BOSTON- Many Bruins fans have been waiting for the second coming of Cam Neely and Monday night it seemed there were 18 Neelys on the bench and one more between the pipes for Boston.
The Bruins dominated physically and offensively in their 8-1 game 3 victory that reasserted their presence in this Stanley Cup Finals series.
It was the prototypical power forward Neely’s 46th birthday as well as the 25th anniversary of his trade from Vancouver to Boston. He kick-started the game by passing an enormous Bruins banner that waved around the entire lower bowl of rowdy fans.
Not only did the Bruins dominate in a fashion that befit their hall of famer and current team president Neely, they were led by two of his contemporaries.
The 43-year-old Mark Recchi scored two goals in just over 12 minutes of ice time. The 37-year-old Tim Thomas denied 40 of 41 Vancouver scoring bids in a game in which his team was out-shot.
His goals-against average is now 1.82 in the series, though tonight was his first win as a result of solid offensive support.
“That was great. We started scoring and the floodgates opened and we just kept going and trying to score more,” Thomas said.
“It was nice to see Recchi get a couple of goals, Danny Paille get a couple (points), Chris Kelly get a goal. It was good to see the scoring spread around.”
The Bruins also dominated the special teams battle as their units accounted for half of their scoring in the game with two power-play goals and two shorthanded tallies.
There was crisp flow to the contest until a questionable shoulder check at the blue line by Aaron Rome knocked Nathan Horton unconscious. Horton was restrained and carted off the ice on a stretcher, causing a delay of several minutes.
He was held overnight for observation at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was responsive and moving his extremities.
“I’m sure (the league) is going to look at it. It looked like it was a late hit and that’s what they are trying to get out of the game,” Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said.
Rome was assessed an interference major and a game misconduct. It was the second interference major called in Boston this season. The other came to the Bruins captain Zdeno Chara when he ended Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty’s season with a check into a stanchion.
A rare call, neither Recchi nor Thomas could recall a game at any level in any season where they had seen an interference major before this campaign.
The call has become a recent point of emphasis as the league cracks down on head shots and blindside hits. There were a pair of interferece majors in the 2009 playoffs and a handful during this regular season.
The ensuing five-minute advantage brought back-door chances for Recchi and David Krejci, both of which were stopped low by a butterflied Roberto Luongo.
Luongo stopped five shots in total during the disadvantage, including a couple lasers that afforded extremely short reaction time.
The play was very physical throughout the first. Before the Horton hit, the newly inserted Shawn Thorton lit up the hated most hated man in Boston, Alex Burrows.
Thornton, a late addition to the Bruins lineup to replace the rookie Tyler Seguin, seemed to knock someone down on every single shift.
“I thought he was awesome tonight. He has a physical, veteran presence. He’s won a Cup before. He knows what it takes,” Recchi said.
Later, Andrew Ference lifted Chris Higgins off his skates sideways into the boards. On the heels of that hit, Raffi Torres blasted Adam McQuaid as the game grew increasingly violent. There would be a total of 145 penalty minutes between the two sides.
The first frame ended scoreless with Vancouver leading the shot-on-goal battle 12-7 despite an accompanying 5-2 edge in penalty minutes.
“I really liked our first period. Obviously we had to kill off a five-minute penalty. We did a pretty good job,” said Vancouver Head Coach Alain Vigneault. “We had a couple of great scoring chances that, you know, I thought their goaltender made some real good saves on.”
Putting aside the physical intensity and emotional rigors of the first frame, the Bruins made their strongest surge of the series in the second stanza.
“Obviously guys were a little nervous about Horton and a worried about him but we knew we still had a game to play,” said the young Bruins forward Brad Marchand. “We really wanted to get the win tonight. We just made sure we refocused and we kind of did it for him.”
Boston opened the scoring immediately in the second period. Alex Edler broke his stick on a breakout pass, causing a turnover. The Bruins broke in and their possession culminated in a 55-foot Ference shot that beat a partially screened Luongo.
Ference committed two turnovers in the previous game that led to goals. Tonight he picked up this goal and an assist later to lead the Boston defense in scoring. There was no sense of vindication or atonement, only satisfaction in the moment for Ference.
“It feels good regardless to contribute and just to be part of a good solid game,” Ference said.
“I had a coach that said don’t play defense if you want glory. Most of us back there aren’t looking for any pats on the back, we just want to win.”
More physical play ensued as a minor against Jeff Tambellini sent Boston to the power play. Their first effort was a fine shot-pass from Tomas Kaberle to Patrice Bergeron, who was tied up in front of the net by Edler.
Boston recovered to score on the power play as Recchi beat Luongo off Ryan Kesler’s stick and through the five hole off a cross-crease pass by Michael Ryder. It marked the Bruins’ first two-goal lead of the series.
“Our power-play got going in the second period and it was a difference for us,” Recchi said.
The Bruins gained serious momentum but squashed it with an interference penalty in the corner against Ference. It took acrobatic maneuvers in net by Thomas to shut down a series of Vancouver attempts. At even strength, he made another stellar save on Torres redirection and a diving bid by Manny Malhotra.
“He’s done that all year for us. He gives us an opportunity every night to win games,” Recchi said.
The most stunning play on a night replete with tremendous action came from Boston’s pest, timely scorer, and penalty killer Marchand.
Marchand robbed the puck from Edler and broke in hard with Ryan Kesler back-checking. He dragged the puck and lifted his stick around Kesler. Luongo dropped down as Marchand recollected the puck and roofed it to break the game open with a 3-0 lead.
“I came off the bench, I came back and got (Edler’s) stick. I tried to get speed and take it to the net,” said Marchand, who registered the shorthanded tally. “I saw Luongo go down, I tried to put it upstairs and, thank God, it went in.”
Edler, like Ference in game 2, became a scapegoat of sorts after two of his turnovers led to goals. Forgotten will be both players’ effective back-checking that prevented goals.
Boston went from commanding lead to total domination in three easy steps. An odd-man rush keyed by Chara sent Ryder in on Luongo with speed. His shot banked off Luongo’s pad and onto the stick of Krejci, who banged the biscuit home with ease.
“We were able to make it 4-0, which I think at that point was important for us. The floodgates opened up a little bit in the third period,” Recchi said.
Kesler endured a difficult night. He had been on the ice for all of Boston’s first four goals.
With a four-goal deficit and the rigorous play that preceded it, the game became rougher in a rush. A double-minor penalty for high sticking was assessed to Johnny Boychuk as Victor Oreskovich went down in a bloodied heap.
Bergeron nearly netted Boston’s second shorthanded goal on a breakaway that was shut down by Luongo.
Boston killed the penalty and headed into the break with a domineering 4-0 lead.
Another early kill for the Bruins kept them rolling, thanks in large part to a bang-bang pair of saves by Thomas and a couple more stops late in the advantage.
“Timmy’s been great like he has been all series. He bails us out game in and game out,” Seidenberg said.
At even strength, a takeaway in front of the net by Henrik Sedin threatened Thomas’s shutout. Thomas took care of his own business, dumping Sedin with a big check before Boychuk dove to clear the loose puck from the blue paint.
Thomas said he learned from experience the danger of letting a man in front drop the puck onto his stick and slip the biscuit to either side. He obviated that threat with an old-fashioned two-hander.
“I had 1/100th of a second to make a decision of what I was going to do,” said the veteran Thomas. “That’s the way I decided to play it to try to keep the puck out of the net.”
Thomas would deny Higgins on two point-blank attempts later in the period as well.
A massive scrum took place behind the Boston net with Burrows getting involved with Bergeron and then Milan Lucic. Kesler and Seidenberg fought above the right faceoff dot, unleashing a squid on the penalty summary.
“At the end of the game the emotions were running high on both teams. I saw a couple finger-pointings on (Boston’s) part. It’s an emotional game,” coach Vigneault said, referring to Lucic and Recchi’s continuation of the taunting, finger-biting theme in this series.
Before the minors, majors and misconducts were completely announced over the public address system, Paille stole the puck, fended off Tambellini and put a puck through Luongo to earn a five-goal lead.
Vancouver broke up Thomas’s shutout with a fine passing play that ended in a goal for the speedy Dane Jannik Hansen.
Many wondered if this game would not have been better left for the Vancouver backup goalie Cory Schneider in the waning stages.
“I thought at 4-0, going at the beginning of the third with a power-play, we might be able to do something. That’s why I kept (Luongo) in,” Vigneault said. “At 5-1, I asked him what he wanted to do. He said, ‘Don’t even think about taking me out,’ so that’s what I did.”
Recchi added another goal, this time a few minutes older than he was on his first goal. Every time he scores, he adds to his record as being the oldest player to net a playoff goal.
The drubbing seemed never-ending for Vancouver, who allowed two more goals. Paille and Kelly battled fiercely along the back wall, popping the puck free for the latter to set up the former in front for a tally. Ryder added a short-side goal to complete the 8-1 beat-down of Vancouver.
The shellacking tied for the second-most lopsided Stanley Cup Finals game since 1927. It was just the third contest with a goal differential of seven goals or more in that time span. Only the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 8-0 shutout of Minnesota was more lopsided.
Incidentally, that was the first Stanley Cup Finals series the Bruins captain Chara ever watched.
“Still 2-1 (in the series) for us. Luckily, we are not playing with an aggregate score,” Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa told the Associated Press. “Next game is huge for us, and if we take care of that, we are in a great position. You don’t want to lose 8-1. It’s embarrassing at this time of year.”
The Bruins moved to 4-0 in game 3s this postseason and Thomas turned aside 40 or more shots for the third time in these playoffs.
Despite his being unaware of the significance of this date in the life of Neely, Thomas credited him with some part in the team’s success that went beyond his role in the front office.
“You know, even though he’s not playing anymore, when he’s around the locker room, around the team, he has that intensity,” Thomas said. “He still wants to win. He still has that feeling. That spreads.”