VANCOUVER – To a man, players from both teams said Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was everything they expected. Great goaltending, tight-checking, physical play, back and forth action.
1. Winning the first game was huge for Vancouver
According to WhoWins.com, when a home team wins Game 1 they go on to win the Stanley Cup 86.3-percent of the time in NHL history. With the victory on Wednesday, Vancouver has now won eight Game 1′s in a row. Much of that success is a result of the play of Roberto Luongo, who now has three shutouts in Game 1′s this year.
However, Boston has been in this spot before. They’ve been trailing 1-0 in their last three series in the playoffs and coach Claude Julien says he’s not concerned about the early deficit.
“Throughout the season, you get your ups and downs,” Julien said. “When we had our downs, we know a lot of people were disappointed, we were criticized. Inside that dressing room, we knew it was a long year, we could right the ship with time. We did that. We got into the playoffs.”
“Having done that all year, you don’t change your approach. You lose a game. We know how important that loss becomes. But right now what’s more important is not yesterday’s loss but how we’re going to react to it on Saturday.”
2. Alain Vigneault channels his inner Guy Boucher
Borrowing a strategy used by Tampa coach Guy Boucher earlier in the playoffs, coach Alain Vigneault had his players stay in a hotel prior to Game 1 to keep his team focused. Vigneault declined to comment on the decision Friday morning, but don’t be surprised to see this trend continue in hockey, as well as other sports.
Being the home team heading into an over-hyped game can carry a number of unwanted distractions. Boucher gave his thoughts on the strategy to stick players up in a hotel at home in the first round against Pittsburgh.
“Bubble hockey I call it,” Boucher said. “It’s just like those bubble hockey (games). You have the window on top. Anything outside can’t affect our game. That’s the way we’re approaching it. It’s not that we don’t like our fans. We love our fans. They were terrific the last two games. But it’s important now that the calm in our task has to be there.”
3. Tim Thomas uses movie scenes to describe opposing forwards
The quote of the week so far came on Thursday when Bruins goalie Tim Thomas was asked to describe how power-forwards like Ryan Smyth and Tomas Holmstrom are so effective at making life miserable for opposing goaltenders.
“Having played against Ryan Smyth quite a bit, he’s good at getting his stick in front of your face by accident,” Thomas said. “It’s kind of like garage hockey, my uncles used to do it to me when I was a kid.”
“But Tomas Holmstrom, he’s very good at actually getting out of the way of the puck. He gets right in that lane. If you watch him, he’s like the guy in Matrix, if it’s a high shot, he rolls out of the way. That’s one of the talents that he has, is getting out of the way. That’s what makes him so good. And he’s willing to just stand there and take any punishment whatsoever that you’re willing to dish out. So those are my thoughts on those two.”
4. Can Thomas play any better?
Jeff Angus over at DobberHockey.com brought up a good point this afternoon when discussing the play of Tim Thomas in Game 1. He compared Thomas’ performance to that of Henrik Lundqvist in the New York Rangers’ first round matchup against Washington. In a few games during that series, Lundqvist stood on his head but the Rangers still lost. Game 1 had a similar feel to it.
In the first half of the game, Vancouver was getting a number of shots through traffic from the point and Thomas was doing a good job tracking the puck and moving it into the corner. But he really kept the Bruins in it once the game opened up in the middle of the second period. A breakaway stop five minutes into the third period on Jannik Hansen. An amazing save on a 2-on-1 seven minutes later when he somehow kept the puck out of the net.
Thomas was outstanding and it’s hard to imagine him playing any better. Is that a good thing or a bad thing for the Bruins?
5. So much for cheap goaltending
With Antti Niemi ($827,000) and Michael Leighton ($600,000) leading their respective teams to the Final last year, many teams openly questioned whether it was still worth locking up big money in goaltending in the salary cap era.
This year’s Final matchup disproves that notion. Thomas is bringing in $6 million this year while Roberto Luongo is making a league-high (at any position) $10 million.
“That was one of those theories that was thrown out there last year that I didn’t think would stand up to the test of time very long,” Thomas said. “I think this year’s proved it. Both teams getting into the final, you know, the goaltending had a lot to do with it.”
6. Huge US television ratings are a good sign
It was going to be tough for the NHL to top the hand-picked matchup between television market monsters in Chicago and Philadelphia last year, but it happened:
NBC drew a 3.2/6 overnight rating for Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final last night. Those were the best numbers for a Game 1 since 1999, according to NBC, and up 14% from Game 1 of last year’s Philadelphia/Chicago final.
Players around the league on other teams should be happy. Ratings and attention like that combined with big ticket revenue means they’ll be getting more back in escrow after the season.
It’s also a great start to a new 10-year deal with the NBC-Versus team. With more money on the table than ever before, NBC will be taking their NHL broadcasts seriously.
7. Like San Jose, Bruins need to recalibrate
When the San Jose Sharks ran into Vancouver in the Western Conference Finals, they were just coming off a series against Detroit who plays a patient, methodical style of hockey. After the Red Wings gain possession of the puck, their defensemen wait until the forwards start moving in the other direction before attacking as a five-man unit. Vancouver, with their speed up front, attacks immediately on transition and it took the Sharks a few games to adjust.
Boston seems to be running into a similar problem coming off their series against Tampa Bay, who sat back in a 1-3-1 trap.
“We’re a team that likes to play fast,” Vigneault said. “We’re a team that likes to play north/south. We’re a team that feeds on turnovers. That’s how we intend to keep on playing.”
The only problem? If, and when, the Bruins adjust to the speed of Vancouver, will be too late?
8. Vigneault targeting Bruins defensemen
Alain Vigneault is nominated for the Jack Adams award as coach of the year and he’s shown why in these playoffs. Guy Boucher has gotten most of the attention because of his unorthodox strategies, but Vigneault has gotten his team well-prepared in every series.
In Game 1 his speedy forwards tortured right defensemen Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk by dumping the puck into their corner at every opportunity. Boychuk has been on the ice for the last seven goals the Bruins have allowed and needs to turn his game around in a hurry.
Up front, Vigneault matched the Chris Higgins-Ryan Kesler-Mason Raymond against David Krejci’s top unit. Kesler still doesn’t look anywhere close to 100-percent, so having him focus solely on defense is an effective strategy.
9. Tomas Kaberle a bright spot?
For all the criticism Kaberle has taken in these playoffs, he had a great Game 1 performance. Without his mobility in the lineup the Bruins would’ve been in trouble. His shot and abilities with the man-advantage also gives Boston the option of using Zdeno Chara in front of the net.
If Boston wins the Cup, the trade deadline swap might actually prove worthwhile.
10. It’s called the neutral zone, but Vancouver has the advantage
If there’s one area to watch in Game 2, it’s how each team dictates play in the neutral zone. Vancouver definitely had the advantage in the first game and Claude Julien wasn’t afraid to admit it.
“What I didn’t maybe like as much from our neutral zone is that we turned too many pucks over just in front of their blueline, didn’t get it deep enough for our liking. That’s something that wasn’t probably at par tonight for a hockey club.”
We touched on the questionable mobility and decision-making of some of Boston’s defenseman, and the neutral zone is also where many of the mistakes took place. As part of their neutral zone regroup, Vancouver’s left wings would immediately head to the far blueline and stand there waiting for a pass. This forced Boston’s defense to back up and overcommit to the left side, leaving the middle of the ice wide open for streaking Canucks centermen.
It didn’t burn Boston too badly in Game 1, but if the Canucks can spread out the Bruins defense again in Game 2, expect a number of odd-man opportunities and breakaways.