BOSTON – The Vancouver Canucks didn’t embark on this particular business trip with celebrating on their minds.
Halfway home to the Stanley Cup, the team landed in Boston with the opportunity to claim its first ever championship before getting on another plane. The mere prospect of that had people celebrating on the streets of Vancouver long into Sunday morning, but the enthusiasm didn’t rub off on the players who will be charged with getting the job done.
“It’s been tight, really close games,” forward Henrik Sedin said Sunday night. “Both could have gone either way. We know that we have to play better.
“They’re a good team and we’ve got a lot of respect for those guys.”
With Game 3 looming at what promises to be an amped-up TD Garden on Monday, the Canucks are expecting to see a different Bruins team than the one they beat twice at Rogers Arena.
An old adage suggests a playoff series isn’t over until a team has lost on home ice. The Vancouver players are willing to take it even further after watching Chicago erase a 3-0 deficit in the first round and force overtime in Game 7.
“If there’s anything this playoffs have taught is, it’s that you can’t (get ahead of yourself),” said forward Jannik Hansen. “You’ve see how many series have been up and you think ‘oh now the team is going to close it out’ and suddenly the other team has been back. We’ve had that experience ourselves.”
The Canucks are coming across as extremely poised in the midst of an emotional time. They’re riding a wave of positivity after scoring a Game 1 victory on a goal by Raffi Torres with 18.5 seconds to play before pulling Game 2 out just 11 seconds into overtime on an Alex Burrows wraparound.
It’s put a long-awaited championship just outside of their grasp.
“I think the players have to be focused on the task at hand,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “If you are focused on the task and what you need to do to perform well, then your emotions are the right ones, your intensity is the right intensity and you can go out there and execute.”
The series is starting to see some bad blood develop between the teams. On Sunday, Vigneault referred to a Rich Peverley slash on Kevin Bieksa as a “cheapshot” that “you don’t want to see in the game.”
Bruins defenceman Johnny Boychuk also made his presence felt in Game 2 with a heavy hit on Ryan Kesler.
“I think what we have to continue is to bring that part of our game to the table every night,” said Boston coach Claude Julien. “It has been part of our makeup. I don’t think we plan on changing that part of our game.
“I suspect it’s going to be there right until the end.”
History suggests the task will be tough for Boston after dropping the opening two games of the final, although they only have to look back two years to when Pittsburgh was beaten twice in Detroit before rallying for a seven-game series win.
The Bruins are also looking to draw off their own experience of losing the first two games to Montreal—at home, no less—and still managing to come out on top in the first round.
“It does give you some consolation to know that you’ve done it before,” said goalie Tim Thomas. “But, you know, having said that, tomorrow it will be time to stop talking about it and it will be time to start doing it. Tomorrow is a big game for us.”
Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo has gotten better every round of the playoffs. He’s stopped 64 of the 66 shots the Bruins have fired at him and had a shutout in the opening game.
The Vancouver defence has helped Luongo by forcing the Bruins to take mostly long shots. The Canucks have clogged up the middle of the ice, getting a stick or ankle in front of pucks before they get to the net.
Luongo has seen the puck and isn’t giving up many rebounds. When he does, there are no Bruins there to get a second shot.
“When he plays like he does now, he’s the best goalie in the world,” said forward Daniel Sedin. “I don’t say that because I’m a teammate and a friend. I say it because I mean it.”
Thomas believes the Bruins can do more.
“I think he’s played well with what he’s been tested with,” said Thomas. “But I don’t think we’ve tested him enough. That’s part of the reason we’re down 2-0 in the series.”
Vancouver is in control of its own destiny and needs only two wins to set off a celebration in Vancouver that could eclipse what was seen after the Olympic gold medal game a year ago.
The biggest key for the Canucks might have come a couple weeks ago when they dispatched Nashville from the second round. In hindsight, that helped the team’s core players cross a big mental hurdle and Vancouver has gone 6-1 since.
Now they’re on the verge of officially joining the league’s elite.
“A team like Detroit or Pittsburgh, they’re very confident with their players and the trust they have in each other,” said Henrik Sedin. “I think for us we’ve never been past the second round. Maybe there’s some doubt there before we (did that). …
“I think we’ve grown together as a team and we feel better than ever.”
With files from Jim Morris in Vancouver.