CHICAGO, IL — Now that the NHL Stanley Cup finals are done and the outcome is known,we can look back and reflect, analyze and hypothesis on events that occurred and what might have been. The Vancouver Canucks and The Boston Bruins should both be commended on reaching the finals in one of the most gruelling of all professional sports playoff series. Just making it to the Stanley Cup Finals is a great achievement in itself which, I’m sure is not much of a consolation to the Vancouver Canucks or their fans but it is something they should be proud of. The 2010-2011 campaign somehow seemed even more physical and bitter than I can recall any of the previous contests in the last four Stanley Cup Final series being.
These two teams paths could not have been different to getting to the finals and the teams themselves a stark contrast in styles, perhaps the only commonality was both teams had superb netminders. The goalies however could not be more different in their style of play, personality, mental makeup, physical stature & their ultimate results. The series also was complicated by two opposite time zones which added to the difficulty to the series as well. Finally we must also note the teams represent two different cities in two different countries.
The Canucks road seemed to be the one smoothly paved in concrete with them having won the Presidents trophy for the NHL’s best regular season record. Besides getting a trophy you also are assured of home ice advantage throughout the playoffs which would on the surface coupled with the Pacific time zone to give the Canucks a huge advantage throughout the playoff. Their three series prior to the finals also were relatively easy with the exception of the 1st round against Chicago. It seemed as they went on the series got easier and easier for them and maybe they did once they cleared the mental hurdle of the Chicago Blackhawks. Their first round went to the 7 games with the last two being in OT to win.
Slaying your old nemeses has to instill confidence in oneself but the downside may have been that series took all the emotional strength they had. Round 2 versus the Nashville Predators a stingy, hard-nosed team only went 6 games but also took 2 OT games for Vancouver to win that series. Round 3 versus the San Jose Sharks was really a cake walk for the Canucks as they finished them off in 5 games albeit with a double OT victory 3-2.
The Boston Bruins has a seemingly much more grittier gravel road to travel to get to the Finals. Round 1 like Vancouver also saw the Bruins pitted against their bitter rivals the Montreal Canadians. This series also went 7 games and was decided in OT with Boston edging forward 4-3 and moving on to the next round. They then faced their old nemeses the Philadelphia Flyers who broke their hearts the season before when they eliminated Boston when they were up in the series 0-3 on Philly. This year however was a different story they not only got past the Flyers but did so in convincing fashion as they swept them in 4 games.
On they went to the Tampa Bay Lightening and another tough series that went 7 game & 2 in OT but they did emerge as the sole representative of the Eastern Conference with one more series to go. Unlike Vancouver who was #1 not only in their division & their conference they were also #1 in the league. Boston on the other hand was 1st in their division but 3rd in their conference behind, Washington & Philly and 7th in the league overall. All of this would point to statistically during the regular season they would be facing a much better Vancouver Canucks team with seemingly everything against them but still a chance. What we all know is statistics mislead and there is no question of the difference between regular season and playoffs hockey but could the Bruins turn all of this away and cease their chance? All Boston could do was show up and try.
The goalies on these two teams were both lauded as being the best of the best the NHL had to offer but just as geographically Vancouver and Boston are opposites on the North American continent so are their goalies. There really are no more words to describe Tim Thomas performances all through the playoffs and it’s no doubt a very strong contributing reason they got to hoist the Stanley Cup was due to his stellar work. He had the best record off all the NHL goalies statistically with a GAA 1.98, 798 playoff saves, 94% save percentage, 4 shutouts & yes 4 penalty minutes.
Enough about the stats, Tim Thomas at 37 years of age is seasoned to perfection and even though his stature is physically small at only 5′ 11″ he is an impenetrable force field in the Bruins goal. His goalie style is so unique I will only call it “Thomasian” with him aggressively being almost on the edge of his crease challenging shooters. I’m sure goalie coaches worldwide are studying it as I write. Maybe it’s not so strange he has 4 penalty minutes in the series final remember he did get in a Goalie fight with Carey Price of Montreal. Who can also forget his whacking deservedly so Alex Burrows when Burrows hack his stick away. His style might also be called pugnacious, then again he is from around Detroit area right?
Roberto Luongo ah where do I begin. I’ll start with the easier stuff the stats. He had GAA 2.56, 650 playoff saves, .914 save percentage, 4 shutouts & yes 0 penalty minutes. Luongo’s statical numbers were not the best in the playoffs a number of Goalies had much better numbers on the GAA front and Save %, Roloson, Howard, Neuvirth, Price, Crawford, Fleury Lundqvist & Miller had all better numbers. Thanks NHL.com for the stats. Luoooooooooo as the Canucks faithfully like to chant is a large physical presence in net at 6’3″ he like Thomas is older at 32 years but is of the classic butterfly style.
Luongo this year started to play deep within his crease in a more of a retreating style and maybe there in lies a glimpse to the huge differences in goalie attitudes. Thomas was going to go down swinging and Roberto was retreating. Even in his comments regarding people pumping his tires reveals a fragile psyche. It’s a tough thing when you do not have confidence in your self or if your fan, team mates or coaches don’t either. I’m not sure what Luongo need to do to alter his course but he has time to figure it out which I’m sure much of his off-season will be spent on not the technical aspects of goaltending but maybe the mental aspects of goaltending. He did remember win the gold for Canada.
Lastly the two cities and countries could not be more different themselves. Boston is an older city of the original 13 colonies of the USA. Boston had to whether the Boston Massacre, Tea Party & countless other battles in a new countries fight for independence. Boston is the cradle of liberty for the United States. Boston also is titletown USA. I heard somewhere recently that between all four major sports they have more championships than any other US city over the last 7 years. Vancouver, BC, CAN on the other hand is a relatively young city known for its beautiful scenery which makes it a popular tourist town. It like Boston is a port city. It was a logging community and their forestry is still the primary industry but is also a cultural city with many amenities. Vancouver however has never had to endure a revolution. There is something to surviving adversity and coming through to the other side and even tho the current residence in Boston did not fight the British the believe and resolve are there.
I read somewhere that a Bruins fan said prior to game 7 with the series tied 3 games apiece” We were not defeated by the British so we certainly will not be defeated by British Columbia.” I can not remember anything like the Burrows biting incident or the mockery in the aftermath at Patrice Bergeron or all the little cheap shots that were taken in this series & maybe maturity or lack thereof was an ingredient in the demise of the Canucks. If Tim Thomas and the tenacious fore-checking of the Bruins was not the difference possibly it was a quiet resolve and faith from a city to its team. The motto for the city of Vancouver is “By sea, land or air we prosper” – this time just not by ice.