VANCOUVER – Before the Stanley Cup final began the Boston Bruins said they preferred to play the Vancouver Canucks at even strength as much as possible.
They wanted to avoid a Canucks’ power play clicking at better than 28 per cent, scoring on 17 man-advantage chances in 18 playoff games.
Instead, Boston’s big forwards would crash and bang on the forecheck when the teams were at even strength and create scoring chances.
Be careful what you wish for.
Heading into Saturday’s Game 2 the Bruins are now looking to adjust to the Canucks’ speedy 5-on-5 transition game if they want to gain a split in the best-of-seven series.
“It was pretty simple,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said Thursday of the last-minute 1-0 loss in Wednesday’s series opener.
“They beat us at the 5-on-5 game (Wednesday night) and I thought our special teams were as good if not better than theirs. Special teams I don’t think was an issue but 5-on-5 no doubt they were the better team.”
The game developed a nasty edge through the first 40 minutes, with the teams combining for more than 16 minutes of power-play time.
But the Canucks’ best chances came when they used their speed in the penalty-free third period.
Alex Burrows was on the end of a Henrik Sedin-to-Daniel Sedin relay and tipped a dangerous shot on goalie Tim Thomas.
Alex Edler ripped a shot off the post over Thomas’s shoulder.
And before he set up the streaking Raffi Torres for the only goal of the game, Jannik Hansen was sent in on a breakaway. Thomas closed his pads on his shot then reached back to keep the puck from crossing the goal line.
Patrice Bergeron said his Bruins teammates must match or neutralize the Canucks’ speed in Game 2 Saturday night.
“The last 10 minutes we had a little letdown there,” said Bergeron, whose return from a concussion in Game 3 helped Boston control the Eastern Conference final against Tampa Bay.
“We’ve got to make sure we play the whole game. We’re fine with a fast game. We’re fine with a fast pace like that.”
Veteran Mark Recchi said Boston, which has won five Stanley Cups but has lost five straight finals, has shown an ability to adjust all season.
“We handle things well and stay with it as much as possible,” said Recchi who has won Cups with Pittsburgh and Carolina.
“We’ve got to be better 5-on-5 first of all and work on the positives of the power play.”
Centre Chris Kelly said his club played well at even strength against Vancouver in a game that looked headed to overtime.
“Obviously it was who was going to blink first,” Kelly said.
And that was Boston as Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo blanked the opposition for the third time in four series openers with a 36-save effort.
One way to beat him is shooting from better positions, Bergeron said.
“We had some good shots but not necessarily from the slot or the danger area,” he said.
“We can improve that and make sure we fight our way close to the front of the net. They’re doing a good job of boxing us out but we’ve got to find a way.”
The Bruins’ power play seems like a work in progress this late in the season, converting only five of 67 opportunities or 7.5 per cent.
Massive six-foot-nine, 255-pound defenceman Zdeno Chara was parked in front of Luongo to block his vision or tip a puck, a tactic the Bruins employed in Game 6 against Tampa Bay.
Against Vancouver, Chara even won an offensive zone faceoff before proceeding to Luongo’s doorstep.
Julien, mindful of Luongo’s playoff problems with the bulky Dustin Byfuglien when he played for Chicago last season, hinted there’ll be more of that on Saturday.
“He’s given us a different look,” Julien said of his towering captain. “He’s moving around at trying to be a screen in front and also trying not to get sucked into penalties.
“They were pretty hard on him at times and he just got back up and did his job. I anticipate that he’ll only get better at that position as we use him there.”
Defenceman Tomas Kaberle, obtained from Toronto in February for his power-play passing skills, said Boston simply has to stick with its man-advantage tactics.
“I thought we had good chances,” Kaberle said. “When the puck’s not going in you just have to make sure the next one’s going in.
“Especially with Big Z in front of the net he (Luongo) doesn’t see much and we have to put even more shots on the net.”
Losing the first game of a series is nothing new to the Bruins who started 0-2 at home in the first round against Montreal and lost their opener 5-2 to Tampa Bay.
“We came out on the winning side on both series so yes, we’ve got to stay positive,” said Bergeron.
Wednesday’s dramatic loss won’t be on their minds when the puck drops Saturday, said Kelly.
“That’s kind of been one of our strengths, being composed, not getting too flustered and too rattled.”
Defenceman Andrew Ference doubts the Canucks’ even-strength edge will last.
“If you go in expecting to have complete control of a game through a whole series, you’re kidding yourself,” Ference said.
NOTES: Chara had 4:32 of power-play time among his usual 28 minutes per game … teams winning Game 1 have won the Stanley Cup in 55 of the 71 seasons since the league introduced the best-of-seven format in 1939 … four players have appeared in at least 200 games for both the Canucks and Bruins—Bobby Schmautz, Cam Neely, Barry Pederson and Geoff Courtnall.