BOSTON – After making the long trip home on Sunday, the Boston Bruins didn’t walk off the plane with a long list of changes or adjustments planned.
Instead, their strategy for getting back into the Stanley Cup final against the Vancouver Canucks was to stick with what got them here. Facing a virtual must-win Game 3 on Monday night, the Bruins were looking to embrace the energy of playing on home ice—they’re 7-3 at TD Garden during this post-season—while continuing to ride Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas.
Those two men were both beaten by Alex Burrows before he brought a quick end to overtime in Game 2. Thomas was caught out of his goal as Burrows outraced Chara to score on a wraparound, but the Bruins goalie scoffed at the notion he might want to tone down his aggressive style.
“I have a pretty good idea of how to play goalie,” Thomas said Sunday. “I’m not going to be taking suggestions or advice at this time. I’m just going to keep playing the way I have.”
There was more than a hint of defiance from the Eastern Conference champions who clearly feel unlucky to be trailing the series 2-0 after a pair of one-goal losses.
Coach Claude Julien came to the defence of both Thomas and Chara, the towering six-foot-nine defenceman who had a tough outing in Game 2. The Bruins captain is averaging more than 28 minutes per game in the playoffs and shouldn’t expect to see that workload eased any.
“Where we are right now, we have to look at it this way: He’s got all summer long to rest,” said Julien. “Now is not the time to start giving him a rest. We’re in a fight here for a Stanley Cup.
“He’s capable of taking it.”
Julien hinted at needing to make a few small “corrections” before the puck is dropped for Game 3. The Bruins will certainly look to play with more of a physical edge while also trying to dictate the pace of the game—something they were only able to do in small stretches in Vancouver.
The team decided to stay overnight after Saturday’s game before making the 5,000-kilometre trip home early Sunday. After visiting with their families, they checked into a local hotel for the final preparations before Game 3.
It’s the kind of journey teams based in the Eastern Conference rarely make—just one more obstacle.
“We’re not going to hide the fact that we don’t travel as much as they do,” said Julien. “They’re probably used to this more than we are. So I think it was important for us to really look at it in a way where we had to make it the best possible way for us.
“We wanted to get back on Eastern Standard Time as quickly as we could.”
They walked off the plane into a city primed to host its first Stanley Cup final game since 1990. The Bruins played in the old Boston Garden back in those days and were hoping some of the mayhem often associated with that building would be on display Monday night.
“I’m expecting it to be the loudest I’ve ever heard since I’ve been here in Boston,” said forward Milan Lucic. “They’ve waited a long time for the Stanley Cup final back here in Boston so I know they’re excited. We’re excited for this opportunity to play in our home building and get ourselves back in the series.”
There is no sugar-coating the tough position they’ve put themselves in. Only four of 46 teams that have opened the Stanley Cup with two losses have come back to win the series.
The headline in the Boston Herald screamed “ON THIN ICE” and the players didn’t shy away from that reality.
“I think there’s no doubt about it—Game 3 is a must win,” said forward Nathan Horton. “We’re not going down 0-3. We really need a win and we’re going to do our best to get it.”
They feel their best hockey is still to come. Boston’s only two goals in the series came in the second period of Game 2, when they carried the play and proved to themselves they can compete with the Presidents’ Trophy winners.
“We played a better game definitely in Game 2 than we did in Game 1,” said Lucic. “There were periods in the last game, especially in the second period there, where we felt like we were able to play our game. We have to do whatever we can to sustain that pressure for 60 minutes.”
If it’s going to happen anywhere, it’s going to be here at home. When the team bus pulled up to TD Garden on Sunday afternoon, the Bruins were greeted by a sign that read: “Welcome to the Stanley Cup final.”
The time has come for them to signal that they’ve arrived.