An unexpected visitor ambled into the Boston Bruins' dressing room after their 4-0 win in Game 4 on Wednesday night. Nathan Horton, who some 50 hours earlier had been lying motionless on the ice after taking a crushing hit from Aaron Rome, came carrying the bomber jacket the team awards to the night's hero, and, of course, he was wearing a smile. It was a most welcome sight to the Bruins, whose last vision of their teammate was of him being taken off the ice immobilized on a stretcher.
"It was awesome," Boston winger Shawn Thornton said. "I didn't even know he was here until he walked out to give the jacket. That was a pretty nice surprise."
Horton, the last recipient of the bomber jacket for his series-winning goal against Tampa Bay, fittingly handed the coat to Rich Peverley, the player who had slipped into his spot on a line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. The 28-year-old forward, who came to the Bruins in a February trade, scored two goals in the win, which evened the series with the Canucks at two games apiece.
The irony, perhaps, was that the Bruins were supposed to miss Horton, their second-leading scorer during these playoffs, far more than the Canucks were supposed to miss Rome, their fifth defenseman who on Tuesday was suspended for four games -- the balance of the series. But lineup changes can create the most unexpected ripples. While Tyler Seguin, who was inserted into the lineup in place of Horton, finished with an assist on a goal by Michael Ryder, Vancouver defenseman Keith Ballard, who made his finals debut in Rome's stead, ended up minus-2, committing a turnover behind Luongo's net, which resulted in the Bruins' third goal midway through the second period.
"Obviously for Keith, not easy to be put in this situation," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "But that's the situation he's in."
Peverley, meanwhile, seemed at ease in his situation. He book-ended the scoring for the Bruins, snapping a shot through Luongo's legs 12 minutes into the game and getting another in the fourth minute of the third period. While tangling sticks with Vancouver center Ryan Kesler as he crashed the crease, Peverley got a piece of a rebound, giving Boston a 4-0 lead.
The puck banked in, and Luongo came out. After allowing 12 goals in the last 84 minutes of play, it was time for the netminder to cede his crease to backup Cory Schneider. For the second time in this postseason, Luongo has followed a disastrous game with another weak showing. After allowing six goals on 28 shots against Chicago in Game 4 of the first round, he gave up four on 12 shots in Game 5. Wednesday night, the 31-year-old Luongo skated to the bench after allowing four again, just two days after being lit up for eight by the Bruins.
The Canucks, however, say they are confident that their goaltender can right his course, as he ultimately did against the Blackhawks. "He's won the Olympic gold, battled through the Chicago series, played great against Nashville and San Jose, and he's been good through the first couple games here," Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin said. "We have to play better in front of him."
Playing well in front of Boston goalie Tim Thomas, however, seemed to be equally taxing for the Canucks, who have scored just four goals in the final. Their power play has seemingly inherited the Bruins' struggles and is 1-for-22 with the man advantage in this series. Taking the puck to Thomas and creating traffic in front of him has been rather difficult, considering the netminder's fiery disposition in his crease. In Game 3, Thomas gave Henrik Sedin a shove in front of his net, and on Wednesday night, he nailed Alexandre Burrows in the leg with his stick after the Canucks winger had slashed it out of the goalie's hands. Burrows turned to confront Thomas, and the two came to blows. Neither incident resulted in a penalty.
"I'm sure the referees are going to take a look at that. It's not the first time it happened, and it's not going to be the last time," Sedin said of the interaction Thomas and Burrows shared. "So we're hoping ... the referees are looking at the same tape that we are. ... They're going to see what goes on with Thomas and [Zdeno] Chara right in front, and they're going to have to call those. That's not going to continue."
The Vancouver captain sounded confident that the referees would get the message, but whatever message they wanted to send to the teams about the post-whistle scrums and shoving battles in front, it seemed to get lost somewhere between a slash and a cross-check. Both teams combined for 15 penalties in the third, but Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa insisted that it wasn't a sign of frustration.
"If anything, we're frustrated that we're not scoring goals," he said. "We're getting chances, but we did a good job of staying out of the crap tonight.... A couple costly mistakes and it seemed to snowball like that.... We have to keep our composure when one goes in and not to turn one mistake into two, into three."
Official wording of a new or broadened rule won't be disclosed until after the group presents its recommendations to the Competition Committee and the NHL's Board of Governors, but the consensus coming out of the meeting Wednesday suggests that the GMs would support augmenting the rule, not limiting it to blindside hits, and moving the league a significant step closer to banning most checks to the head. And yet, all the participants who spoke emphasized that a total ban on all headshots would not be something the league should entertain.
"The tightrope we walk is that this is a full contact sport ... and we cannot lose that part of the fabric," Toronto GM Brian Burke said.
But with increased concern for player safety and health, hits that target the head, especially, need to be erased from the game. Blake explained that the application and enforcement of the rule will likely be largely through supplemental discipline.
"We can sit here and watch the video 30 times, whereas the referees don't have that opportunity," he said. "The teeth and the meat of the whole thing will be supplemental. ... When you can stop the video and watch it, you can determine things better."
The obvious next question, then, in the face of Rome's four-game suspension, is whether the hit the Canucks defenseman laid on Horton during Game 3 would fall within the bounds of a revamped Rule 48. All the GMs seemed to agree the hit, which was ruled a major interference penalty, would remain within the rules if Horton had possession of the puck. Though it was rather unclear if they considered it a blindside hit since Horton was not looking toward -- and was therefore unaware of -- the oncoming check. The cloud of confusion is likely to remain, at least until an official rule wording is released. As all the participants said, this is a work in progress. But it is, in fact, progress.