VANCOUVER – During the best regular season in franchise history, the Vancouver Canucks often spoke about the team’s composure and resiliency.
What the Canucks must do in their game Friday against the Boston Bruins is show they have the character and internal fortitude to regain control of a Stanley Cup final they once looked to have comfortably in their grasp.
The Canucks staggered back to Vancouver on Thursday bruised and battered after being blown out in two games at TD Garden in Boston. The 2-0 lead Vancouver had in the series is now a 2-2 tie. The Canucks were beaten by a combined score of 12-1, and looked like a team coming apart at the seams.
Vancouver must win Game 5 to avoid falling behind 3-2 in the best-of-seven Cup final. Vancouver has not trailed in a series during these playoffs.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo said instead of dwelling on the mistakes of the last two games, the Canucks need to concentrate on what has got them this far.
“We’re not happy with the way we played the last two games,” said Luongo, one of four players the Canucks made available for interviews at Rogers Arena. “We’re all pretty upset with ourselves and our performances.
“At the end of the day we’re two wins away from reaching the ultimate goal. I don’t think it’s time for us to be putting our heads down or not to have any confidence. We’re close and we want to make sure that we all bring our A game.”
For the first time in the playoffs, all of the best Canuck players are struggling.
Daniel Sedin, who led the league in scoring this season and is a MVP finalist, has just one goal and an assist in four games against Boston. Twin brother Henrik has no points, just two shots on net, and is a minus-3.
Hard-nosed centre Ryan Kesler, once was considered a Conn Smythe candidate, is hobbled by an apparent lower-body injury. He has one assist in four games. Alex Burrows was the overtime hero in Game 2, but all his points came in that one game.
Coach Alain Vigneault knows these players are the engine that drives Vancouver.
“If we’ve gotten to where we are today, it’s because our top players have been, on most nights, the best players on the ice,” said Vigneault. “We need those guys to play up to their standards, and they will.
“We have faced adversity throughout the season in many shapes and forms. We’re a very good team. We’ve proved it in the past and we’re going to prove it tomorrow night.”
Luongo remains a lightning-rod for criticism in what could be a defining moment in his career. Fans watching Game 4 on the scoreboard at Rogers Arena cheered when backup Cory Schneider replaced him during the third period.
Vigneault made it clear Luongo will start Game 5.
“Roberto is the guy,” said Vigneault. “He’s my guy and he’s playing.
“It’s that simple.”
The Canucks didn’t overpower the Bruins in winning the first two games of the series, but they were overwhelmed in losing the next two.
The Bruins dictated the play and pushed the Canucks around like schoolyard bullies. Boston was the more aggressive team, capitalized on some good bounces, and refused to take their foot off the gas pedal.
Vancouver has never been a physical team. The Canucks rely on their power play to punish teams. But so far in the final Vancouver is a laughable 1-for-22 with the man advantage.
Vigneault can’t believe a power play that led the league this season will disappear in the final.
“I’ve got a lot of trust and faith in these guys,” he said. “These guys have done it all year for us, and they’re going to do it again.”
What might be most worrying for Vancouver is the way the Canucks’ discipline deteriorated. When the games got tough in Boston, the Canucks got mouthy.
Players like Kesler and Burrows were yapping at officials, something they had refrained from doing all season. Instead of walking away from scrums, Vancouver players were willing participants
The Canucks can’t let the Bruins continue to push their buttons.
“We addressed it as a team,” said defenceman Andrew Alberts. “It’s not our game.
“Boston might want to build on the scrums and get a boost out of that. We’re trying to play hard between the whistles and that’s when we are at our best. We will stay out of the scrums and play our game.”
Vancouver is going to have to find a way to shore up its game defensively. With Dan Hamhuis still on the sidelines with a lower-body injury he suffered in Game 1 and Aaron Rome suspended for the series for his hit on Nathan Horton in Game 3, the Canucks are down their depth chart.
The Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy this year for the best regular-season record. No team in the NHL scored more goals or allowed fewer.
Boston still sees itself as the underdog despite the dominance it showed in Games 3 and 4. Home teams are an amazing 15-2 during the Stanley Cup final since 2009 and the Bruins must win at least one game in Vancouver.
“They are one of the best teams in the league for a reason so we’ve got to go in there and try to steal one,” said forward Rich Peverley.
The Canucks’ character was put to the test in the first round of the playoffs. They took a 3-0 lead against the Chicago Blackhawks, then needed a goal in overtime of Game 7 to eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Luongo said the Canucks passed that test and won’t fail now.
“All year we’ve battled though adversity and have been able to rise about it every time,” he said. “We’ve always found a way to come through and this is no different.
“The stage is bigger, but I think we have the confidence that we believe in the guys we have in this room and that we can get the job done.”
With files from Chris Johnston in Boston.