Monday June 6th, 2011

The Bruins won't last long if goalie Tim Thomas has to keep bailing them out. (Kathleen Hinkel/Icon SMI)

By Stu Hackel

The Stanley Cup Final moves to Boston tonight for Game 3 and the Bruins must win, as NBC/SI analyst Pierre McGuire explains in this video. In fact, the Bruins pretty much have to take the next two games at home or the series will return to Vancouver with the Canucks having a chance to win the Cup on home ice in Game 5. But the B's can't think about two wins just yet. "One at a time" has to be their mantra.

The Bruins have been accentuating the positive despite their 2-0 deficit. They speak about their resiliency, the fact that they've rallied from being down two before, and how they were in both games right up to the very end. All that is true, and with a few bounces, we could be at 1-1 or even 2-0 the other way. But Vancouver has been the better, more consistent team so far and had it not been for Tim Thomas, these games might not have been so close.

It's always risky this early in any series to characterize certain aspects of the first two games as definitive of the way these two teams match up. An injury, a coaching adjustment or some other variable could change the nature of things going forward. But after 120 minutes and 11 seconds, it seems as if the Canucks' team speed and aggressiveness are problematic for Boston. They have been able to force the Bruins into costly turnovers, and by doing so, Vancouver's superior transition game goes to work. The turnovers by Boston are making Thomas's job more difficult.

The Canucks had some great scoring chances caused directly by turnovers only to have Thomas bail out his teammates. There was this one committed by Tomas Kaberle (video) and this one by David Krejci (video) -- and it's worth noting that neither of those players were credited with a giveaway in the NHL stats, so it makes the value of those stats questionable.

Right after Game 2 and again on the off-day, coach Claude Julien stressed his team's needs to improve in this area. "I don't think we played very well, to what our standards are all about," he said on Saturday night. "I think the decision-making, the puck management, it's what's costing us games. When you turn pucks over in the neutral zone, this is a team that thrives on it. We know that they thrive on it, yet we kept turning pucks over in the neutral zone. We have to be a little better in those areas."

It wasn't just in the neutral zone. Each of Vancouver's goals in Game 2 was the direct result of a mishandling of the puck by Boston in perilous areas of the ice. On the game's first goal, a power play tally by Alex Burrows....

...Andrew Ference tried but could not clear the puck up the boards to the right of the goal. There were two Canucks preventing him from getting it out: Chris Higgins was bearing down on him and Sami Salo pinched in along the wall (and a third Canuck, Mason Raymond, moved over to back up Salo if the puck got by him). As it turned out, Salo stopped Ference's attempt and rapidly moved it to Higgins who swiftly slid it Burrows. In a great position for a shot, Burrows got it away quickly and it leaked through Thomas to open the scoring.

On the second Vancouver goal, by Daniel Sedin...

...three Canucks converged on Milan Lucic along the boards to the left of the goal: Burrows is right next to him, Daniel comes in from behind the net, and Alex Edler moves in from the point. When Edler saw Sedin coming, he moved back to the point. Under pressure from the two remaining Canucks, Lucic shoveled it into the corner to Zdeno Chara, but Chara lost it off his stick blade and it went between his feet so he could not play the puck to safety. Burrows gathered it in, relayed it to Henrik Sedin, then went to the net. Henrik pushed it back to the blue line for Edler, whose shot got through Daniel, moving through the slot, and right to Burrows near the top of the crease. He saw Daniel in front of him with no one checking him and slid it over. Daniel found the net and tied the game 2-2 early in the third.

On the overtime game-winner, Burrows' second of the night...

...all the attention afterward focused on Thomas coming so far out of the crease and Chara's inability to out-battle Burrows in their race around the back of the net. But the play began with Patrice Bergeron winning the face-off right back to Ference, whose shoot-in attempt doesn't get past the far blue line where it's picked off by Edler, who moves it ahead to Daniel. Ference charged ahead right at Daniel instead of backing off to defend. Daniel then fired a pass to the streaking Burrows, who skated into the lane that Ference had abandoned. Burrows had lots of white ice in front of him and only big Chara to elude. Chara reached Burrows at the face-off circle, then broke stride so he could reach in with his stick. Burrows stepped away from him and Chara didn't have great balance from that point on as he attempted to stop him. Thomas charged Burrows and, either purposely or accidentally, the Canucks winger pushed the puck to the end boards and cut behind the net to pick it up, gaining some separation from Chara and trapping Thomas far away from his station. Chara lost a half-step when he had to change direction, and while analyst Eddie Olczyk on NBC said that Chara should have pulled Burrows down, he was almost never in a position where he could have done that from the time he broke stride and reached in with his stick.

(By the way, as reader "Steve"  pointed out in an e-mail to me shortly after the game, if you freeze the video at the point where the puck crosses the line, it's actually nine seconds from the beginning of overtime on the game clock, not 11 seconds as the official time given by the NHL. If nine seconds is indeed accurate, Burrows tied the record for the fastest OT goal ever scored in Stanley Cup play, currently held by Montreal's Brian Skrudland, who scored the Game 2 winner against the Flames in 1986. We'll see if the record book changes or not.)

Burrows was the best player on the ice, and not only for his two goals and assist. He checked with great effectiveness, his five hits were the most among Canucks forwards and second most on the team. He also made a number of plays with the puck that made him dangerous on most of his shifts. The irony of his performance was lost on few observers after he escaped suspension for his alleged Game 1 bite of Bergeron's finger (and here's the video of that incident if somehow you've missed seeing it).

That little episode was apparently the cause of some humor in the Canucks' dressing room, with one Vancouver Sun blogger saying that Kevin Bieksa joked that his teammates have been calling Burrows “Bitey." And the Canucks wanted to share their joke with the B's in Game 2 as longtime pest Maxim Lapierre invited Bergeron to get even by gnawing on Lapierre's finger...

...which Bergeron politely declined.

In addition to good oral hygiene, here are nine things to look for tonight in Game 3:

1. On home ice, the B's will likely feed off their fans and may have a bit more jump than they did for the first two games out west. They went through stretches where they were on their heels -- especially in the third period of both games -- and the emotion of being in Boston could help prevent that sag. Equally important, Julien will have last change, and while he was able to get his players on often enough in the first two games so that he wasn't burned by Vigneault, it will help his club find its rhythm better than when it has to change on the fly out of certain match-ups.

2. Manny Malhotra's dramatic return to the lineup from his late season eye injury changed a few things in this series. First, it provided his team with an emotional and psychological lift. Second, it gave Vigneault a fourth line that he is not reluctant to use for more than a couple of minutes a game. Malhotra between Victor Oreskovich and Jeff Tambellini were effective in their nine shifts, especially in the first two periods. Third, Malhotra's work in the faceoff circle, where he went 6-1, means Vigneault can use him on important defensive zone draws where Bergeron might otherwise dominate. Fourth, Malhotra is an excellent penalty-killer, and using him could save a bit of the wear and tear on someone like Burrows or Kesler on the PK. Now that Malhotra has played a game, Vigneault should feel more comfortable using him in his normal role.

3. The Bruins' power play finally scored when Mark Recchi deflected a Chara shot past Roberto Luongo (video) to give Boston a 2-1 lead midway through regulation. It's worth watching for Chara's ever-changing role with the extra man. He started the playoffs on the point, was moved in front of the net during the last round, and is now out of that spot and back on the point again where only he has the kind of shot that causes fear. If he stays there, Boston needs someone in front, and while Recchi could be used there, the logical guy is Lucic. Yet, as was shown during the CBC telecast of Game 2, Lucic isn't always in position with his stick on the ice in that role. and those are two fundamentals on the power play.

4. The Canucks were the more physical team in Game 2, especially in the early going when they hit every white sweater in sight. The final hit stats, for what they're worth, credited the Canucks with 40 hits to the B's 31, but anyone watching the game had to recognize that Vancouver was crashing Boston at every opportunity. That's an area the B's have to at least match hit for hit, if not try to dominate. It won't be an easy task.

5. This brings us to Chara's play. The Canucks continue to pound him and he's playing lots of minutes, and has all spring. The big question he's faced in the last few days -- whether he's wearing down -- is not without reason, although he is a magnificent athlete and wonderfully conditioned. He wasn't great in Game 2, but if he can bounce back tonight, it will go a long way toward helping Boston's chances.

6. On the other hand, the absence of Dan Hamhuis from Vancouver's lineup meant that Aaron Rome was moved to the shutdown role alongside Bieksa in Game 2 and there is some loss of mobility there, which showed in Rome taking a pair of minor penalties. This is something that Boston can exploit so it's worth watching Rome's play tonight as well. Vancouver has done a generally good job of limiting second chance opportunities for Boston. The B's first goal of Game 2 was a rebound put in by Lucic (video) and they are going to have to work harder to manufacture those chances against a team that so far is very stingy in that department.

7. Ference had an awful Game 2 and he's going to have to bounce back. Johnny Boychuk, who was on the ice for seven consecutive opposition goals, made it eight on that first Vancouver tally. He wasn't on for the rest, but there are some shaky sticks on the B's blueline, which is why Chara plays as much as he does. They'll need to lose those shakes tonight.

8. The Canucks had a lull in their game in the second period when the B's tied it and took the lead. Some observers think Vancouver is prone to taking its foot off the pedal and has trouble sustaining  intensity for a full game. If that's so, the B's have to take full advantage of those lulls when they occur, because once they get their game cranked up, the Canucks are hard to catch. Which leads us to...

9. The Canucks were able to impose their style of play on the Bruins in the first two games. While Vancouver is expert at cycling the puck, it is also comfortable in open ice and that's where the Canucks want to play. They forced the B's into trading chances with them, and that's a game that Boston can't win. Putting the Rich Peverley-Chris Kelly-Michael Ryder line back together should add to their pace, and using Tyler Seguin more would do that, too, although Julien seems inclined to limit his minutes to third and fourth line duty. So the Bruins will want to dump the puck in more and forecheck, and get bodies to the net. They should not try to match speed with Vancouver. They also want to clog up the neutral zone more effectively. They've backed in too much and allowed the Canucks easy access through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. For the B's to win, they'll have to impose their style on the game. In this series, style points count a great deal.

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