BOSTON- Wednesday night’s pivotal game 4 will be played with each side down a man as the Bruins have lost forward Nathan Horton to a concussion and the Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome has been suspended for the remainder of the series.
Rome leveled Horton with a shoulder check that the league deemed “close to a second late” prompting an interference major and a game misconduct for Rome and, of course, intense medical attention for Horton. Horton was released from the hospital Tuesday but has no chance of returning in the series.
“Horton is a big part of our team,” said Michael Ryder, who scored a game-high three points for Boston Monday. “He’s been huge for us all season in the playoffs. We’re definitely going to miss him.”
Horton toiled for his entire career on the Florida Panthers before coming to Boston this season, where he reached the playoffs for the first time.
“Especially for myself, he’s made a big impact in my life as a good friend and as a line-mate,” Milan Lucic said. “You can definitely use that as motivation.”
On Vancouver’s side, there existed unanimous disagreement with the suspension. Rome recently recovered from injuries, including an apparent concussion, after San Jose’s Jamie McGinn lit him up in a defenseless position during game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
There was no suspension levied despite its being a similar play in that it was a major penalty, a game misconduct and a play that knocked Rome out of the series. The league said that Horton’s injury played a major factor in their determination of the suspension and its length.
“Rome was killed in San Jose and nothing happened. Now he gets four games,” Daniel Sedin said.
Boston understood the heft of the decision to suspend Rome for his interference major penalty that left Horton with what Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien called “a severe concussion.”
Julien’s team has been on both ends of this situation before.
Daniel Paille was suspended earlier in the year for a hit to the head on a Dallas Stars forward. Zdeno Chara controversially escaped a ban after his interference major ended the season of Montreal’s Max Pacioretty in gruesome fashion.
Horton became the third top-six forward for Boston to sustain a severe concussion in recent years. Marc Savard spent much of the past two seasons on injured reserve after a vicious blow from Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke. Patrice Bergeron missed almost the entire 2007-2008 campaign after he was concussed by a Philadelphia defenseman.
Julien said he supported the league’s decision and that he understood the evolution of its increasing role in discipline that was once left largely in the hands–and fists–of players.
“In the days where players were policing themselves, I’m not sure players were as strong, as big and as quick as they are today,” Julien said. “We have to make some changes to the rules, adapt to what it has become and understand that the hits today are a lot harder than they were 30 or 40 years ago.”
The bruising Shawn Thornton, whose impact on the series was felt immediately when he was a late addition to the lineup for game 3, commented on the notion of vigilante justice in today’s game.
“If that’s game 31, he probably doesn’t get off the ice without at least being confronted,” Thornton said. “The greater goal is to win the Stanley Cup right now so there’s a lot of sacrifices that go on and, unfortunately, that has to be one of them.”
Thornton replaced the skilled rookie Tyler Seguin, who will likely return to the lineup Wednesday. This year’s No. 2 overall draft pick Seguin dazzled in the Eastern Conference Finals at times after sitting out the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Coach Julien credited strong communication with Seguin for his willingness to be comfortable in his unfamiliar role as a depth player.
“He knows we’re doing the best thing we can for him,” Julien said. “He trusts us and I think that’s made it a good relationship between him, the coaches and the rest of the organization.”
For Vancouver, the high-priced healthy scratch Keith Ballard will likely make his first appearance of the series. Ballard earned $4.2 million this season, but not the full trust of his coach Alain Vigneault it seemed.
“We have unbelieveable depth on the back end so we’re not worried about (a lineup change),” goalie Roberto Luongo said. “We’ve got a guy like (Ballard) who could be a top-four guy on any team in this league stepping up for us.”
Beyond lineup adjustments, Vancouver will have to recover from a lopsided loss in which its special teams faltered, its net-front became a colander and questions from the first round reared their head for the first time in several weeks.
The Cancucks led Chicago 3-0 in their opening-round series only to have to win a game 7 after two embarrassing losses with Luongo in net and another defeat with his backup Cory Schneider between the pipes.
Luongo, who said that the adjustments were more mental than strategical between games 3 and 4, refused to be daunted by the recent past or the immediate future.
“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life, so I’m not just going to shrug my shoulders and put my head down. It’s time to go to work here,” Luongo said.
Vancouver allowed four special-teams tallies in game 3–two shorthanded goals and two power-play goals. One of the power-play goals came during the academic portion of the game while another went in off the stick of the back-checking Ryan Kesler. Still, Boston capitalized on mistakes repeatedly and improved their puck movement considerably.
Meanwhile, Vancouver’s typically potent power play continued to sputter.
“We’re pretty close. We’re making some good things happen out there,” Vigneault said. “Sometimes when it’s time to shoot, we’re passing, and when it’s time to pass, we’re shooting. We’re just a little bit off.”
Another thing that may be a little “off” today is the ice surface. With expected temperatures in the low 90s with moderate humidity in Boston Wednesday, the TD Garden crew has worked diligently to prevent a repeat of 2004’s slushy Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 in Tampa Bay.
“Well, I know I was flying on the ice. I don’t know if you guys noticed,” Julien said, creating a stir of laughter in his serious surroundings.
Boston’s Ryder said that while his team enjoyed their victory, they understood they had to come out with the same attitude and execution to have a chance at tying the series Wednesday. Coach Julien echoed that sentiment and identified how his club burst out of what had been an offensive slump in the first two games of the series.
“We had some better quality shots, we had better traffic in front of the net and, instead of the working the perimeter, we started taking more pucks to the net,” Julien said.
In a reversal from earlier games, Boston has become the team seeking to duplicate its effort rather than overhaul its game plan. For Vancouver, the key may be to push game 3 far behind them and focus solely on the task at hand.
Defenseman Sami Salo said he moved on immediately. He, Kevin Bieksa, the Sedin twins and other Canucks said they were less concerned by the score in game 3 than they were concentrated on their potential to take a 3-1 lead in the series in game 4.
Manny Malhotra, who was sidelined for the first three rounds with an eye injury, aptly summarized the challenge for the Canucks.
“I’ve seen it from the outside, been in the room,” Malhotra said. “I know the ability we have to respond to certain situations. Our losing Rome compounded with losing last night’s game, we’re moving forward focused on making sure we do the right things to give ourselves the best possible chance to win.”