BOSTON -- A pall had been cast over TD Garden just five minutes into Game 3. Near center ice laid Bruins winger Nathan Horton, stunned and motionless, after absorbing a late and devastating hit by Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome.
Horton was in his third stride after passing the puck through the neutral zone when the 6-foot-1, 218-pound Rome stepped into him at the blue line, putting his shoulder into the side of Horton's head.
Horton wouldn't hear the woos, as he was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where it was reported the he was moving his extremities, but in the second period, the cheers that echo through the Garden after goals are announced came hard and fast, as the Bruins took it to the Canucks and scored four goals on their way to a whopping 8-1 win Monday night.
"We talked about it [during the first intermission]," Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "Coach said, 'Let's go out there and do it for Horty.' Nobody wants to see a guy lay down on the ice with his eyes rolled in the back of his head. It's a good feeling that we ended up winning this game for him."
After the juvenile antics of the first two games -- finger-biting, ill-natured taunting, et al -- it seemed that single hit effectively flipped the tenor of the series. In an instant, what was once just the usual distaste between two teams vying for a Stanley Cup turned personal -- if not downright vicious.
In the third period, with the Bruins already holding onto a 4-0 lead, the emotional animosity of both teams spiraled out of control, as they combined for 20 penalties, including a fight between Canucks center Ryan Kesler and Seidenberg and a total of nine 10-minute misconducts.
At one point, with about nine minutes left, winger Milan Lucic got tangled with Alexandre Burrows, he of gnawing fame, and put out his fingers in a taunt reminiscent of the one Canucks center Maxim Lapierre pulled on Patrice Bergeron in Game 2. He did so just hours after Boston coach Claude Julien had told reporters that he would never tolerate such behavior.
"It's something that happens in the heat of the moment," Lucic said. "[Julien] definitely gave me some heat about it. And I agree with him. It's not the type of team that we are to do something like that ... and stoop to that level."
But for much of the third period, both teams went to that level. And as much as teams love to talk about focusing on the future, the actions of Lapierre and Lucic suggest that what happens in the past doesn't always stay there. Players have acute memories, even if they prefer to say they can forget and just move on.
The image of Horton going down was not easy to get past. After the ensuing five-minute power play, the Bruins put just one shot on Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo for the remainder of the period. It wasn't until after the intermission, after getting a chance to digest the situation, that Boston seemed to find its purpose.
"Somehow you have to find a way to put it behind you in the game and stay focused and play the game," Boston captain Zdeno Chara said. "And the best way to get revenge is to win the game."
The puck dropped in the second, and Boston's chance came quickly. After the faceoff, Canucks defenseman Alex Edler's stick broke as he tried to initiate a rush from his own zone, springing Boston's David Krejci with an open look on Luongo. Though his shot sailed wide, it hugged the boards and went back to the point, where defenseman Andrew Ference whipped in a high shot that ignited the majority of the 17,565 fans in the Garden.
Playing with the lead, the Bruins would not let up -- not physically (they finished with 40 hits to Vancouver's 31) and not on goals. Before the period was through, the Bruins would go on to score goals three ways: Mark Recchi on the power play (aided by the stick of Kesler, trying to obstruct a cross-ice pass), Brad Marchand shorthanded and Krejci even-handed, cashing in on a big and juicy rebound left by Luongo in the left circle.
"The game shifted in the second," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "They took the momentum, and they kept it."
In the third, in between the melees, the Bruins continued to push, scoring four more goals, the last of which came with 31 seconds left. And while they again insist that a win by a touchdown doesn't mean any more than a win by one, the eight-goal flood may give them confidence against a Vezina finalist who had only allowed two goals in the series thus far.
"We had our issues on scoring on Luongo," Julien said. "And tonight we managed to find a way to score a lot of goals on him. Certainly [that's] good confidence-wise, but I don't think it's any reason for us to think that all of a sudden things have turned around."
Despite outscoring the Canucks now 2-to-1, the Bruins still remain down two games to one in the series. But there is a sense that the tide has begun to shift. Rome is churning. Not only did he deliver a brutal hit that could get him suspended, he just may have delivered the Bruins the emotional purpose that could change a series.
1. Tim Thomas, Bruins -- After days of having to hear people criticize his style of play -- he laughed as he told reporters he wouldn't be taking goaltending advice Sunday -- the Bruins netminder again proved he is doing fine. Not only did he make 40 saves in his first Stanley Cup finals victory, he also made the timely ones that kept the Bruins in the hunt early. The game turned into a Boston scoring free-for-all in the second period, but without his big saves late in the first, including a sequence when he stoned Vancouver's Mason Raymond twice from close range, the Bruins very well could have been playing from behind when the puck dropped to start the second.
2. Brad Marchand, Bruins -- The rookie winger is a sparkplug. A grinder and often an annoyance to opponents, Marchand blew the game open with his shorthanded goal in the second period, which made it 3-0. "Honestly, I kind of blacked out and I don't really remember how noisy it was, but I can only imagine," the 23-year old forward said. A presence on the penalty kill, as well, he and the Bruins killers have snuffed out the potent Canucks power play, which has gone 1-for-16 through three games.
3. Rich Peverley, Bruins -- With Horton out, the veteran center ate up many minutes and has proven he can fit in seamlessly with any and every line. Not only did he finish with an assist on Boston's first goal, he was the intended recipient of Recchi's pass on the power play, which banked in off of Kesler's outstretched stick. The midseason acquisition has been a key cog in the Bruins run late this postseason, proving to be a versatile cog that Julien can trust in any situation.