VANCOUVER - That peculiar sound you might have heard the other day when Tim Thomas stated that this Stanley Cup final wouldn’t be about him and Roberto Luongo was all the bulls--- detectors going off in unison. At the very least, we’re inclined to say, “Liar, liar, hockey pants on fire,” over that one.
If Game 1 of the final was any indication, this series is going to be very much about Thomas and Luongo. And if the hockey remains at this high a level, it’s going to be a classic.
One year and three days after Michael Leighton and Antti Niemi put on a goaltending display worthy of its status as the worst goaltending matchup in Stanley Cup final history, both Thomas and Luongo were spectacular. So was the game. After turning in a rather uneven effort in the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Thomas provided the kind of goaltending the Bruins need to compete in this series. And more importantly, he provided his team with the hope that they have a chance to stay in this thing and possibly even win it.
Although we’re not sure how a team can expect to win when it’s as brutal on the power play as the Bruins have been in the post-season. We know teams that win the first game of the final have gone on to capture the Cup 77 percent of the time since the best-of-seven format was adopted in 1939. We also know when a team gets as many power play chances as the Bruins have in this post-season and continue to blow them, it loses 100 percent of the time.
This is how predictable the Bruins power play has become in the playoffs. Canucks penalty-killer extraordinaire Alex Burrows paid the predictable homage to the Bruins play with the extra man, then offered, “After the first couple of power plays, we kind of figured out what they were trying to do and we tried to stop it the best we could.”
Part of that Bruins strategy is putting Zdeno Chara in front of Luongo, but it didn’t work. Luongo said he typically likes to look over the shoulder of the player in his field of vision, “but in this case it’s going to be impossible to do that, obviously,” he said. But the Canucks were able to contain Chara and limit his damage in front of the net simply by leaving him alone. If the Bruins were hoping to take a page out of the Dustin Byfuglien playbook to throw Luongo off his game, they obviously haven’t taken into account how much Luongo’s game has developed since ‘Big Buff’ drove him to distraction.
“Obviously, Zdeno is a lot bigger,” Luongo said of Chara. “He’s a big body, but at the same time we decided that it’s best if we just leave him alone and let me take care of him.”
As far as Thomas was concerned, his stop on Jannik Hansen’s breakaway was the most spectacular of the evening. It should cause the Canucks some concern that Thomas was so good in Game 1, but Vancouver feels there still might be some cracks.
“We just have to keep shooting pucks on (Thomas),” said Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. “He’s making a lot of saves, but there’s still some rebounds sitting there. So if we keep shooting pucks then we’ll get our goals.”
The game was not without its share of chippy play and controversy. In what could be described as poetic justice, the Canucks had to play with five defensemen for two-thirds of the game after losing Dan Hamhuis on a check on Milan Lucic that came three strides after Lucic let go of the puck and looked like a low-bridge hit along the boards. Bruins center Patrice Bergeron claimed that during a skirmish at the end of the second period, Burrows bit his finger, a transgression that is punishable by a match penalty at the discretion of the referee.
“(Burrows) said that I put my finger in his mouth and, ‘What else do you want me to do?’ ’’ Bergeron said. “That’s what he said.”
And on the winning goal by Raffi Torres with 18.2 seconds left, there were some Bruins who thought Ryan Kesler went offside on the play before getting the puck into the Bruins zone. NHL hockey operations vice-president Kris King, who is supervising the series, said the league looked at the play several times and deemed it to be onside. Not that it would have made any difference, but it was good to know the winning goal in such a tight game was a legitimate one.
“It was definitely onside,” King said. “When you watch it in high-def, you can even see the snow coming up from where he dragged his foot.”
Whether you’re watching it in high definition or on a black and white TV with rabbit ears, you might want to hunker down and prepare for a great series.
THN’s Three Stars
1. Jannik Hansen
2. Tim Thomas
3. Roberto Luongo
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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