BOSTON – A stunning shift of momentum. Three days that changed the entire complexion of the Stanley Cup final.
The Boston Bruins steamrolled their way back into the championship series with a 4-0 victory Wednesday that made the Vancouver Canucks look surprisingly ordinary.
With questions resurfacing about Roberto Luongo’s play, a struggling trio of top forwards and little time left to get their mojo back, the NHL’s best regular-season team will bring some extra baggage home from a forgettable trip to Boston.
“All you can do in these situations is keep playing, keep working hard,” said Canucks forward Daniel Sedin. “What do we have left, a few games? There’s no need to be frustrated now.
“Go out and have fun and play the way that got you here.”
Vancouver has been down this road before. After surging to a 3-0 series lead in the opening round against Chicago, the Canucks endured a pair of blowout losses before eventually recovering to win it in seven games.
Another similarity is that both Vancouver goalies saw playing time during the series against the Blackhawks.
Alain Vigneault sent backup Cory Schneider in to replace Luongo after watching his No. 1 man get beaten for the 12th time in two games at hostile TD Garden. Afterwards, the Canucks coach hinted that Luongo would go back to Luongo for Game 5 on Friday night.
“Lou’s going to be fine,” said Vigneault. “He’s one of the best goaltenders in the league and we have a lot of trust and faith in his ability to play well.”
The biggest problem facing the Canucks is finding a way to beat Thomas, who registered his third shutout of the playoffs by making 38 saves. He’s been the best player in black and yellow, allowing just five goals on 146 shots in the series.
“Anyone who knows the story of Tim Thomas, he’s taken a real bumpy road to get to the NHL,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “He’s had so many obstacles to overcome. It makes him the perfect goaltender for our organization because that’s what we are—we’re a blue-collar team that goes out and works hard and earns every inch of the ice that you can get.”
They have a little extra motivation in this series after losing top-line winger Nathan Horton to a concussion when Aaron Rome hammered him with a dangerous hit in Game 3. Horton surprised his teammates by coming in the dressing room after the game to present Rich Peverley with an old-school Bruins jacket the players give to their MVP after each victory.
Peverley, who took Horton’s spot on the top line, scored both the opening goal and the one that chased Luongo in the third period.
“He came in the room and everyone’s pretty emotional to just be able to see him,” Peverley said of Horton. “No one has seen him since everything happened so he wanted to give (the jacket) out tonight.”
The Bruins have been getting contributions throughout their lineup with goals from Michael Ryder and Brad Marchand to go with the pair scored by Peverley.
Vancouver’s star players have yet to make much of an impact in the series. Ryan Kesler, once the subject of Conn Smythe talk, has just one assist in four games—which is one more point than captain Henrik Sedin.
A potent power play has also disappeared as Vancouver failed to convert on six more opportunities and now sits at just 1-for-22 in the series. Two of those situations came in the first period of Game 4, when the Canucks failed to grab early momentum by getting on the scoreboard.
“We’ve got to solve Thomas, that’s the thing,” said Henrik Sedin.
With Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Haper watching from the stands, the Canucks were undone by a poor second period for the second straight game. Goals 2:18 apart by Ryder and Marchand just past the midway point of the game gave Boston a 3-0 lead and elicited derisive chants of “Luuuuuongo” from the energized TD Garden crowd.
The goaltender could have used more help from his teammates.
Ryder’s goal at 11:11 came on a long wrist shot that was only dangerous because defenceman Sami Salo was reaching and had it deflect off his stick. Marchand roofed a backhand shot at 13:29 after Keith Ballard was unable to control the puck and Henrik Sedin left him open in front.
“(We made) a couple costly mistakes I think and then it seemed like it snowballed,” said Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa. “It happened in Game 3 in the second period and it seemed like it happened tonight. We’ve got to keep our composure when one goes in and not turn one mistake into two.”
Another troubling trend is the lack of pushback the Canucks showed after falling behind, losing a number of battles for the puck against a more determined Boston team.
“They’re doing what they want at times,” said Bieksa.
The night got off to a roaring start when Bruins legend Bobby Orr was shown on the scoreboard waving a Horton flag prior to the game. That revved up a crowd that took it to another level when Peverley was sent in alone and beat Luongo through the legs at 11:59 of the first period.
Vancouver had a number of good opportunities to tie it but couldn’t solve Thomas, who was at his aggressive best challenging shooters and fighting for position in the crease. He denied a charging Maxim Lapierre towards the end of the period and managed to control the rebound.
Some signs of frustration started to emerge from the Canucks, who had their passionate fanbase partying into the night after taking the first two games of the series on home ice. Henrik Sedin took a long pause before skating to the penalty box after being called for high-sticking early in the third period, giving referees Dan O’Halloran and Kelly Sutherland an earful on the way by.
After Luongo fielded questions from reporters, he walked into a hallway outside the dressing room and slammed his water bottle against a table.
The series is now down to a best-of-three. One of the few positives for Vancouver is they don’t need to find a way to win in the hostile confines of TD Garden—two more victories on home ice will do the job.
“I would say that they were probably the hungrier team the last two games,” said Luongo. “Usually in this game you make your own breaks and obviously we haven’t had many the last two games. I’m sure after the first two games they were complaining they didn’t get any breaks.
“It’s playoff hockey, things are going to happen, and I think the main thing it’s the way you respond. Obviously now we’re in a situation where we’re tied at two and heading home. It’s not time for us to put our head down.”
Notes: Julien won his 31st playoff game behind the bench with the Bruins, tying the franchise record set by Don Cherry. … Tanner Glass replaced Jeff Tambellini in Vancouver’s lineup … Bruins forward Marc Savard, out for the season with a concussion, was given a loud ovation when he was shown on the scoreboard in the first period … NBA star Steve Nash attended the game. His brother-in-law is Canucks forward Manny Malhotra … Announced attendance was 17,565.