BOSTON – The Boston Bruins had more players from north of the 49th by a 14-10 margin in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final, but it was the Vancouver Canucks who emerged with the Ugly Canadian tag they seem to wear so well.
Their game was ugly, of course. That’s bound to happen when a team lays an 8-1 beat-down on you in the Stanley Cup final. But thanks to a late Aaron Rome hit that sent Nathan Horton to the hospital and likely has knocked him out of the series, it’s safe to say the Canucks didn’t gain any admirers.
Nor should they have. The display they put on in Game 3 was disgraceful on a couple of fronts. First, the Rome hit was a reckless, unneeded play that any player with an ounce of respect for his opponent should and could avoid. Second, after the Canucks went down 4-0 through two periods, they essentially quit and hung arguably their most valuable player out to dry.
The Canucks can’t even seem to get respect in their own country, one that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 17 years. Many people east of the Rockies see the Canucks as whiners who snap their heads back every time they get hit, others perceive them as thinking they’re the smartest guys in the room. You can probably add headhunter to that list.
With respect to the Rome hit, perhaps Daniel Sedin put it into the best perspective when he said, “If (Rome) would have hit me, I wouldn’t have seen him either.”
NHL vice-president Mike Murphy is in charge of discipline in this series and will have to make a ruling sometime Tuesday. But which way he goes is anyone’s guess, not because the hit was borderline, but because trying to figure out where the NHL comes from on these matters is a complete crapshoot.
True, the hit did not meet all the criteria to be suspendable under Rule 48, largely because it was a north-south hit on Horton. But it was a blatant blindside hit because Horton didn’t see it coming. And please, can we dispense with the ridiculous notion that Horton had it coming because he was admiring his pass? When a team turns the puck over in the neutral zone as much as the Bruins did in the first two games of this series, it’s incumbent upon their forwards to make sure the pass hits the intended target before the player takes his eyes off it.
Horton took two full steps without the puck and Rome saw him coming all the way before driving his shoulder into Horton’s head. Some will argue that is precisely the kind of hit that put Scott Stevens in the Hall of Fame, but times have changed since he seriously altered the careers of Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya.
The question isn’t whether Rome should be suspended, but for how long. But does it really matter? The Bruins have almost certainly lost one of their top offensive players for the series, while the Canucks lose a depth defenseman who can easily be replaced by either Keith Ballard or Chris Tanev. Even if Rome has the book tossed at him, it won’t be a fair exchange from a Bruins perspective.
The Bruins managed to galvanize themselves after the hit and exploded in the second period. They have now outscored the Canucks 10-5, but still find themselves behind 2-1 in the series. And if the Canucks winning the first two games in the fashion they did gave them confidence, you’d have to think the Bruins are buoyed by the way they pummeled Vancouver in Game 3.
“What’s maybe encouraging is we had our issues scoring on Luongo (going into Game 3),” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “And tonight we managed to find a way to score a lot of goals on him. Certainly 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.”
Perhaps not, but the difference in goaltending at both ends was stark. Vigneault said he left it up to Luongo whether or not he wanted to stay in the game after the Bruins made it 5-0 in the third period and, “(Luongo) said, ‘Don’t even think about taking me out,’ so that’s what I did.”
Thomas, on the other hand, was spectacular when the game was close after coming under fire for playing too far out of his net in Games 1 and 2. He was also awarded what might be the first goaltending hit in NHL history when he leveled Daniel Sedin in the crease.
“I mean, I had a 1.50 goals-against in regulation in the first two games,” Thomas said. “I think I’d rather listen to my goalie coach, Bob Essensa, than anything else.”
There was obviously no shortage of vitriol on both sides after the Rome hit and the finger-related antics that went on during the first two games of the series. Both Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi tried to stick their fingers in Maxim Lapierre’s mouth during scrums, unaware that their coach had called the Canucks out earlier in the day for doing precisely the same thing. Suffice it to say both players heard about it afterward.
“It won’t happen again,” Recchi said sheepishly after the game.
Julien will certainly take a two-goal effort and the outstanding goaltending from the fossils on his roster anytime. And if he continues to get that, the Bruins just might go back to Vancouver with the series in question once again.
THN’s Three Stars
1. Tim Thomas
2. Mark Recchi
3. Michael Ryder
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog.
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