BOSTON- The murmurs of the mismatch the Canucks’ speed presented have faded into talk of the Bruins’ insurmountable toughness.
Boston dominated Vancouver physically over the course of their 4-0 victory Wednesday to knot the series at two games a side.
The mainstay Tim Thomas made 38 saves in a shutout and the stand-in Rich Peverley potted two goals in place of the concussed Nathan Horton.
“Sometimes I’m not sure how much energy home crowds really add to games,” Thomas said. “But I know playing at home in these playoffs has been a big advantage for us and it’s helped us.
They were extremely loud. We played well. We rewarded the fans that have stuck with us.”
Once Orr had finished passing the ceremonial Bruins banner around the lower bowl and waving a flag with Horton’s number 18, the intensity of the crowd transferred to the ice.
Both teams battled hard for loose pucks and murderously hammered away along the boards early on and throughout the game.
Through nearly five minutes each side only registered one shot on goal with most of the play taking place in the neutral zone.
The best opportunity of the early going came on a cross-ice pass that Henrik Sedin just missed in front of an open net. Three Bruins piled onto the Canucks captain Sedin, including a late shot from the massive Zdeno Chara.
Brad Marchand delighted once more, zigzagging through two defenders en route to an open shot he sent just wide of the Boston net.
Following a successful Bruins penalty kill, David Krejci, Michael Ryder and Milan Lucic alternated throwing pucks at Luongo following a Krejci takeaway.
Tim Thomas would assert himself moments later as he shut down Christian Ehrhoff off a three-on-two rush, one of a handful of toothless odd-man rushes he nullified in the opening frame.
Boston would open the scoring when a beautiful entry pass popped Peverley through the blue line with speed. He went in on Luongo all alone and buried the biscuit short side off a nifty hesitation move. Peverley, a swiss-army knife forward, went from being Atlanta’s shutdown center at the start of the season to Boston’s big-scoring winger Wednesday.
“I just try to be versatile and help whichever way I can on the ice,” Peverley said.
Ryder made a weaving break to the net similar to that of Marchand only to ding the near-side post.
Each team finished the frame with 13 hits and the Bruins made it a point to dent the Sedin twins at every opportunity.
The Canucks had the majority of shots but the unorthodox style of Thomas prevailed once more.
“We had a few point-blank chances and he stood on his head again,” Daniel Sedin said.
In the second stanza, Vancouver continued to come hard but could not score. Through ten minutes of action they had more than doubled up Boston’s shots on net in the contest with both goalies making a couple of difficult stops.
“When you can’t score, they’re getting momentum and they know they’re going to come back and get chances,” Henrik Sedin said.
The Bruins gained a two-goal advantage when Tyler Seguin and Chris Kelly briskly moved the puck to Ryder. Ryder glided in and fired a wrist shot that was deflected at the point of attack by Sami Salo into the Vancouver net.
“I recognized on the puck side, guys were stepping up and pinching,” said the rookie Seguin. “I saw Ryder going far side and I wanted to lead him. He finished the rest, he used his great shot.”
Seventy-eight seconds later, Boston busted the game open when Marchand lifted a puck home off his backhand in tight quarters. Marchand surpassed San Jose’s Logan Couture for the playoff points lead among rookies. The tally prompted a Vancouver timeout and sent TD Garden into frenzy.
“I think I saw once up on the screen something about 118 decibels, a Stanley Cup record for noise,” Thomas said of the noise that reached levels on par with a Penn State football game.
Boston headed into the second intermission with a commanding 3-0 lead.
Early in the third period, Lucic’s hard drive to the net and flip of the puck ricocheted off Luongo’s stick and then the body of Peverley into the net.
While Peverley jumped off the score sheet, it was Lucic who may have made the most complete contribution of any Boston forward.
“He had some strong plays. He made the last goal, he basically ended the game right there,” said Krejci, whose secondary assist made him the current playoff points leader. “Even when he’s not putting the puck in the net, he’s been huge for us. He’s winning all the battles, he’s in their faces, he’s been doing everything. “
The goal chased Luongo from the game and sent the former Boston College goalie Cory Schneider into the game. The crowd at Rogers Arena in Vancouver reportedly roared approvingly at Luongo’s replacement.
Vancouver’s notoriously fatalistic fan base could become less of an advantage and more of a hindrance if the Canucks do not have a solid start at home in game 5. The Canucks’ players, however, dismissed that possibility.
“It’s home ice for us. They’re our fans and they’ve been good all year so that’s a not a problem,” the Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin said. “I’m confident in Luongo, he’s won the Olympic gold and he’s been great for us.”
Canucks Head Coach Alain Vigneault also offered an endorsement of Luongo, who has surrendered 12 goals to Thomas’s one in a pair of losses at Boston.
“Luongo is going to be fine. He’s one of the best goaltenders in the league,” Vigneault said. “We’ve got a lot of trust and faith in him, in his ability to play well.”
The Canucks threatened Thomas’s shutout. First, Ryder’s back-check prevented a sterling chance and then Vancouver put a puck behind Thomas but the diving Tomas Kaberle quelled the threat.
“That’s what’s given us success over the last couple games, guys putting in that
effort, doing the tough work that doesn’t necessarily lead to goals right away, but are necessary for us to win,” Thomas said.
Later, Thomas made a strong save on a breakaway attempt going to the short side. A sharp wrister by Ryan Kesler in space was also turned aside, as well a dangerous shot from Ehrhoff.
Two pile-ups took place late in the game.
First Marchand’s hip check on Henrik Sedin immediately after a whistle caused a rink-wide confrontation that resulted in a couple of tilts.
Soon afterward, Alex Burrows tapped Thomas’s stick, prompting a slash by Thomas and a scrap between the two men that quickly expanded to an 11-man scrum.
Thomas claimed that the Canucks were repeatedly swiping at the butt end of his stick, something he could not longer tolerate with time winding down in the game
“I thought I’d give him a little love tap and let him know, I know what you’re doing, but I’m not going to let you do it forever,” Thomas said.
As in game 3 when Thomas cleared his net front with a two-handed check, he leapt into a tussle with Burrows before Dennis Seidenberg grabbed Burrows from behind.
“Thomas seems to really enjoy the battles in front, the whacking and hacking. He even gets a hit here and there,” Seidenberg said.
The injured Horton came into the Boston locker room briefly after the game. He spoke and awarded the honorary vintage Bruins jacket that had been placed in his stall while he was in the hospital during game 3. Fittingly, he passed it to Peverley, who skated in his place on the top line for much of the game.
“It’s pretty emotional. Nathan came in and just to know that he’s healthy and safe is really important to us,” Peverley said.
The brilliance of the Vezina Trophy candidate and Conn Smythe Trophy front-runner Thomas endured in Wednesday’s contest. The Bruins drew even in the series behind his shutout.
Thomas, a highly unorthodox goalie that mixes a melange of styles with tremendous instincts and impressive acrobatics, has hardly taken the typical route to this position.
He toiled overseas in leagues where baffled Swedish and Finnish reporters wondered how he was not in the NHL. He then went to the minors and did not establish himself as an NHL starter until the age of 32, two years before he captured his first Vezina Trophy.
“He’s had so many obstacles in front of him that he’s overcome, it makes him a battler, it makes him the perfect goaltender for our organization because that’s what we are,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said. “We’re a blue-collar team that goes out and works hard and earns every inch of the ice that you can get.”