VANCOUVER- The two-day layoff for the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks has been a period of transition–literally.
Both teams stressed the transition game in practice today. Vancouver emphasized high-tempo breakouts and rushes in a fast-paced practice. Boston had involved ten-man drills that started with puck recovery and continued with controlled breakouts against an intense fore-check.
“That’s one way to lead to better scoring chances,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “We thought today was a good time to review that.”
In both their preparation and their players’ statements, the Bruins expressed some reverence for their opponents’ speed.
“They’re a fast team. I think they do create a lot by creating that speed through the neutral zone,” left winger Milan Lucic said. “For us, we just got to do whatever we can and be in the right positions.”
That dynamic was on display in the last game, particularly during play at even strength.
“The neutral zone, we weren’t getting pucks deep. That’s what was giving them I guess the speed that they want, the counterattack that they wanted,” Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said.
For Vancouver, two-way aggressiveness continues to be the attack plan.
“That’s one of the core parts of our game, to make good passes on the breakout,” defenseman Sami Salo said. “If you don’t break out cleanly, you can’t establish your own fore-check.
That’s the way you’re going to be able to get your momentum going and get some chances.”
The Canucks hope that their strong finish to game 1 will portend the tone, tempo and outcome of game 2.
“We had our best period in the third,” Vigneault said. “We were playing faster. We showed more speed on the ice.”
Many experts predicted would be a battle between Vancouver’s outstanding special teams and Boston’s sharp five-on-five play. However, in the opener, both teams went 0-for-6 on the power play and the Canucks carried the entirely even-strength third period.
Vancouver also continued to keep their penalty-kill percentage narrowly ahead of the Boston’s over the course of the playoffs.
“Obviously, it’s very satisfying when you see the guys pitching O’fers out there,” the sidelined forward Manny Malhotra said. “For the P.K. guys to step up and make sure they didn’t gain momentum from their power plays was huge also.”
Malhotra has continued to attend penalty kill meetings while he has undergone a strenuous recovery from a severe eye injury. He skated in a full practice today after he was cleared for full contact.
He said that his evaluation was a day-to-day process that rested largely upon his comfort level and conditioning rather than any potential issues with his vision.
“This is not me wanting to have a sentimental shift out there and be a part of all,” said Malhotra. “It’s the fact that I feel that I could contribute something to the team.”
Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis, whose hip check sent Milan Lucic end over end for the first time in the big Boston forward’s career, remained day-to-day with a mid-body injury.
Though coach Vigneault cautioned against putting too much stock in the pairings in practice, his replacement may very well be Andrew Alberts, who skated with Christian Ehrhoff in practice. Vigneault has seldom tinkered with his lines between a practice and the subsequent game this season.
For Boston, the lines and pairings were unchanged from game one to Friday’s practice, which marked the first time the Bruins have been on the ice since their 0-1 loss Wednesday.
Their forwards’ comments concentrated on improving their net presence in all situations. They will also seek some results out of a power play that dropped to a 7.5 percent conversion rate after game 1.
Some Bruins felt there were some solid opportunities of which they failed to take advantage despite more fluid puck movement with the extra man.
“There were a few loose pucks on the power play,” center David Krejci said. “Once we get the shot through, the other two guys have to get there and maybe get some dirty goals.”
Krejci and his teammates now look to intensify their offensive tenacity in game 2. Being harder on the puck, going to the grimy areas of the ice and getting simple, sustained possessions were all points of emphasis.
To a man, the Bruins were more satisfied with their effort with the advantage in game 1 as opposed to their earlier playoff efforts.
“I think after last game, we developed a little bit of confidence in our power play. We had a lot of great opportunities. We were in the zone, making nice plays,” forward Brad Marchand said.
“If it was a different goalie in the net, it would have been a different outcome on the power play.”
Roberto Luongo was the goalie responsible for the 36-save shutout as he improved to 4-0 with three shutouts in series openers this postseason.
As sharp as Luongo has been in winning those early contests, the Bruins have remained equally resilient in bouncing back from early losses. They dropped game 1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals and the first two games of their first-round series against the rival Montreal Canadiens.
“It’s never over until you get that fourth win, right? I think it is fair to say,” Bergeron said.
“That being said, we’re really focusing on making sure we’re getting back in this series.”