Well the round didn't go exactly as planned. Timmy Thomas came through with another series win, but the Sharks got hammered, which leads me to the conclusion that I should obviously stop betting against the Canucks. Not only have they proved to be the best team in the league, my betting against them isn't giving them the kind of bad juju it was intended to (neither has growing - and then shaving - an anti-Canucks playoff beard). Maybe it's time for a change in this last series of the year.
Before going on to the individual series, I'll give a brief explanation of the data (which has been gleaned from Vic Ferrari's Time on Ice and Gabriel Desjardins' Behind the Net). Each series will get three tables. In the first table, we'll see how the two teams compare in terms of controlling possession at even strength, both overall and with the score tied. In the second table, we'll see how these teams have benefited from the percentages at even strength a the team level. In the third table, we'll look at the longer term goaltending trends for each team's starter (data from 2007-08 to the present, both regular season and playoffs), and look at each team's shot differential on the power play and on the penalty kill. All of this data is based on the full 82-game schedule, not just the games against other playoff teams. After the data, I'll talk a bit about each series and make a prediction.
These charts confirm all of our worst fears: Vancouver has been the best NHL team on the planet this season. They've been the most dominant team territorially all year and have a big edge against the Bruins in that category despite playing a much more difficult schedule. The goaltending at evens is close, and despite Thomas' big advantage on the PK, the special teams are pretty much a wash because Vancouver's PP generates so many more shots. So yeah, I'll go with the Canucks in five. But what if I wanted to pick the Bruins? What would be their best chance at winning?
Tim Thomas. Tim Thomas has been truly outstanding over the last four years, and if the Bruins play well defensively in front of him, there's a chance that he can steal the series. How good is that chance? Well, let's start by looking at Thomas in seven-game segments. In 2007-08, Thomas allowed one goal or less in four of the seven starts 12 times out of 56 segments, or 21% of the time; in 2008-09 it was 13 out of 59 segments, or 22% of the time; in 2009-10 it was 8 out of 37 segments, or 22% of the time; and in 2010-11 it was 11 out of 67 or 16% of the time. Add it all up and we've got 44 out of 219 or 20% of the time. So that's probably a decent ballpark, but it's important to remember that the Bruins didn't allow one goal or less in those games just because of Thomas. They probably took fewer penalties, played better defense, and controlled the play to a much greater degree. In stretches where they played weaker teams, those things were more likely to happen. Against the best team in the league? Not so much.
Then again, maybe Roberto Luongo will collapse, or Patrice Bergeron will destroy the Sedins, or Manny Malhotra won't really be ready for Game One and playing him will cost the Canucks, or the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line will surprise against Ryan Kesler, or the Rich Peverley parade will beat up Vancouver's bottom six, or Gregory Campbell will have the referees in his pocket. I don't think that enough of that will happen for the Bruins to win, but enough of it is plausible that I'm excited to see what happens. Go Bruins.