An entertaining tooth-and-nail battle
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Johnny Boychuk moved up from his right defensive spot, tried to make a play with trouble brewing up faster than a witch’s cauldron in a microwave, and in roughly the count of three — one-Mississippi-pass, two-Mississippi-pass, three-Mississippi-shot — Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals ended upside-down for the Bruins.
“I moved up on [Ryan] Kesler just to stop the pass,’’ recalled Boychuk, only minutes after his failed attempt turned into gold for the Canucks. “I just tried to stop the pass, push the puck back [into the neutral zone], and then, I don’t know what happened . . . pass, two-on-one or two-on-two . . . and they score.’’
Specifically, Kesler dished off the left wing boards with a zip-line pass to Jannik Hansen, who then relayed to the middle as Boston captain Zdeno Chara collapsed to the ice to try to cut off Hansen’s follow-up relay. The galloping Raffi Torres collected the dish, potted it, and with but 18.5 seconds left on the clock, the Bruins stood 0-1 in this best-of-seven series.
Crushing loss, as all losses are in June, when the NHL’s biggest, shiniest trophy is there to take home for the price of four W’s. The Bruins could take some solace in the way they played, showing themselves to be not quite the cannon fodder and chump change that most prognosticators figured they would be against the mighty Canucks.
But a 1-0 loss is a loss is a loss, and the Bruins now have to play no worse than .667 the rest of the way to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972.
“We’re not out there to say, ‘Oh, we played a good game,’ ’’ noted Boston netminder Tim Thomas, who stopped the first 33 shots he faced but couldn’t stop Torres with the 34th.
Mistakes will be made, and Boychuk’s slip was more in execution than in judgment. Sure, he could have stayed back, held his position, but that might only have made it easier for Kesler to make an even more dazzling play.
He acted, he fell short, and well, that is why they play these games. Otherwise, the skaters and goalies could all be dropped onto swivel mounts and grooves scored into the ice for the National Slot Hockey League.
Overall, it was an entertaining, hard-fought 60 minutes, though not up to the dazzling standard of Friday night’s 1-0 beaut at the Garden that had the Bruins slip by the Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. It got very chippy and even messy at times, including a low-rent move by Canucks winger Alex Burrows, who sank his teeth into one of Patrice Bergeron’s fingers at the 20:00 mark of the first period.
Biting? Really? It was hard enough on the eyes to see Montreal’s P.K. Subban’s faking and diving in Round 1 this year. But at least that qualified as, well, hygienic. Burrows sizing up Bergeron as finger food is something different. That’s the stuff that typically gets worked out when the guilty are wearing diapers and wearing down their parents’ will.
Let’s hope for the sake of the game’s integrity that substitute league disciplinarian Mike Murphy (filling in for the outgoing Colin Campbell) points Burrows to the sidelines for a game or two with some good old-time supplementary discipline. Otherwise, to let him skate on biting would be as stomach-turning as the rabid act itself.
“Not something you should do,’’ said Bruins winger Milan Lucic, when asked about the biting incident.
A little earlier, Lucic noted when talking about the overall chippiness of the night, “You want to create that hate right off the start.’’
Boston coach Claude Julien on the alleged bite: “If that’s the case, it’s a classless move, not something players should be doing at this level.’’
No doubting that these two teams, though they rarely see one another during the regular season, have a good hockey hate going for each other. Some of the hits (61 total) were brutal and punishing, including the one Dan Hamhuis landed on Lucic at the 4:00 mark of the second period that dropped the hulking winger at the foot of the Boston bench.
When the dust settled, though, it was Hamhuis, treated to a David Krejci cross-check for his pop on Lucic, who was finished for the night. He skated to the Canucks bench, hunkered over in pain, and disappeared down the runway.
“I went over,’’ said Lucic, “and he got hurt on it. That’s it.’’
The worst of Boston’s pain, though, was self-inflicted, and it was delivered once again by its failure to strike on the power play. Only 4:03 into the action, the Bruins were handed a four-minute power play when Daniel Sedin’s high stick clipped Chara. But it again turned into four minutes of futility, part of a night when the Bruins went a collective 8:07 on the power play — 92 seconds of that with a two-man advantage — and potted zero goals.
How have they survived three rounds with their 0-for-the-love-of-God power play? Most of all because they’ve had the best goalie in the playoffs, and Thomas was that again last night, even if Roberto Luongo picked up the victory with 36-for-36 efficiency.
Luongo wasn’t tested nearly as much as Thomas, who played well enough to steal the win. It’s just that goalies need their teammates to score at least once if they have any hope of stealing games.
Especially perplexing was that Chara, who showed some promise when shifted to the front on the power play (a shorter stick might help him up there) was pulled back to the point on the five-on-three opportunity. Just when things were looking better with the big man on the job, he went back to the back-line badlands.
“We do have to find a way,’’ mused Bergeron. “Yeah, four minutes and five-on-three . . .’’
Nothing to show for it. It left the impression that if they keep doing that in this series, then they’ll be saying they had nothing to show for the season.