The skaters' edge
So far, home is where the wins are
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A few days ago, they stepped off a plane, and it was as if they were changed. The Bruins were back in Boston, back at home, back where they felt comfortable — and back where they get the last line change.
They were a different team than they had been in Vancouver.
And they weren’t alone. The Canucks had looked stronger, faster, better at Rogers Arena, as if they had the ability to sweep the Bruins right out of the postseason.
Then they stepped off a plane in Boston, stepped into TD Garden, and everything changed.
The teams stepped off another plane yesterday, the Canucks and Bruins making their return to Vancouver for tonight’s Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins again will face a hostile crowd. The Canucks again will have the final line change. The question is, will that be enough?
“It’s in our hands,’’ said Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. “Being on the road, the other team gets the last change. That’s one thing that changes.
“But as far as the crowd, it’s the same people on the ice. The crowd can’t be out there on the ice with you. As the opposing team, you have to be mentally strong enough to focus on the 200-by-85 that you’re playing on, and not what’s around it.’’
If the Bruins can’t do that, they’ll lose the series. There are three games left, two of them in Vancouver, a place that comes with an electric atmosphere, a faster, colder ice surface, and two wins already collected for the Canucks.
There is no way around it. The Bruins have to win one on the road.
So they will talk about it. They will address the issue. They have to.
“I think we need to talk about it, as a unit, in the room, to make sure we’re ready as a team,’’ said Patrice Bergeron. “It’s something we need to make sure we’re aware of, and we’re ready.’’
They’ll have to contend with a crowd that hung on every pass, every shot, every save by the Canucks, a building full of fans ready to celebrate their first title.
They’ll also have to contend with a surface different than that in Boston. And that might be another benefit to the Canucks, perhaps a bit more important than a night in their own beds and some home cooking.
“I think we’re more of a skilled team, and we want to possess the puck and be a puck-possession team,’’ said former Bruins and current Canucks defenseman Andrew Alberts. “So the more we have the puck, the better off we are.
“So with the fresh ice — I think there is better ice here — we can control the play more, you know. Boston is a hot building, bad ice all game, but, you know, it’s no excuse.’’
Perhaps that was the difference. Perhaps it’s that last line change, which just might have led to the Bruins’ loss in Game 2 in overtime, when it was Zdeno Chara and Andrew Ference left on the ice 11 seconds before the game ended. Still, it was clear that, even though the first two games came down to one goal for Vancouver, the Canucks outplayed the Bruins for much of those games.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily bringing a home game, it’s just bringing our game,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I don’t think we played extremely well in those first two games.
“We were OK. That wasn’t good enough against a team like Vancouver. They’re a great hockey club. We need to play with a lot of emotion, intensity, and play on our toes. That’s something that we have to certainly bring here.’’
That was evident in the way the Bruins played in Boston, in the physicality with which they forced themselves on the Canucks. It was evident in everything they did.
And even though Thomas was quick to say that the momentum of the last two games stops the moment the puck is dropped in Game 5, that same style is what the Bruins need to continue, no matter which city the puck is being dropped in.
“We need to make sure we’re bringing the same energy, the same emotion that we’ve given at home,’’ Bergeron said. “And obviously it’s going to be a tough game. We know that Vancouver’s crowd is real loud, and it’s tough to play against. But that being said, we need to make sure we’re able to do that.’’
Or they will be going home empty-handed.
“When you play in front of your crowd, you seem to have a little more emotion and you can build off the crowd’s energy,’’ said Brad Marchand. “Sometimes it brings a little more energy to the game. Sometimes that can intimidate the other team. That’s usually how it goes in the playoffs.’’
They have to fight through that intimidation quickly. Because if home ice continues to hold, the Bruins won’t be the ones with the Cup.
“It’s simple mathematics,’’ said Shawn Thornton. “If we’re going to have success, we’re going to have to win one in this building, so I would prefer if it’s [tonight].’’