Lying in Wait

With the Tampa Bay Lightning pushing the Eastern Conference Final with the Boston Bruins to a seventh and deciding game, the Vancouver Canucks and hockey fans around the world, will have to wait a couple more days before the 2011 Stanley Cup Final is set in stone.

Regardless of the outcome in Boston on Friday night, there is no doubt that when the Finals get going, the skill on display will be off the charts.

Here's a little of what to expect once the puck is dropped on June 1st in Vancouver.

The Canucks have been at the top of the NHL standing since the early part of 2010-11, culminating in the club securing the President's Trophy in this, their 40th anniversary season. Vancouver is deep and talented at every position, and can draw on a compliment of stars to lead their team on any given night.

Henrik and Daniel Sedin combining with Alex Burrows has been as strong a line as any so far in the playoffs with the ‘Twins' working magic between one another and Burrows complimenting their talents as a hybrid finisher/grinder.

The Canucks also have one of the best, if not the best, two-way centre in the NHL in Ryan Kesler, who has garnered much talk for the Conn Smythe as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The rest of Vancouver's forwards fill out their lines admirably, with the team drawing on players such as Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson, Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre to provide an effective forecheck, timely scoring and the defensive prowess required to succeed in the playoffs.

As a compliment to their strong group of forwards, the Canucks are also deep on the blueline, with a defence corps that is very solid.

Kevin Bieksa, and Dan Hamhuis form a strong pairing that plays well at both ends and has,- especially in Bieksa's case – been chipping in on the offensive end as well.

The other four defenders (Christian Ehrhoff, Keith Ballard, Alex Edler and Sami Salo) can all provide both physical play, an effective first pass, as well as some scoring punch.

Between the pipes, Roberto Luongo is one of the best goalies in the business, and he has the numbers to prove it. His play in the 2011 NHL Playoffs has been solid, giving the Canucks exactly what they need on most nights so far this spring.

With no glaring weaknesses, the Canucks can patiently wait on the Bruins or the Lightning, getting healthy and re-energized during their time-off. Either team will be a worthy adversary for the Canucks however, and each would present their own set of challenges to the Western Conference champs.

The Bruins are led by their all-world goaltender, Tim Thomas, who makes easy saves look difficult and difficult saves look spectacular. Thomas, a Vezina Trophy finalist along with Luongo for the NHL's best goaltender, does not possess the natural gifts that Luongo has, but he competes and shows emotion at a level not normally seen from the men who hold down the crease.  

Thomas is supported by a strong defensive system put in place by Boston coach Claude Julien, one that works to minimizedamage and capitalizeon turnovers by the opposition. Captain Zdeno Chara is the anchor of the defensive system, with a solid supporting cast of  defenceman around him to anchor the Bruins approach to keeping pucks out of their net.

With a crew of centres who are also very aware defensively (Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverly) and wingers who finish and play physical (Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand), Boston waits on teams to make mistakes, while they work to limit their own, an approach that has proved effective when executed properly and something that could pose problems for the Canucks.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, plays their own unique style. Rookie head coach Guy Boucher has instituted a defensive system that many pundits have termed a 1-3-1 set-up. While not always as specific as the numbers suggest, the Boucher system is used to  force turnovers and transition from defence to offence very quickly.

With scoring stars like Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis,Vinny Lecavalier and Simon Gagne, the Lightning have no shortage of players who can put the puck in the net.

Players like Sean Bergenheim, Steve Downie, Teddy Purcell and Dominic Moore have also been vital to the success of the Lightning, with each having extremely strong playoff campaigns of their own.  

Dwayne Roloson has also been a key cog in the engine for Tampa Bay this postseason, providing solid netminding and keeping the team in almost every game. The Lightning's top-3 defenceman have worked hard to keep Roloson insulated and the trio of Victor Hedman, Eric Brewer and Mattias Ohlund have been formidable throughout their playoff run to the Conference finals. If the Lightning were to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, these players will be integral against the Canucks deep pool of forwards.

So there you have it. Only one game remains before the Stanley Cup Finals begins, but no matter who wins Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday, the true winners are the fans of hockey.

In what has been a remarkable post-season full of comebacks, late-game goals and many exciting overtimes from the 1st round until now, Vancouver-Boston or Vancouver-Tampa Bay are guaranteed to provide a few more memorable nights (and early mornings) worth of excitement!

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