THN at the Stanley Cup: Head games aplenty, but to what effect?

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

BOSTON – One of the worst things about having two days between games in the Stanley Cup final is that it creates a vacuum that needs to be filled. And it usually is by a bunch of white noise.

This year’s Stanley Cup final is no exception. This series has been one nasty bit of business on the ice, one of the worst in recent memory. Off the ice, the sideshow has been even worse, with both teams trying to one-up the other with head games and inflammatory comments.

It makes for great copy, but the reality is it has absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the series. Does anyone really think that a guy such as Tim Thomas is going to fall apart because Roberto Luongo essentially accused him of being a sieve on the only goal in Game 5? There was a time in his life when not a single franchise in a 30-team NHL had an ounce of interest in him and he persevered and is now a star. Having gone through that, do people really think he’s going to be bothered by one strategically placed comment?

When asked how difficult it is for a goaltender to play the puck off the backboards, Luongo responded after Game 5 by saying, “It’s not hard if you’re playing in the paint. It’s an easy save for me, but if you’re wandering out and (being) aggressive like he does, that’s going to happen.”

Luongo said the next day that he also pointed out Thomas would make saves that he wouldn’t be able to make. He also lamented the lack of love Thomas has put his way, saying, “I’ve been pumping his tires since the series started. I haven’t heard one nice thing he had to say about me. That’s the way it is.”

Thomas was not on hand at the TD Garden to respond to Luongo’s comments, but his teammates and coaches were quick to come to the aid of their goaltender.

“Let’s put it this way, I don't think Timmy is going to make much of that comment,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I think you guys are making more out of it than Timmy will. Either way, his stats, you know, are proof itself. He’s given up six goals in five games. The guy that made the comment, I’m not quite sure how many he let in. I think you guys have a good idea, so I don't think he’s going to lose sleep over that.”

If the Bruins are going to lose sleep over anything in this series, it’s the fact that they have faded badly in the third period of every game they’ve lost in the final. It will be that they seemed to be outhit and, at times, outworked in Game 5 and that, even though they’ve scored a ton more goals than the Canucks have, they’ve given up goals at the worst, most demoralizing times of the game.

“Let’s not hide behind the fact that they outhit us and they seemed hungrier,” Julien said. “That’s where we should have been able to push back and we didn’t do that well enough. We’re aware of that and we certainly would like to have another crack at it. We have to show that in our building here next game and hopefully, again, having another crack at going down there and showing that we can push back as well.”

If recent history is any indication, the Bruins will get a shot at a Game 7. In this final and the past two, home teams have had a mind-boggling record of 16-2. What makes that stat so bizarre is that the road team had the advantage in the first three rounds each of the three playoff seasons. Players and coaches have their theories on why that might be the case, but the ability to match lines and wear opponents down after they’ve played three rounds is as good as any.

Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who was on the other end of a 3-2 lead in the Stanley Cup final when he played for the Calgary Flames in 2004, said by the time the final rolls around, teams have played so many elimination games that the concept shouldn’t be terribly foreign to them.

“The whole regular season, and even the playoffs, is really just a practice for moments like this,” Ference said. “There’s plenty of opportunities throughout the entire season to lose a Stanley Cup. You don’t make the playoffs, you lose a Stanley Cup. Through every round there are elimination games, so it’s really just practice for this moment, so you approach it the same way as the others.”

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to with his column. 

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