BOSTON – Let the record show that the Stanley Cup final is now down to a best-of-three series with the Vancouver Canucks owning two of those games on their home ice. Now if the Canucks repeat that to themselves enough times over the next two days, perhaps they might even begin to believe it.
Because it sure doesn’t feel that way, does it? Must have something to do with those 12 goals the Boston Bruins have scored since Nathan Horton was knocked out of the series with a late hit. More than that, it has to do with the fact the Bruins best players have taken control of the series, while the Canucks top talent has gone missing in action.
In Wednesday night’s 4-0 Bruins win in Game 4, the most difficult task might have been picking Boston’s best player. Was it Tim Thomas for stopping all 38 shots that came his way? Was it Zdeno Chara for making great outlet pass after great outlet pass and effectively nullifying the Sedin twins? Was it Rich Peverley for scoring the first and last goals of the game? Or was it Michael Ryder for playing all 200 feet of the ice arguably better than he has in his NHL career? How about Gregory Campbell for logging six minutes of shorthanded ice time and putting in more minutes than Patrice Bergeron or Milan Lucic?
Take your pick. While you’re at it, filter through the myriad of candidates for the worst player on the Canucks. Actually, just close your eyes and point at their roster and you pretty much can’t go wrong. You get the idea here.
We’re going to say this again. On paper, the Canucks are the better team in this series. But through the entirety of the first four games, the Bruins have been far better and are on an upward trajectory while the Canucks are trying to find a way to stop this careening train before it goes completely off the rails. If they are going to do that on home ice they’re going to have to find a way to deal with the Bruins’ physical play and come up with a way to beat Tim Thomas, who seems to be in one of those incredible zones that produce all-time great goaltending performances.
It might, however, produce a Cat in the Cradle situation for Thomas and his son. (Google it, kids.) Thomas said he doesn’t do much on off days during the playoffs, but tries to hang out with his family as much as possible.
“My little boy is trying to get me to play hockey,” Thomas said. “I’m like, ‘I’m a little bit too tired, wait ‘til this summer.’ ”
Thomas certainly doesn’t look too tired to the Canucks, who are having a terrible time putting pucks past him. Even when Thomas was coming out of his net too much and lost the first two games, they managed to put only three past him.
“I don’t know, do you have an answer for me?” said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin when asked how they could solve Thomas. “We have to keep doing the things we are.”
Hate to quibble, but we respectfully disagree. If the Canucks keep doing things the way they are, they’ll become just the fifth team in NHL history to blow a 2-0 lead and lose the Stanley Cup final. And much of it starts with the Sedins, who simply must begin to have more of an impact on the game. Yes, they’re trying. Yes, it’s sometimes difficult to get the better of Chara and Bergeron, particularly when you can’t get away from them on the road. But when the reigning and probable future Hart Trophy winners can only produce six shots between them in two games, they become fair game for criticism. They simply have to be better, for no other reason than the Canucks look for the twins to lead them.
Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo must also be better and there’s a good chance he will. It’s inconceivable that Canucks coach Alain Vigneault would replace Luongo with Cory Schneider at this stage of the playoffs, even though there are a number of observers who believe Schneider is every bit as good as Luongo. Luongo was asked about whether or not he would start Game 5 and said, “Bud, game just finished.”
The guy at the other end of the ice was far more relaxed, although you wouldn’t have known it the way he slashed Alexandre Burrows late in the game. Burrows knocked the stick out of Thomas’ hand and he responded by whacking Burrows across the legs.
“They’d been getting the butt end of my stick actually,” Thomas said. “That was like the third time that he’d hit my butt end on that power play. On 6-on-4, we were up 4-0, the game was getting down toward the end, so I thought I’d give him a little love tap and let him know, ‘I know what you’re doing, but I’m not going to let you do it forever.’”
And of course, no Vancouver-Boston final game would be complete without the requisite silliness late in the proceedings. How Keith Ballard could toss his gloves off and start throwing punches without getting either a fighting major or an instigator penalty boggles the mind.
It just adds another layer to what is becoming an incredibly intriguing Stanley Cup final.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.