On paper, this is no contest.
The Vancouver Canucks, the Presidents' Trophy winners, should take one look at the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final and walk right past them before carrying the coveted mug down Robson St. next month.
But there are no guarantees for the Canucks as they attempt to become the first team since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 to bring the Cup north of the border. Vancouver might be better on paper, but that's all window dressing.
With those thoughts in mind, we asked a Western Conference coach to help break down the Cup final that begins Wednesday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
ForwardsThe Bruins don't boast the star power that Vancouver has: Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows. That's just the top guys. The Canucks are deep while the Bruins spread the scoring around, relying mainly on Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic.
"It's a tough matchup for Boston because the Sedins are back on track after a tough series against Nashville," the coach said. "They're firing on all cylinders and that's a scary thing when you're up against them. The way they look right now and the way the puck is going in for them, it's a daunting proposition."
The Bruins lack a gamebreaker.
"I just don't think Boston has a forward at the level of the Sedins," he said. "If the Bruins are going to win they have to control the neutral zone and they have to stay out of the penalty box."
DefenceBig Zdeno Chara will have his hands full and so will the rest of the Bruins defence. Chara will be assigned the job of shutting down the Sedins with partner Dennis Seidenberg, but it won't be easy for Boston to get that matchup in Vancouver.
"(Chara) has to play against the Sedins. Coming out of Nashville, you might have wanted him against Kesler," the coach said. "In the games in Vancouver, the Canucks are going to want Kesler trying to wear down Chara, and Boston isn't going to be able to get the matchup they want all the time."
Kevin Bieksa has been the Canucks' best defenceman.
"The biggest surprise has been Bieksa," the coach said. "He was never a guy who would have been considered to be thrust into that offensive role.
"He has scored some big goals, including the series-clincher against San Jose. But he has really picked his game up and he's playing with an edge. He's controlling his emotions all the time."
GoaltendingThis is the area to watch for both teams. The Canucks' Roberto Luongo is going to be the one with pressure and expectations while the Bruins' Tim Thomas could be wondering if this might be his last shot at a Cup.
"Anytime you haven't won a Stanley Cup there's always an internal clock going there," the coach said. "Thomas has to be thinking, 'How many more chances am I going to get?' There's more pressure for him than maybe appears, but the eye of the goaltending focus is going to be on Luongo."
Luongo has the hopes and dreams of a country on his shoulders, just as he did at the 2010 Olympics.
"He has been questioned a lot," the coach said. "He was questioned in the Olympics and came through. He was questioned early on in these playoffs and came through.
"Luongo has looked to me like he has handled the pressure a little bit better than previous years. Maybe that's a step in maturity and experience."
But, he noted: "Thomas has the ability to steal games. I really can't wait to see how this plays out."
IntangiblesThe Canucks have a decision to make on centre Manny Malhotra. Does he or doesn't he play? Yes, it's great that he has been cleared to return after an injury to his left eye, but do the Canucks risk the chemistry they've built up through the course of the playoffs?
"There's the emotional lift you'd get," the coach said. "But if he's only going to play at 75 or 80%, what do you get out of him? Is that good enough at this point of the year?
"This is a time when (the Canucks) don't seem to have many holes to fill in their roster. The guys they have seem to be doing a great job. That'd be a real tough call."
The other area to watch is the power play. The Bruins are operating at only an 8% success rate during the playoffs while the Canucks are at 28%. "The Vancouver power play is so dynamic," the coach said.
Vancouver's Alain Vigneault and Boston's Claude Julien have taken similar paths to get here. Neither is flashy like Tampa's Guy Boucher. Both get the job done.
"Anytime you get your team to this level you've done a really good job of getting your players on the same page," the coach said.
"I don't think there's any edge here. They're going to make the right decisions, the right adjustments in the series. They'll do a good job of letting the players decide who wins. It should be a good series."
THE COACH PICKS: Vancouver