BOSTON- As the series shifts to Boston’s TD Garden, the focus for the Bruins is on repairs while the Vancouver Canucks may be concentrating more on maintenance.
Boston has had labored breakouts and suspect neutral-zone play. Vancouver has struggled to put together a strong, wire-to-wire effort despite several spurts of excellence and two victories.
“I think the decision-making and puck management are what’s costing us games,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said. “When you turn pucks over in the neutral zone, this is a team that thrives on it.”
Vancouver has scored three of its four goals off such turn turnovers, including both game-winners.
The Bruins each said they understood that their game had to improve but that pensive play would not help their cause.
“Now is not the time to squeeze your stick and to panic,” said center Patrice Bergeron. “It’s time to go back to what’s been giving us success. Obviously putting pucks in deep, having a fore-check is one of them.”
For the Canucks, the concern seemed to be more about evening out their effort. Their fore-check has been superb in many instances and they have shown flashes of outstanding offense. However, Head Coach Alain Vigneault also said they forgot their “work boots” at times in game 2, and it took them nearly the full 60 minutes to score in game 1.
“I don’t think we have played our best hockey,” said left wing Daniel Sedin. “In the first game, there were a lot of nervous players on the ice and we got the win on a great play.
I think the first 40 minutes in the second game we weren’t close to being good enough. I think in the third period we took over the game and that’s where you saw us play our kind of game.”
Coach Julien said there was no sugarcoating the fact that the Canucks were more accustomed to travel than were the Bruins but he felt that his team had prepared adequately.
The Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin said any edge the Canucks might possess had less to do with acclimation to travel earlier in the year than the mere fact that they earned home ice in the series.
“Maybe (we are more used to long travel), but I think the key thing is that we were starting at home. They had to travel to Vancouver and back,” Sedin said.
The Bruins are 3-0 in the third games of series this postseason, a trend they will need to continue in order to keep their hopes of hoisting the Stanley Cup alive Monday night.
“Game three is such a big game. Especially today, going up three nothing or being down two-one,” said Boston forward Brad Marchand. “So obviously it’s the do-or-die factor for us tonight and we just have to make sure we’re prepared for it.”
In their previous victories they had come off a pair of home losses to Montreal, a grueling win against Philadelphia on the shoulders of Tim Thomas and huge home win against Tampa Bay after losing their opener. Despite their familiarity with this situation, the Bruins do not expect history to repeat itself without a strong effort.
“We can’t rely on, ‘oh well we’ve been here before and we managed to pull it off,’” forward Chris Kelly said.
Boston may make some lineup changes, already Kelly, Rich Peverley and Michael Ryder were reunited in game 2. Vancouver will likely field the same lineup, with Dan Hamhuis still ailing from a mid-body injury.
Vigneault said he trusted Andrew Alberts, who paired with Christian Ehrhoff, unconditionally in Hamhuis’s stead. He added that he liked Alberts’ game Saturday in terms of his physical play and his puck movement.
Hamhuis’s partner, Kevin Bieksa, will play despite a strong slash he sustained from Peverley in game 2. He will skate with Aaron Rome, a young defender whose responsibility has increased as the year has progressed.
“You can’t really replace a guy like Dan Hamhuis and what he brings to the table both offensively and defensively,” said Vigneault. “Obviously it doesn’t have the same dynamics of when Dan is there. With that being said, we have a lot of confidence in Aaron.”
Vigneault called the slash “a cheap shot” and not a legitimate, physical hockey play.
On the Boston side, Julien responded strongly to the agitator Maxim Lapierre’s taunting of Bergeron with his finger, calling it “unacceptable.”
Lapierre baited Bergeron to bite his finger after the Boston pivot Bergeron alleged that the game 2 hero Alex Burrows chomped at his digit during a scrum in game 1.
Julien went on to say in French that Lapierre’s antics were a major reason he played for three different teams this season.
Both teams have faced sound if not spectacular goaltending in the series. Several Bruins said they would seek to generate intensified net traffic, more scoring chances and, importantly, more second-chance opportunities against Roberto Luongo.
Shots from bad angles and high-glove chances may generate more rebounds, but sustained control of the puck will be the first step toward a stronger attack.
In Boston’s own net, Tim Thomas has dominated much of the series. Despite a bit of public derision for his decision to challenge hard on Burrows’s game-winning wraparound goal, Thomas, his coach and his teammates expect more of the same aggressive play from Thomas. Outside of that one goal allowed, he has not been fooled by fake shots, back-door plays or wraparounds.
Coach Julien said that he firmly believed Thomas deserved his second Vezina Trophy for his efforts this season. He added that he would not even consider asking Thomas to change his style or question his instincts at this stage. Thomas echoed that sentiment, dismissing summarily the notion of any major adjustments.
“I have a pretty good idea of how to play goalie. I ‘m not going to be taking suggestions or advice at this time,” said Thomas with a smile. “I’m just going to keep playing the way I have.”
Thomas said that he would not dwell on his team’s two losses despite his own outstanding play, stressing that he and all the Bruins had to move on immediately. He also said that he has played Vancouver’s shooters, particularly the Sedin twins, honestly and evenly during the series.
“I don’t think you should rely too much on tendencies because then if they don’t do what you’re expecting, you’re in trouble,” said Thomas. “I think you just have to react and play the game.”
Down 0-2, tonight’s game has been described by many players on the Bruins as a de facto Game 7. The Canucks’ players mirrored that emotion, drawing on what they had learned from their first-round battle against Chicago in which their 3-0 series lead faded into a hairy game 7 at home.
The Canucks will see some familiar faces in the crowd tonight—the Green Men are here and Boston’s Logan Airport was full of blue jerseys—but the predominantly Boston crowd should dominate the atmosphere.
“I expect this crowd to be behind their team. I mean, this is an Original Six city. They’re passionate for their hockey,” said coach Vigneault. “I’m sure their fans are going to be real supportive, just like our fans are in Vancouver. You have great cities, two beautiful places where you have two hockey teams that are competing real hard on the ice.”