By Mike Miccoli, Boston Bruins correspondent
I feel like I’m drunk. I’m not, in fact, but it just feels that way. It’s felt that way for the past two months because simply put, the past two months do not seem like they ever happened. Still following?
Case and point: The Stanley Cup will be present at the TD Garden on Monday night. Should the Vancouver Canucks win Game 6 against the Boston Bruins, the red carpet will be rolled out along with Gary Bettman entering to a resounding round of boos to present hockey’s most holiest of grails to captain Henrik Sedin, insert more jeers here. The other possibility, the Bruins bounce back and force a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Vancouver on Wednesday night and still, that’s absolutely frightening.
This is really happening. Though scary and exciting, it’s very real. The Boston Bruins’ magic could potentially run out on Monday night or push through to the last possible game of the last possible round. I feel like I’m drunk from over-thinking all of the possible scenarios for this Boston team. If it has a possibility of happening, believe me, I’ve thought about it and to an extent, prepared for it.
It’s June 12 as of this writing, and we’re all still restructuring the phrase “this is the most important one yet” to fit each passing hockey game, more crucial than the last. The Bruins have put together a storied postseason run. It’s become so much more than just another team, in just another sport, playing just another game. The B’s have revitalized hockey into the veins of Boston, making everything else, literally, secondary. The Bruins are close. Very close.
Problem is, the Canucks are closer.
There’s the argument of whether the Vancouver Canucks have respected the game. Their list of sins include a bitten finger from Alexandre Burrows, a season-ending concussion on Nathan Horton from Aaron Rome, plenty of unnecessary whining and complaining from Alain Vigneault and some foot-in-mouth quotes from Roberto Luongo. And I won’t even mention the disappearing acts of the Sedin twins, Kevin Bieska’s secret jealousy of pee-wee hockey or Maxim Lapierre’s serious Golden Globe push. It’s all been seen in this series, so form your own conclusions. The point still stands however, that the Canucks are leading the series 3-2 and are one win away from the Stanley Cup even after being outscored, 14-6. No arguments there.
It’s the Bruins who have their backs against the wall with their dreams of hoisting the Stanley Cup now only one loss away from disappearing completely. It’s going to take two, very strong 60-minute efforts from all 19 players on the ice. The room for error is small. The Canucks can certainly taste it and you can pretty much guarantee that the team that shows up for Game 6 will look a lot like the team that skated to victory in Game 5 and almost nothing like the team the Bruins saw last time Vancouver traveled to Boston.
By winning battles in the neutral zone, getting to Luongo early on and capitalizing on any Vancouver mistake, the Bruins could pull even in the series. The softer goals that have squeaked by Luongo in past games have come from tip-ins and creating traffic in front of the net. The B’s will need to maintain some of that controlled chaos in from of the Canucks net and be able to fire any loose rebounds or redirects into traffic. Vancouver came out hitting anything that moves in Game 5 and set the tone pretty early; the Bruins can’t let that happen again. Control the pace of the game and you’ll control the game. And as for the power play…well…just score on the power play.
The goals that have killed the B’s haven’t come from Vancouver’s marquee players, but the grinders who are wearing down Boston players and creating space in front of the net and getting there by any means necessary.
Look at the top five scorers for the Canucks: Burrows, Raffi Torres, Jannik Hansen, Lapierre and Alexander Edler. Daniel Sedin has a goal and an assist, Ryan Kesler and Sami Salo have an assist apiece while Henrik Sedin and Christian Ehrhoff remain point-less.
Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have been an effective top defensive pair thus far, shutting down the Canucks’ big players, but it’s up to the Bruins to take advantage of that same goal-scorer by committee mentality that they’ve been using all season and get on the board using whoever they can. Seidenberg, Horton, Adam McQuaid, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton are the only active Bruins that haven’t registered a point yet this series versus the 13 Canucks that haven’t either. This might be a good time for Milan Lucic, Rich Peverley, or hell, even Daniel Paille, to put on a show. Anything’s possible, right?
This entire series looks and smells like the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals between the New Jersey Devils and the Anaheim (then, Mighty) Ducks. The Devils were the going into the Finals heavily favored against the 7th seed Ducks who played the Cinderella story in the NHL. The goaltending battle between J.S. Giguere and Martin Brodeur was fantastic with both goalies stealing the show for their teams. Home-ice played a huge factor for the teams, as the series was won by the Devils, winning all games played in their own barn, but Giguere took home the Conn Smythe trophy for most valuable player in the post-season–just the fifth time a player from the losing team won the accolade.
What I took away from that series is seeing two teams who rarely played, hate each other so much, so soon. Maybe it was Scott Stevens’ ruthless hit on Paul Kariya in Game 6 or the two overtime games in Anaheim, but it was a fun series to watch that got heated really fast and sort of unexpectedly. So far, it’s a hell of a lot like Vancouver and Boston–stellar goaltending and defense, unexpected heroes and lots and lots of hate. Except here, we’re only getting ready to play Game 6 with the end result still very much a mystery.
The motivation is there for the Bruins, or at least it should be. Play for your fallen winger who has been arguably the most-clutch player on the team not named Tim Thomas. Play for Marc Savard who would probably kill to be on the ice helping his team. Play for Thomas, himself who has been the team’s MVP during the regular season and playoffs by keeping his team in every game.
Most importantly, play for yourselves because you never know when this will happen again. Isn’t that enough?
Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter for more Bruins updates, news and commentary.