That peculiar sound you might have heard the other day when Tim Thomas stated that this Stanley Cup final wouldn’t be about him and Roberto Luongo was all the BS detectors going off in unison. At the very least, we’re inclined to say, “Liar, liar, hockey pants on fire,” over that one.
If Game 1 of the final was any indication, this series is going to be very much about Thomas and Luongo. And if the hockey remains at this high a level, it’s going to be a classic.
One year after Michael Leighton and Antti Niemi put on a goaltending display worthy of its status as the worst goaltending matchup in Stanley Cup final history, both Thomas and Luongo were spectacular. So was the game. After turning in a rather uneven effort in the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Thomas provided the kind of goaltending the Bruins need to compete in this series. And more importantly, he provided his team with the hope that they have a chance to stay in this thing and possibly even win it.
Although we’re not sure how a team can expect to win when it’s as brutal on the power play as the Bruins have been in the post-season. We know teams that win the first game of the final have gone on to capture the Cup 77 percent of the time since the best-of-seven format was adopted in 1939. We also know when a team gets as many power play chances as the Bruins have in this postseason and continue to blow them, it loses 100 percent of the time.
This is how predictable the Bruins power play has become in the playoffs. Canucks penalty-killer extraordinaire Alex Burrows paid the predictable homage to the Bruins play with the extra man, then offered, “After the first couple of power plays, we kind of figured out what they were trying to do and we tried to stop it the best we could.”
Part of that Bruins strategy is putting Zdeno Chara in front of Luongo, but it didn’t work. Luongo said he typically likes to look over the shoulder of the player in his field of vision, “but in this case it’s going to be impossible to do that, obviously,” he said. But the Canucks were able to contain Chara and limit his damage in front of the net simply by leaving him alone. If the Bruins were hoping to take a page out of the Dustin Byfuglien playbook to throw Luongo off his game, they obviously haven’t taken into account how much Luongo’s game has developed since ‘Big Buff’ drove him to distraction.
“Obviously, Zdeno is a lot bigger,” Luongo said of Chara. “He’s a big body, but at the same time we decided that it’s best if we just leave him alone and let me take care of him.”
As far as Thomas was concerned, his stop on Jannik Hansen’s breakaway was the most spectacular of the evening. It should cause the Canucks some concern that Thomas was so good in Game 1, but Vancouver feels there still might be some cracks.
“We just have to keep shooting pucks on (Thomas),” said Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. “He’s making a lot of saves, but there’s still some rebounds sitting there. So if we keep shooting pucks then we’ll get our goals.”
Whether you’re watching it in high definition or on a black and white TV with rabbit ears, you might want to hunker down and prepare for a great series.