourites heading into the finals after they won the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in their history and disposed of the holders Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators and fancied San Jose Sharks.
They have one of leagues best Goalie's in Roberto Luongo, who has now shaken off his reputation of failing to perform in big games after helping Canada win gold in the Vancouver winter Olympics, and if that wasn't imposing enough then in front of him is possibly the deepest blue line in the NHL. The 'Nucks also have plenty of talent up front with the Sedin twins racking up the points and Conn Smythe front runner Ryan Kesler. Having Manny Malhotra cleared to play after his eye injury is also a huge boost to the forward corps.
Boston come in to the finals having played in 2 deciding game 7's against Montreal in the conference quarters and Tampa Bay in the conference final with a series sweep over Philadelphia in the middle. Tim Thomas is the number 1 in Boston and had a record breaking season and had led the Bruins admirably in the post season, the defence is led by 6'9" man mountain and captain Zdeno Chara and the Bruins are one of the only teams with a top line that can compete with the Sedin twins with Nathan Horton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic.
The finals will come down to 2 men, the opposing net minders with tight edgy games and few goals and powerplay opportunities but I fancy Boston to be ending their drought with Canada and Vancouver left still waiting for a Stanley Cup north of the border. Boston have a solid team from front to back and hold an exceptional historic record over Vancouver and with Tim Thomas in net there will be no easy goals to get Vancouver momentum. They also hold one of the best road records in the NHL and can back up the form at home to erase Vancouver's home ice advantage. The big question mark over Vancouver for game 1 is how they will start after they had a long layoff after knocking out the sharks and I expect Boston to take full advantage with an early goal or two - especially if they can get over the power play problems that have haunted them in the post season.
Top Bets for the series
Boston to win game 1 - Vancouver have not had a competitive game for a while and Boston can take full advantage with a quick start Also for those of you that fancy Vancouver - the special of Vancouver to win from behind is at a very tempting 3/1
Series to be decided in 7 games (2/1) - with 2 teams matched as closely as these a deciding game 7 looks a real possibility, especially as both have had them in the post season already
Tim Thomas (9/2) - Conn Smythe trophy winner - If Boston are to be successful then Tim Thomas will be at the forefront of their top players, also he broke the NHL record for top save percentage and is 20/21 to have a better percentage in the finals than Luongo.