The Boston Bruins return home from the opening two games in Vancouver of the Stanley Cup Finals facing the daunting challenge of rallying back from a 2-0 series deficit against a Canucks team that seem to have the breaks going their way.
Game 1 was a plodding, penalty-filled, scoreless affair until Raffi Torres, the Canucks’ checking line winger, scored the game-winner with 19 seconds remaining in the third period.
Game 2 was a more energetic affair, with the two teams exchanging the lead before heading into overtime knotted 2-2. Vancouver winger Alex Burrows scored the second-fastest overtime winner in NHL playoff history (11 seconds) to put his team up by two in the series.
The defensive breakdowns leading to those goals stunned the Bruins, who had otherwise done a good job keeping both games close against the heavily favored Canucks.
Goalie Tim Thomas played well in both games, and there were lengthy stretches where Boston’s disciplined defensive style stymied Vancouver’s offensive attack. Boston generated turnovers and kept the Canucks pinned for lengthy periods in their own zone.
Despite Vancouver’s blue-line depth and team speed, they weren’t able to establish dominance over Boston. Both games could have gone either way, but defensive miscues by the Bruins put the Canucks up by two games.
As this series shifts back to Boston for Games 3 and 4, the Bruins have several factors they must address if they’re to overcome the Canucks’ series lead.
For one, they’re not getting enough traffic in front of Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo. Thomas has garnered more attention for his acrobatic saves in this series, but Luongo has been rock steady in the Canucks’ goal.
The Bruins did a better job in Game 2 of getting more bodies around the Canucks’ net. Their first goal came as Milan Lucic swatted a loose puck under Luongo near the goal mouth. Their second came off a deflected point shot in close by Mark Recchi.
For the most part, however, Luongo has had little difficulty following the puck, nor has he had to contend with much sustained pressure close to his crease. As the old saying goes, if he can see it, he’s gonna stop it. And the Bruins have done little thus far to make life miserable for the Canucks goalie.
Luongo can also thank his deep defense corps, which has done a terrific job shutting down most of Boston’s top offensive players, as well as clearing rebounds and preventing the Bruins from creating sustained pressure around the Vancouver net.
Boston’s forwards must find a way to consistently battle through Vancouver’s defense to create better scoring chances.
Entering this series, some experts believed the Bruins’ physical play would give them an advantage in neutralizing the Canucks’ speed, but Boston hasn’t been able to consistently maintain a physical edge over Vancouver.
Every goal scored by the Canucks in the first two games was a result of forwards such as Torres, Daniel Sedin and Burrows using their speed to create scoring opportunities.
No better example was Burrows’ overtime winner, in which he stayed a step ahead of hulking Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and out-waited Thomas, forcing the Bruins goalie to over-commit, thus putting himself out of position to prevent Burrows’ wraparound goal.
Not only have the Bruins failed to gain the physical edge, but the Canucks have proven no slouches in that department, out-hitting Boston by a combined total of 70-62.
Boston’s top scorers also struggled to find the back of the net in those two games.
David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron each have only one assist. Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand have yet to appear on the score sheet.
Lucic’s goal in Game 2 was the first for the Bruins in this series, but for the most part he hasn’t been the physical, aggressive player who netted a career-best 30 goals this season.
Veteran winger Michael Ryder has been far too quiet. Rookie Tyler Seguin, who had six points in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay, hasn’t netted a point since then.
One factor that stands above the others is the Bruins’ ineffective power play.
As this series opened, Boston had the third-worst power-play of the postseason, an anemic 8.3 percent. Although the Bruins did score a power-play goal in Game 2, they were unable to cash in on five opportunities in Game 1.
Critics have blamed coach Claude Julien for employing an inflexible power-play system and, seemingly, refusing to shake things up.
To be fair, Julien in this series has attempted some changes, including using Chara’s big body to screen Luongo, but they’ve done nothing to improve the situation.
Despite these problems, the Bruins still have an opportunity to get themselves back into this series.
Playing in their home arena in front of their raucous fans should give them a tremendous emotional lift, potentially providing the Bruins a psychological edge.
They’ve also overcome a 2-0 series deficit earlier in the playoffs, going on to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in seven games in the opening round.
Thomas’ goaltending should continue to give them a chance to win every game, and it should be only a matter of time until their top scorers start finding their range on Luongo.
Still, the Bruins need to find a way to resolve most of the aforementioned factors that dogged them in Vancouver.
They must win the next two games in Boston. Otherwise, they can kiss their Stanley Cup dreams goodbye.