BOSTON – There was taunting, trash talk and Tim Thomas throwing a bodycheck.
When the Stanley Cup final descended into the trenches, the Boston Bruins found a way to get the best of the Vancouver Canucks.
Thomas defiantly defended his team after two close one-goal losses to open the series and backed it up with 40 saves Monday as the Bruins handed Vancouver a humbling 8-1 loss in Game 3.
The goaltender even got in on the physical play, hammering Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin at the top of his crease in the third period. It was only fitting to see him get credited with a rare bodycheck on a night where the emotion of this series reached a new level.
“I had a hundredth of a second to make a decision of what I was going to do,” Thomas said. “That’s the way I decided to play it to try to keep the puck out of the net.”
Everything seemed to work for the Bruins as they climbed back to 2-1 down against the dangerous Canucks. Game 4 goes Wednesday night back at TD Garden.
“It’s baby steps,” said Thomas. “We needed to win this game to start turning some momentum, you know, to start to get us back in this series.”
It was the most complete effort of the final for a Bruins squad that was clearly energized by its home crowd. However, this was anything but beautiful hockey as the teams went toe-to-toe with one another between the whistles and in an endless series of scrums after them.
Faced with all of the extra curricular activity, Vancouver wasn’t the same team that appeared to be sprinting towards its first ever championship.
“A lot of stuff went on after the whistle,” said Canucks forward Daniel Sedin. “That’s one of those games where the clock just runs away.”
The bad blood nearly boiled over on a night where Boston forward Nathan Horton was wheeled off on a stretcher after a devastating late hit from Vancouver’s Aaron Rome just over five minutes in. The Canucks defenceman received a five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct, and could be suspended after a disciplinary hearing with Mike Murphy on Tuesday morning.
The only problem Canucks coach Alain Vigneault had with the play was that it came well after Horton had passed off the puck.
“We’ll let the league deal with that, but hit was a head-on hit, a player looking at his pass, it was a little bit late,” said Vigneault. “I don’t think that’s the type of hit the league is trying to take out.”
Horton was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital and had feeling in all of his extremities. A retro Bruins team jacket is awarded by the players to their MVP each game, and it was hanging it Horton’s locker stall after Monday’s victory.
“We talked about obviously playing for Horty,” said Mark Recchi, who scored twice. “He’s been a great teammate all year for us, been a great guy. It’s tough to see your teammate laying down there on the ice.”
Michael Ryder added a goal and two assists for Boston while Andrew Ference, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Dan Paille and Chris Kelly each scored once.
Jannik Hansen replied for Vancouver.
One area the Canucks will be looking to improve on is their suddenly silent power play. They were unable to convert on eight chances with the man advantage in Game 3 and are now just 1-for-16 overall—a particularly troubling stat in a series as heated as this one.
“That’s where we have to make them pay,” said Henrik Sedin. “I thought they were the team that took the dumb (penalties) today and we should have made them pay. But we weren’t good enough.”
It was also a tough night for goaltender Roberto Luongo, who was beaten four times on 14 shots in the middle period after allowing just two goals in the opening two games. He allowed another four goals in the third period but declined an opportunity to pull himself when Vigneault asked with eight minutes to play.
“I didn’t really want to leave the crease,” Luongo said.
Boston’s first two goals were the result of fortunate breaks. Canucks defenceman Alex Edler had his stick inexplicably shatter right after the opening faceoff in the second period and he was standing helplessly in front when Ference’s shot through traffic floated past Luongo at 11 seconds.
Recchi made it 2-0 with hissecond power-pay goal of the series at 4:22 when an attempted pass deflected off Ryan Kesler’s stick and through Luongo’s legs.
“Obviously they took the momentum in the second and they kept it,” said Vigneault.
The real back-breaker came when Marchand scored one of the nicest goals of the entire playoffs. The little sparkplug took control of a neutral zone turnover, chipped the puck past Edler and fought off Kesler before outwaiting Luongo to score short-handed and make it 3-0.
The first Stanley Cup final game played in Boston since 1990 was arguably the biggest the team had faced since last winning a championship in 1972. The Bruins knew falling behind 3-0 in the series would virtually ensure a quick end to their title aspirations.
“I knew we would respond,” said Recchi. “We have all years to situations like this. We all believe in each other.”
Fans inside TD Garden waved yellow towels with the word “Believe” printed across them and welcomed the Bruins home with an ear-splitting ovation that lasted throughout the pre-game introductions, national anthem and opening faceoff. A number of fans from Vancouver made the 5,000-kilometre trip to Boston—including The Green Men, who sat about 15 rows behind the visiting goal—while a full house watched on the scoreboard back at Rogers Arena.
Shawn Thornton was inserted in Boston’s lineup in place of rookie Tyler Seguin and made his presence felt with an early hit on Alex Burrows, the Canucks agitator who is considered Public Enemy No. 1 here after biting Patrice Bergeron’s finger in Game 1.
The Bruins were intent on upping their physicality but Vancouver didn’t back down. The Canucks ended up having the most dangerous scoring chances in the first period after weathering an early storm that included killing off Rome’s five-minute major for the hit on Horton.
Referees Stephen Walkom and Dan O’Rourke tried to keep control by handing out multiple misconducts in the third period, but had minimal success. Milan Lucic waved his finger in the face of Burrows after one late scrum—Bruins coach Claude Julien said he didn’t approve of that play or a similar one involving Recchi—before a slew of goals were scored in the waning minutes.
It was the worst loss suffered by Vancouver since they were beat 5-0 by Chicago in Game 5 of the opening round. But it doesn’t change the fact they still have control of the series.
“I think it’s better to lose 8-1 than to lose in overtime like they did (in Game 2),” said Daniel Sedin. “It’s not fun. I mean, we have a lot of pride in here and to do that in the playoffs that’s not fun. But again, it’s one game.
“We’re going to have to take a look at it tomorrow and sit down and see what happened.”
Notes: It was the 25th anniversary of the trade that brought Cam Neely to Boston from Vancouver … Neely also celebrated his 46th birthday … Counting playoffs and regular season, it was the 1,000th career NHL game for Bruins defenceman Tomas Kaberle … Michael J. Fox was among the celebrities in attendance.