Off The Post: Bruins blueline not getting the job done.
One mistake and you’re done.
That seems to be the theme of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins, as witnessed over the first two tightly-contested games at Rogers Arena. The underdog Bruins probably deserved a better fate than falling behind 2-0 in series, a deficit from which historically only four NHL teams playing in the final series have overcome.
Both games have been decided by one goal, and have featured stellar goaltending from a pair of Vezina Trophy finalists in Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas. In each case, the victor has been the most opportunistic team to capitalize on a mistake, and to the delight of 18,860 delirious fans in the rink, the result has twice gone in favour of the hometown Canucks.
On both plays, lapses by Bruins defencemen have been instrumental in their defeat.
In Game 1, Johnny Boychuk had a chance to bring the puck out of the Boston zone, but had his pocket picked by the aggressive forecheck of Ryan Kesler. The turnover led to the pass to Canucks forward Jannik Hansen, who was able to find Raffi Torres on a 2-on-1 after Zdeno Chara failed to block the pass across. Torres easily buried the puck for what held up as the only goal of the game with less than 19 seconds remaining in regulation.
Game 2 finally featured some offense for Claude Julien’s squad. Unfortunately the Beantowners didn’t score enough goals to make up for the blueline errors. No player on the ice had a worse game than Andrew Ference. His inability to clear the puck on the Canucks first power-play led to Alex Burrows’ opening marker of the game. Then, with the score tied 2-2 late in the third period, Ference made a pair of ill-advised pinches, resulting two Vancouver odd-man rushes in the same shift.
While he was able to atone for one of his sins with a strong backcheck, Ference can’t be absolved for his neutral zone giveaway to begin overtime. With Daniel Sedin pouncing on the puck, the NHL scoring champion found finding a streaking Burrows down an open left wing. Burrows promptly made Chara look like anything but a Norris Trophy finalist, outracing and outmaneuvering the lumbering Slovak defenceman for the game-winning wraparound goal, despite an 8-inch height disadvantage.
Ironically, it was the Bruins that were the opportunistic team in Game 7 of the previous round. Boston punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final in a 1-0 game after a mental lapse by Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos allowed Nathan Horton to score his second series-winning goal in this year’s playoffs. The final game of the Eastern Conference Final featured textbook Bruins defence, creating an impenetrable fortress in front of Thomas that allowed a single goal to hold up as the game-winner.
However players like Chara, Boychuk and Ference haven’t been quick enough to react to the counter-attack of Vancouver. When matched against the Presidents Trophy winners, Boston can no longer afford the type of back-end miscues that have cost them the first two games of the series.
If the trend isn’t reversed when the series shifts to TD Garden, Boston’s first trip to the Final in 21 years will be short-lived.
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By now most fans are aware of the connection between Canadian Olympic cities and their hockey teams winning the Stanley Cup after the year in which the Games were hosted. Montreal hosted the Summer Games in 1976, winning the Cup in 1977; Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics in 1988 hoisting Lord Stanley a year later. Vancouver is two wins away from repeating the feat.
In what is an ongoing inferiority complex, it’s worth noting that Toronto lost Olympic bids to host the Games in both 1996 and 2008, with the Leafs failing to qualify for the playoffs the following year, both times.
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The Triple Gold Club is guaranteed to gain one more member this year. The exclusive fraternity consists of players who have won a Stanley Cup, a World Championship and an Olympic gold medal. Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo would become the 25th player in history to achieve the feat if the Canucks prevail, while Patrice Bergeron is the Bruins’ counterpart should Boston come back to win the series.
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca
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