After losing 8-1 in Game 3, the Canucks are in trouble in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. Game 4 is going to be more physical and the pressure is building on Vancouver after another anemic performance. All of that means this series that seemed won on Saturday night could be lost. Here’s why.
1. The Legend of Tim Thomas. If Ben Affleck is going to make another movie about the tough Boston streets, he might want to cast the Bruins’ goalie in a lead role. Thomas is Southie wicked and lived up to his nickname, Tank, on Monday night when he bowled over Henrik Sedin about seven minutes into the third period. That hit got laughed away too quickly. What it does is reinforce the Canucks’ stereotype as a team with skilled players who can be pushed around while also elevating Thomas’s stature even more inside and out of the Bruins’ locker room.
Only once in the past 39 years has a team come back from 0-2 down in a Stanley Cup Finals series to win it all (Pittsburgh did it in 2009 vs. Detroit). Like Affleck’s “The Town,” the Bruins are poised to pull a heist and it’s thanks to the guy in the mask.
When he’s off, Thomas looks like a blind man trying to barbecue. When he’s on, he’s the most entertaining thing the NHL has going for it. In Game 3, he tracked the puck like a cat does prey and gobbled up all but one of Vancouver’s 41 shots in the stunning 8-1 win that turned this series around.
After Aaron Rome’s illegal hit sent the Bruins’ Nathan Horton to the hospital, Boston failed on a five-minute power play and the Canucks had the chance to seize the momentum — and the title. Instead, Thomas stonewalled them and the Bruins’ bevy of goals in the second and third periods had to have shaken more than Roberto Luongo’s respect for his coach and teammates.
The Canucks have turtled before — losing 7-2 and 5-0 to the Blackhawks in the first round of this year’s playoffs after taking a 3-0 series lead — and are dealing with the adversity off this latest shellacking. Expect Vancouver to come out with cross-ice passes to get Thomas moving from side to side and for Alexandre Burrows to cause havoc in front of the net. The Canucks aren’t likely to get Thomas off his game, though. As with any hot goalie, they have to hope he gets out of the zone he’s in.
2. Alexander Edler Exposed. You find a weak spot and you hammer at it. The Bruins found that in the sloppy, jittery play of Edler, who was minus-4 on the night in Game 3. Worse for the Canucks, with Aaron Rome suspended and the injured Dan Hamhuis probably out for Game 4 and possibly longer, Edler is going to have to play more minutes. You can be sure the Bruins will forecheck him hard, hoping to cause turnovers, and to be ready to pounce when he pinches again.
3. No Horton? There’s Shawn Thornton (and Tyler Seguin). Thornton brings the energy and grit to get under the Canucks’ skin, Seguin will bring the speed in Game 4. The rookie will get a regular shift and do it with teammates who had much better breakouts than they did in Games 1 and 2. Plus, having a game to watch may have taught Seguin something about where the openings are in the Canucks’ defence. Vancouver’s overaggressive D is going to lead to opportunities for Seguin, Brad Marchand and David Krejci. Seguin took too much criticism for not recording a point and looking invisible in the first two games of the series. Just about every Bruin was a culprit. His speed can put even more pressure on the Canucks and that may force Vancouver to play more cautiously than it wants.
4. Special Teams Turnaround. You know the stats by now. The Canucks are 1-for-16 on the power play in the series and allowed two shorthanded goals on Monday. They played 15:13 — close to a full period — with the man-advantage and finished 0-for-8 with 12 shots. The Bruins, meanwhile, are 3-for-13, improving on their awful power play steadily with better work near Roberto Luongo and stronger point play. More importantly, their willingness to sacrifice when a man down could turn out to be the difference in this series. They’re blocking shots, finishing checks, protecting the front of Thomas’s net and keeping the Sedins from making plays. So many people scratched their heads at how the Bruins could get this far without an efficient power play. Their PK, deservedly, is what many of us are talking about heading into Wednesday night.
5. Zdeno Chara’s Presence. At some point, Chara is going to dominate. He’ll have to for the Bruins to win it all. He was minus-2 in the first two games and although he finished plus-3 on Monday, he was on the ice for the Canucks’ only goal. In each series in these playoffs, he’s gotten better as the games went on and was a force in the Game 7 win over the Lightning in the Eastern finals. Thomas won the Bruins a game; now Chara needs to win them one too. If this series goes seven games — and I think it will — the big defenceman could be the most important player on the ice.
[Just for the record: I lived in Vancouver for five years and still maintain a residence there, so I’m not rooting against the Canucks. Far from it.]