A Cup full of brutal, mystifying uncertainty
By Stu Hackel
So we'll go to a seventh game in the Stanley Cup Final after Boston beat Vancouver 5-2 on Monday, and the only thing one can say for certain is that the last game of the season will be on Wednesday.
There's no way to fully understand what has gone on in this series, one in which the home team always scores first and wins, the Canucks look like deserving champs at home and big-time chumps on the road, the Bruins sometimes throw the puck away like yesterday's trash, sometimes more concerned with physical provocation (to which the Canucks don't respond on the road) and seemingly more intent on hitting to injure than hitting to separate an opponent from the puck.
We want the Stanley Cup Final to be the best hockey of the year. This isn't. It has been great theater, but the quality of play hasn't equaled the drama. Neither of these teams nor their fans care, of course. They don't award the Stanley Cup based on style points.
If things hold to form, the Canucks will win a low-scoring, one-goal game on home ice and there are as many reasons to think that's how it will end as there are reasons to think it won't. Regardless, a victory will thrill Vancouver. But Mike Boone blogging for The Montreal Gazette's Hockey Inside/Out wrote this morning, "Say this for the Boston Bruins: They’ve showed up and played hard for six games of the Stanley Cup final. Vancouver on the other hand....
"How many Cup winners have had their goaltender yanked twice (and counting) in the finals? How many have been stomped three times on the road? How many score eight goals in six games?"
And maybe the Bruins will break the pattern and win Game 7, but ESPN.com's Pierre Lebrun thinks the Bruins' play in Vancouver, at least through their first three road outings, leaves much to be desired. "While the games have been much more competitive in Vancouver, that's in large part because of Tim Thomas' Conn Smythe Trophy-worthy brilliance. Otherwise, the rest of the Bruins have been shrinking violets at Rogers Arena, unable to muster any offense with two measly goals in three games there."
So each team has underperformed in the other's barn, Boston less so than Vancouver. Is it the emotion of the crowd carrying the home team? Does the last change give the home coach such a huge advantage? Does the mere lack of familiarity of the road environment, the dressing rooms, the boards, the ice, eating and sleeping somewhere other than in your own bed have such a big impact? It's hard to say why any of that should matter to the extent that it has. These guys have traveled for games since they were in grade school. Obviously it does matter when we get to the Cup final. Who knows why? But the Canucks' awful play in Boston during this round is beyond explanation.
Still, Vancouver came out strong last night and looked ready to take the game and the Cup, even after that very questionable hit by Johnny Boychuk, who spun Mason Raymond around by placing his stick between Raymond's legs and twisting it (called "a can opener," which is illegal) and then holding him down bent over and pushing him rear end first into the boards. Raymond is out of the series and probably into next season with a fractured vertebrae.
It could easily have been a minor for holding or interference or roughing (UPDATE: and Kerry Fraser agrees), but it went unpenalized as the league continues to "let the boys decide it," which is a euphemism for allowing lots of illegal play. For those keeping score, that's two fractured vertebrae caused by Boston defensemen in recent months.
That didn't instantly sink the Canucks, however. Just after the game resumed, Vancouver tried to replicate the play that brought them victory in Game 5 -- the Kevin Bieksa shot off the endboards that trapped Tim Thomas (and caused Roberto Luongo to very foolishly give the B's all the bulletin board ammo they'd need for Game 6). This time it was Henrik Sedin on the other end...
...but he's a left-handed shot, not the righthanded Maxim Lapierre, and the puck didn't land right on his stick. Tim Thomas got a very good push and may have stopped it anyway, showing that his style is not as porous as Luongo suggested. Had Sedin finished that play, might it have changed everything?
We can't know. All we can know is how well the Bruins take advantage of the slightest miscue by Canucks defenders in Boston and how Luongo's style is hardly airtight. Five minutes later, Dennis Seidenberg's chip off the boards was gathered in by Mark Recchi, who was not challenged in the neutral zone by Christian Ehrhoff. Had Ehrhoff stepped up on Recchi and taken the body, this goal doesn't happen:
Recchi slipped it through Ehrhoff's legs, Brad Marchand sped in, scooped it up, took a couple of strides, got too much space from Sami Salo cutting across, saw the area over Luongo's glove hand and put it right there to begin the first period avalanche that buried the Canucks.
The ol' momentum took hold with Boston getting two more in the next three minutes -- all stoppable -- to chase Luongo. The second by Milan Lucic (video) was caused by Bieksa losing his stick, going to get it and creating too large a gap on the next Boston rush. The last was by Andrew Ference (video) on a power play, after Alex Edler unnecessarily boarded the B's Rich Peverley on an icing, another brutal play. In came Cory Schneider, who surrendered another goal a minute later on an unstoppable deflection by Michael Ryder (video), and the B's never let up until the third period when Vancouver finally decided to push back, which was an improvement over Games 3 and 4.
The Canucks got some life on Henrik's power play goal (video) after Patrice Bergeron drove Ehrhoff's head into the glass with an elbow, a curious play from a man who had serious concussion problems of his own and who some compared to gentlemanly former NHLer Jean Ratelle while expressing their outrage for the stupid taunt from Lapierre earlier in Game 2. But that's the tenor of this angry series and Bergeron took two other penalties in the second period, including a nasty run at Luongo.
For a few fleeting minutes, it looked like the Canucks might crawl back into this game, and had Jannik Hansen's shot three minutes later slipped behind Thomas and not hit the post, Vancouver might have been able to make a game of it. But they didn't, and didn't deserve to. More nonsense, as expected, ensued late in the contest, nothing more egregious than Marchand using Daniel Sedin's head like a light punching bag.
Asked why he did it, Marchand said, "I felt like it." (video). Neither Sedin nor any of his Gandhian teammates felt like punching back. Presumably, they need some home cooking before they play with any vinegar of their own.