THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
On Hockey

Team finds itself in perfectly awful mess

By Kevin Paul Dupont
June 6, 2011

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The Bruins are better than the way they played in Vancouver, but unlike the NHL regular season, there are no gimmicks or salves such as overtime-loss good-doobie points to bring comfort to the wounded. Smoke and mirrors are OK for Games 1-82, but not once the hockey calendar flips to mid-April and especially not in the rarefied air of the Stanley Cup Final.

In the words of Boston coach Claude Julien Saturday night, the Bruins, “Didn’t come [to Vancouver] to roll over.’’

But Julien’s gems too often lacked luster in Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-seven series that tonight stages Act 3 on TD Garden ice. The Bruins failed to score in the opener, finally succumbing, 1-0, when Raffi Torres knocked in the night’s only goal with 18.5 seconds left in regulation.

Three nights later, with a mere 11 seconds ticked off the clock in overtime, Alex Burrows completed a 3-point night when he circled behind the net and stuffed home a wraparound goal for a 3-2 win. There were so many Boston breakdowns on the final goal, a fleet of tow trucks nearly stormed into Rogers Arena to cart the broken heaps, and spirits, back to their downtown hotel.

Two games, two goals, a pair of one-goal losses. And definitely no bonus points.

That may sound like the series has been close, but the truth is, the Bruins didn’t play well enough to win either game, which can’t provide them much solace headed into Game 3.

The Bruins were significantly outplayed in the opener, and only still had a ‘W’ within their grasp in the final seconds because Tim Thomas blocked or otherwise snuffed out at least a dozen prime scoring chances, while Blaine “Let-’em-in’’ Lacher could have subbed in for Roberto Luongo to handle Boston’s assorted cream pies.

In Game 2, after a decent first period, the Bruins cobbled together their best five minutes of the two games and jumped to a 2-1 lead on the strength of goals from Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi. The Recchi strike came on a power play, a rarity for the Bruins this spring, even after paying a high premium to obtain Tomas Kaberle as the man-advantage Mr. Fix It. But from the point of Recchi’s goal at 11:35 of the second period, the Canucks outshot the Bruins, 17-6, the rest of the way, including the one shot, No. 33 of the night, that ended it in OT.

“This was maybe our worst game of the playoffs,’’ said Canucks star center Henrik Sedin, “but because we got a couple of goals, everyone thinks we played great.’’

It’s getting tight, but there is still enough elbow room for the Bruins to get themselves back into the series. Let us not forget, they dropped the first two against the Habs in Round 1 and those two were on Causeway Street. They won four of the next five, two of those at the Bell Centre, and the momentum of those four wins played a large part in their making it to their first Final since 1990. But let us also not forget that the Canucks are more formidable than the Habs. They finished first in the league’s overall standings, have a killer power play (yet to be demonstrated in this series), and as the Bruins witnessed to the extreme, have a way of turning opposition boo-boos into monster goals.

In Game 1, it was Johnny Boychuk’s poorly executed attempt to move up on Ryan Kesler on the left-wing wall that led directly to the Torres winner. In Game 2, Andrew Ference twice played matchmaker to disaster, his failed chips up the wall leading to both of Burrows’s goals — the first on a power play at 12:12 of the first, then the sudden-death OT blunder that had Ference dishing directly to Alex Edler in the neutral zone.

Ference is really a No. 3 pairing defenseman, but with Kaberle’s stock now at Enron/Lehman Brothers levels (nailed to the bench for 47:46 in Game 2), the entire six-pack is a dog’s breakfast. Ference never made it back into the play on his OT gaffe, leaving Zdeno Chara alone to contend with the shifty Burrows.

In hindsight, Big Z would have been well-advised to collar, if not piggyback or tomahawk, the darting Burrows as he zipped the net. And Thomas would have been equally well-advised not to leave the general postal code of his crease. But it all began with the Ference faux pas, and though it might be harsh to say all potholed roads lead back to Kaberle, it is absolutely true that the mottled patchwork of the Bruins back line is a big part of why they this morning stand 0-2 in their hunt for a first Cup since 1972.

True, the Bruins have to score more if they are going to survive. They have been something less than a perfect piece of offense now for, oh, 82 regular-season games and 20 more in the playoffs. But for a team that bases its pride and success on puck management and making smart defensive plays, the two losses in Vancouver had the unhandiwork of Messrs. Boychuk and Ference as the certifying stamps.

Which leaves the Bruins this morning with exactly the same hope of winning this series that they had on the morning of Game 1: they have to do it with near-perfect goaltending from Thomas, and an equal performance from defensemen Chara, Boychuk, Ference, Kaberle, Dennis Seidenberg, and Adam McQuaid. The score of the series has changed, but not the dynamics. For the Bruins, it’s either shut down the Canucks, or shut down for the season.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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