BOSTON, MA - MAY 27: Tim Thomas #30 and Johnny Boychuk #55 of the Boston Bruins celebrate their 1 to 0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 27, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
In this 2011 Stanley Cup Finals between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins, the defense-first B's will look to shut down the high-flying Canucks. Looking at history, skill almost always beats tight defense.
The Vancouver Canucks are as complete a top-to-bottom team as we've seen in a while in the Stanley Cup Finals, and their regular season statistics prove it. The Boston Bruins may not be your traditional defense-first underdog, but they still show a lot of the DNA similar to previous Cup finalists built around team defense and an outstanding goalie.
The bad news for the Bruins is that most of those defense-first teams failed to overcome their talented opponents. The good news for the Bruins is that their team is better than a lot of those squads. Let's go down memory lane and revisit the skill vs. defense battles of recent Stanley Cup Finals:
(You'll note that I'm not including the 2000 and 2001 New Jersey Devils on this list. While many remember the Devils as the team that defined the dead-puck era, those two versions were actually fairly high-scoring squads.)
2006: Carolina Hurricanes vs. Edmonton Oilers
Before Dwayne Roloson was brought in to pinch-hit as the Tampa Bay Lightning's go-to goalie, he led the Edmonton Oilers on a stunning run all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Carolina's squad boasted perhaps the deepest forward group in the league that year, a blueline-by-committee approach, and the birth of All-Star Cam Ward's career in net. Some forget that Roloson actually was injured early on in the series, and things may have turned out differently had he played the complete series. As it stood, the more talented Hurricanes took home the Cup.
2004: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Calgary Flames
The '04 Lightning boasted many name players at various stages of their careers: Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Dan Boyle, Nikolai Khabibulin, Fredrick Modin, Dave Andreychuk and more. The Flames were built in true Sutter style, as the Darryl Sutter-coached squad ground down the competition and thrived on two stars, Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff.
Ultimately, Calgary's will couldn't overcome Tampa Bay's skill, and Tampa Bay brought Lord Stanley to Florida.
2002: Detroit Red Wings vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Before 2006's talent-laden team, the 2002 Hurricanes came to the Cup Final as a team built by committee. There was some skill in the lineup but none of it compared to the team of Hall of Famers in Detroit. Detroit's squad featured an unreal collection of players: Steve Yzerman, Luc Robitaille, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, Dominik Hasek and more. Carolina's squad featured, well, a lot of hard workers.
While the Hurricanes stole Game 1 in overtime, the Red Wings roared back to win the series in five games.
Ah yes, the "No Goal" series. Well, even if the infamous Brett Hull goal wouldn't have counted, there still would have been a decisive Game 7 in Dallas, and the Stars would have been heavily favored for that contest. As it stood, this Stars squad featured Dallas the peak of their franchise; Joe Nieuwendyk, Brett Hull, Mike Modano, Sergei Zubov were head-and-shoulders above any player on the Buffalo team.
Buffalo featured Dominik Hasek in his prime, and the combination of Hasek and two-way players like Michael Peca took the Sabres all the way to "No Goal"...but not any farther.
1998: Detroit Red Wings vs. Washington Capitals
The second of Detroit's 1990s Stanley Cups, this Red Wings squad featured so many of the key players that defined the Red Wings of the decade. The Washington Capitals did have top-line forwards like Adam Oates and Peter Bondra, but they were more defined by their defensive style of play and the emergence of Olaf Kolzig. The pre-Ovechkin Caps, wearing their now-relic blue jerseys, failed to put a dent in Detroit's armor and the Red Wings got their back-to-back Stanley Cups with a sweep.
1996: Colorado Avalanche vs. Florida Panthers
When you think of the Avalanche, this is the team you think of: Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote, Claude Lemieux, and so many other heroes/villains of the era. Quick, name one of the 1996 Florida Panthers outside of John Vanbiesbrouck. (You get bonus points if you said Brian Skrudland.)
The Panthers built their identity as the ultimate team while the Avalanche overflowed with talent, which ultimately overwhelmed the Panthers and their rat-throwing fans in just four games.
1995: Detroit Red Wings vs. New Jersey Devils
This Red Wings squad was all over the leaderboard for team statistics, and this was supposed to be their ascent to greatness. Unfortunately for the Wings, it was two years before their time. The pre-Hockeytown Wings may have roared through the Western Conference that season, but a buzz saw in the form of the neutral zone trap made quick work of the Wings, stunning them in four straight games.
Those defense-first teams are all different; some had bigger names in net and others had a little more scoring depth. However, they all played defense by committee and that was what their systems were built on. Their opponents, however, all featured immense depth in nearly all positions, along with phenomenal regular-season play.
Again, it's good news/bad news for the Bruins. The bad news is that the only Cup winner in this group is the 1995 New Jersey Devils. The good news is that that particular Devils squad ripped apart a Red Wings squad that went 12-2 in the first three rounds, showing that every series is its own beast.
The NHL loves to play out its "History Will Be Made" theme. History isn't on Boston's side, so if they beat the Canucks, history truly will have been made.
The Stanley Cup Finals kick off Wednesday in Vancouver, as the Canucks host the Boston Bruins. For coverage on the Finals, stick with our Stanley Cup Finals hub, our Canucks blog, Nucks Misconduct, and our Bruins blog, Stanley Cup of Chowder.