BOSTON- As the series shifts back to Vancouver, the Canucks and Bruins can each draw on a pair of successes in what has become a shortened series.
The first two games were thrilling Canucks victories that arrived just seconds on each side of regulation. The Bruins won the next two in decisive fashion, outscoring Vancouver 12-1.
Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo aptly summarized the view of both squads when he said “Momentum in what you make of it.”
“We had all the momentum going (to Boston). Chicago had all the momentum before game 7. Nashville had all the momentum when we came there for game 6, so I don’t know,” the Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin said.
“There’s three games left or two games left so who knows? It’s a lot of talk about momentum outside but we’re focused on the next game.”
Boston managed to control their enthusiasm after their 8-1 game 3 victory to come out and play what was arguably an even stronger top-to-bottom game Wednesday.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” center Patrice Bergeron said. “The last two games have been the way that we wanted to come out and great games, but we can’t get too high or too low.”
The tilt back to Vancouver may be exactly what the Canucks need to right their wobbling wagon. However, the huge crowd that watched game 4 on the JumboTron at Rogers Arena cheered Luongo’s replacement early in the third period. A fast start for the Bruins could mean a hostile home environment for the Canucks.
“I guess so, obviously we want to have good starts. When you’re playing a great team like Vancouver you have to have good starts on them and we just want to stay consistent with the game plan,” the Boston rookie standout Tyler Seguin said.
Luongo’s excellence against Nashville and San Jose quieted his doubters momentarily, but now he has become an object of derision once again. The Canucks remained unfazed by the criticism of their $64-million man Luongo.
“This is not a one-man affair here,” Canucks Head Coach Alain Vigneault said. “We all know that our whole group can play better, and will play better in the two games.”
Vancouver’s big-ticket forwards have been abysmal offensively so far in the series. Daniel Sedin has two points from game 2 while Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler have been held scoreless.
The shutdown center Kesler has struggled defensively at times as well, plodding to a -3 rating. Overall the trio has skated in the red at -6, with Henrik also struggling in the faceoff circle.
“We’ve gotten to where we are today it’s because our top players have been, on most nights, the best players on the ice,” Vigneault said. “Obviously we need those guys to play up to their standards, and they will.”
Boston has shut down the Sedins utilizing not only their top pairing of the captain Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg but a sound overall effort in which their forwards have insulated their defense effectively.
“Whether it’s the Crosbys and Malkins, of course Detroit, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, you have to be able to play against those guys in a way that you certainly have to have a whole group doing the job,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said.
Over the course of the series, puck battles have intensified, a development that suits the mean Bruins nicely. Boston has made it a point to take every legal shot they could at the Canucks, especially against their offensive-minded players.
“I think our point is to finish our checks. I think it’s part of what we want to do in this series to slow down a team that’s extremely skilled,” Julien said.
After facing a dogged fore-check that seemed difficult to solve, Boston has turned the tables on Vancouver. They have applied heavy defensive pressure to ignite their own transition game while also maintaining solid puck support on offense.
“In Boston, they put more pressure on us. We weren’t making quick passes and quick plays,” Vancouver defenseman Andrew Alberts said. “We have to get back to what we were doing in game 1 and 2.”
Henrik Sedin said that while he felt his Canucks had some strong moments in game 4, there could be considerable improvement in their offensive effort.
“We’re not playing as well five-on-five as I know we can,” Sedin said. “We’re a little bit too spread out and that shows on the turnovers we have and them getting some outnumbered chances. I think they’re doing a better job of keeping their team closer together.”
If Vancouver’s five-on-five play has been lackluster, it’s performance with the man advantage has been downright feeble. Their 1-for-22 mark in the series belies the percentages. Heading into the series, the Canucks had the top power-play of all teams that advanced at least one round while the Bruins were the worst among those eight clubs.
“Before this series our power play was 28%. I think it was one of the best
in the playoffs. The best in the regular season,” Vigneault said. “These guys have done it all year for us and they’re going to do it again.”
Both teams continue to play without important players from earlier in their runs.
The two-way defender Dan Hamhuis will not play in game 5 for Vancouver due to a mid-body injury. He will travel to Boston for game 6 despite his day-to-day status.
Nathan Horton will remain sidelined for the remainder of the series after he was concussed by Aaron Rome, who was in turn suspended for the rest of the games.
The Canucks have juggled personnel on the blue line all season, dressing 14 different rearguards over the course of the campaign. That group included their latest re-addition, Keith Ballard and his likely game-5 replacement Chris Tanev.
For Boston, mid-season deals that brought in the puck-moving defenseman Tomas Kaberle as well as the significant forward additions Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley have already paid dividends in this series.
“They fit in right away,” Bergeron said. “Chris, in the playoffs, has been awesome with his game and he’s been contributing offensively. Rich has been filling in the spots for who we are missing. Now we are missing a key guy like Nathan, but he filled in and he’s been great.”
For Canucks fans, this all-too familiar sight of a big lead fading into a tight series may be nauseating. Yet for the Vancouver players, their experience going to game 7 against Chicago after blowing a 3-0 lead and being outscored 12-2 in games 4 and 5 may have been edifying preparation for the challenge ahead.
“We obviously all remember that series and the ups and downs we went through and the adversity that we faced,” Luongo said. “We came in and rose above it at the end of the day and it made the victory so much sweeter.”
The introspective Boston goalie Tim Thomas shared his own thoughts on how to prepare for success and imagine victory on hockey’s greatest stage.
“I think it’s important to visualize winning the Cup, that’s what helps you to get here,” Thomas said. “So I think it’s important to keep the same sort of visualization but not to take it any further, because things can change quick.
The Stanley Cup is the big picture but you’ve got to break it down and look at the little pictures all the time.”
To Luongo and Vancouver, the situation ahead seems favorable despite their recent difficulties.
“Last time I checked, it’s 2-2 in the series. So I don’t see why we should be depressed or whatever it may be,” Luongo said. “We’re in a two-out-of-three Stanley Cup Finals. So if I was told that before the start of the year, I mean, where do I sign?”