Leading up to Wednesday's Game 1, Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy and Greg Wyshynski are previewing every facet of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks— on the ice and off the ice.
How deep is the Vancouver Canucks' blue line?
In the regular season, they saw Dan Hamhuis limited to 64 games, Alex Edler to 51, Kevin Bieska to 66 and the Oft-Injured Sami Salo to 27 … and still the Canucks posted the best team goals against average in the NHL (2.17) during their President's Trophy-winning campaign.
Keith Ballard, who has been a healthy scratch at times in the 2011 Playoffs, is a top 4 defenseman for about two-thirds of the NHL's other teams.
What the Boston Bruins lack in depth they make up for in height. Which is to say that the Canucks don't have a game-changing force like Zdeno Chara on their blue line, as the Bruins captain leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a plus-11 rating.
Which team has the better defense corps: Boston or Vancouver?
He's been a rock defensively, a contributor on offense, the ice-time leader and an essential part of Boston's run to the Stanley Cup Final.
And he's eight inches shorter than Zdeno Chara.
Yep, Dennis Seidenberg (28:22 TOI per game) has actually seen the most ice time for the Bruins, although Chara is right behind him at 28:17 and has a higher shifts-per-game average (34.2). As a duo, they've provided the foundation for many a playoff victory since being paired together in Game 3 against the Montreal Canadiens. From CSNNE:
Since the move to unite Seidenberg and Chara, the Bruins are 12-4 in the playoffs, and they've been unstoppable when focused on the task of smothering the other team's best offensive players. It's the exact kind of punishing, physical, strangulating defense that the Bruins hope with silence the Sedin Twins and Ryan Kesler once the Canucks get things going next week.
Said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli on Seidenberg:
"He's just so strong and he makes the right play. Strong on the puck, I don't know how often you've seen him lose a puck battle this series. Obviously we've had a couple of funky games. But he actually, he had a couple games like that with Carolina, and then last year he kind of fell through the cracks a little bit. But he's confident now. He's a strong, strong player. He's thick and he can log those minutes -- like those twenty-five plus minutes -- and recover very quickly. [He's] a very valuable piece of the puzzle."
A piece that was missing last postseason, but has been essential this season — including 55 blocked shots to lead the Bruins.
The B's second pairing is third-year man Johnny Boychuk (21:10 per game) with 11-year NHL defenseman Andrew Ference (20:23). Boychuk has shown flashes of brilliance and moments of befuddlement, but has been a physical presence on most nights. Ference has seven points, is a plus-6 and still thinks Montreal fans are No. 1.
Which brings us to Tomas Kaberle. Sweet, sweet Tomas Kaberle.
Brought to Boston as a reliable, puck-moving defenseman that could juice the power play, he's been somewhere between a non-factor and a liability in the playoffs, and the power play is atrocious. He's skating 16:31 per game, down from a 21:14 average in the regular season. Chiarelli thinks he saw some positive signs from Kaberle near the end of the Tampa series. Which is something you'd expect the guy who traded for him to say.
He's paired with inconsistent rookie Adam McQuaid, who thankfully hasn't tried to Rule 48 the end boards since the Flyers series.
For the Canucks blue line, it's about a signing that went down and a trade that didn't.
Getting Dan Hamhuis as a free agent last summer (6 years, $27 million) gave the Canucks a character guy and a mobile shutdown defenseman. What Vancouver did for Hamhuis was challenge him; he told the media after his signing that there were no promises made about ice time or his role based on his contract, and that the team would "play the guys that play the best." He's earned his ice time, which is at 22:40 per game, skating with Kevin Bieksa.
Ah, yes, Bieska, who has been nothing short of a revelation in the playoffs. He's skating 22:40 per night, leads the Canucks with a plus-10 and eliminated the Sharks on that quirky overtime goal — his fifth of the postseason.
He was also The Defenseman Most Likely To Be Traded after the Hamhuis signing and the Keith Ballard trade. But injuries necessitated he remained with the Canucks, and GM Mike Gillis never pulled the trigger on a deal. Instead, Bieska and Hamhuis have been one the playoffs' best pairings.
Leading the Canucks in ice time are Alexander Edler (24:17) and Christian Ehrhoff (23:59), who also both lead the defense in power play time. Ehrhoff has seven power-play points, good for fourth on the team, and is expected to be healthy for Game 1 after a shoulder injury. Edler's played stellar 'D' with just six penalty minutes.
Sami Salo (18:43 per game) is the only defenseman in the finals with three power-play goals and a Twitter feed for his testicle.
Aaron Rome has played in 11 playoff games, averaging 13:02 in ice time. Keith Ballard has played in nine and averaged 14:04. Both players will be available for Game 1, and having to choose between them for the sixth defenseman is one of your "good problem to have" scenarios.
On paper, it's a lot closer than what it's been on the ice, but the advantage here is Vancouver's. The depth is quality depth, and Hamhuis/Bieksa has been as solid a shutdown pairing as we've seen in the postseason.
Plus, Bieksa, Ehrhoff and Salo all go unrestricted this summer. When half of your defense is trying to jack up its free-agent asking prices, you know the effort's going to be there in the Finals. Bank on it.