Bruins vs Vancouver set for 2011 Stanley Cup Finals

May 31, 2011 3:08 AM

The stage is set for the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and the two best teams from their respective conferences throughout the regular season will battle.

The Boston Bruins needed two Game 7 victories during the postseason to get back to the Finals for the first time since 1990. The last time this "original six" franchise hoisted the Stanley Cup was in 1972.

Vancouver took seven games to get past last year’s Cup champ Chicago in the first round, then went 8-3 in the next two rounds to reach the Finals. The Canucks have never won a Stanley Cup and will attempt to be the first Canadian franchise to do so since Montreal did it in 1993.

These teams have met just seven times in the last five years and only once this season. That occurred in February with the Bruins winning on the road, 3-1. Vancouver took a 1-0 first period lead, but Boston goalie Tim Thomas stopped 27 of 28 shots to outplay Roberto Luongo.

Without much matchup history to go on, we’ll focus on breaking down each team and trying to determine where the true betting value lies.

The series is being framed as the offensive minded Canucks against the tough defensive Bruins. That’s the marketing aspect to fans and sports bettors. I do not believe the data supports this claim.

A closer look reflects that these teams have had similar results on both ends of the ice.

The Canucks offense averaged 3.1 goals per game and their defense allowed only 2.3. The Bruins almost mirrored those figures, scoring 3.0 and allowing 2.4.

Both of these teams have a Vezina Trophy finalist in goal who can single handedly win a game. Luongo saved 54 of 56 in Game 5 against the Sharks to move on. Thomas shut out the Lightning in Game 7 to do the same.

Finally, each side has a head coach who is pushing all the right buttons at the moment. Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault stuck with the Sedins even after they struggled against the Predators, which proved the right move after they responded against the Sharks.

Boston’s Claude Julien’s move to put Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg together paid huge dividends defensively, while his show of loyalty to Johnny Boychuk earned him respect from his players.

If there is one big difference between the two it’s been on the power-play. Boston ranks only 21st in the NHL on the power-play while Vancouver is first.

So it seems this disparity with the man-advantage, coupled with the home-ice advantage, is the driving force behind the bookmakers listing the Canucks as -200 favorites in Game 1 in most all places around town. Wynn did have Vancouver -185 if you were looking for more value to bet the Canucks.

Remember, that price is very much indicative of "public perception" more than anything else. During those times throughout the year when public money outweighs sharp money, the lines and prices are offered with that public bias in mind.

I believe the betting value is on the Bruins at +180 for Game 1 and throughout the series as they try to take the Stanley Cup back to Boston for the first time since the Bobby Orr days in 1972.

When the home team wins Game 1, they go on to win the Stanley Cup Finals over 86 percent of the time (44-7). When the home team loses, the Series win total drops to 55% historically.

The team that wins Game 1 is also an excellent bet in Game 2, going 35 of 51 (64.8%). When the road team wins Game 1, they’ve taken a 2-0 series lead in 11 of 20 (55%) historically. Since the road team would be an even bigger dog in Game 2 after winning Game 1, it’s obvious this bet is a profitable proposition long term.

Bottom line: Public perception has forced oddsmakers to charge a premium on the Canucks so we are getting an excellent Bruins team at a discount.

Boston has connected on only 5 of 61 power-play opportunities in the playoffs (8.2%). During the regular season they converted 15.6% so a progression should be expected.

Also, the extra time between winning Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the Stanley Cup best of seven will give the Bruins the opportunity to work on their offensive power-play unit. Boston has a better record on the road than at home.

Look for the 37-year-old Thomas to come up big in the Finals. Chara, Adam McQuaid, and Seidenberg will be too much defensively for the Canucks. And Milan Lucic will be motivated to return Vancouver, his hometown, as will Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton.

All of the pressure is on the Canucks, the public and oddsmakers’ favorites. That, along with a Bruins team who have already defeated their nemesis Montreal and Philadelphia. Pick: BOSTON.