Bruins happy they’ll have last change tonight
On Saturday, the Bruins were prompt to hop on their charter leaving Vancouver following the previous night’s 1-0 setback in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. They touched down in Boston by midafternoon, fulfilled their media obligations, and had the evening to rest. Yesterday, they practiced at TD Garden at 11 a.m.
Today, they will go through their usual routine, then play their final home game of 2010-11 before a crowd that will be amped like no other.
“It’s up to us, in front of our fans, to take all that energy and emotion that’s going to be in the building and carry that out onto the ice,’’ Patrice Bergeron said.
The Bruins will be at home, which has proven to be very kind for both clubs throughout the Cup Final. But it’s not just being in familiar settings and enjoying crowd support that have led to home-ice advantage. A major reason why the home team has won all five games is because having the last change has been a weapon each coach has wielded with conviction.
“Last change has had a huge impact,’’ said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli.
On the very first shift of Game 5 at Rogers Arena, the Bruins had to change on the fly. Johnny Boychuk, on the ice for the opening faceoff, hustled right for the bench. Zdeno Chara hopped over the boards, paired with usual partner Dennis Seidenberg against Vancouver’s No. 1 line of Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, and Alex Burrows.
Tonight, the roles will be reversed. The Canucks must send out their men first. If, for example, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault rolls out third-pairing defensemen Andrew Alberts and Chris Tanev, Bruins coach Claude Julien could answer with either of his first two lines. The Canucks then would have to scramble to adjust their personnel.
Julien and Vigneault always have embraced defensive philosophies. They share a junior connection in Hull, where both made stops prior to the NHL. They both stood behind the Montreal Canadiens bench.
Wherever they’ve landed, Julien and Vigneault have emphasized the matchup game and deployed the players they prefer. It has been no different in the Stanley Cup Final.
Julien has sent out Chara and Seidenberg against the twins. In Game 5, Vigneault debuted his new shutdown pairing of Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa against either of Boston’s top two lines. Bieksa started the series alongside Dan Hamhuis, who was injured in Game 1. Bieksa then played Game 2 and part of Game 3 with Aaron Rome. Rome was tossed from Game 3 early after his late hit on Nathan Horton.
“Our coaching staff likes to create a game plan and likes to get our players against their players,’’ said Bruins center Gregory Campbell. “Hopefully that will be an advantage for us [tonight].’’
In Game 2, the Bruins were burned because they didn’t have the last change. Because Julien didn’t know which players Vigneault would send out for the start of overtime, he tabbed Chara and Andrew Ference for the opening faceoff. The Bruins won the draw. Had the Bruins driven the puck deep into the offensive zone, Ference would have skated off and Seidenberg jumped on. But because Edler picked off the puck in the neutral zone, Ference never had a chance to switch with Seidenberg, and the Canucks soon scored the winning goal.
“I think it’s smoother when you have the last change,’’ Julien said. “There’s less changing on the fly. You get the better matchups, that’s for sure. Except for a couple of certain matchups that both teams are trying to stay away from or get, I think we’ve been more or less content with what they want against us and what we want against them.
“The back end is something that’s been a bit of a challenge for both teams to try and get away from or get as a matchup. It hasn’t been that big of an issue. But nonetheless, to start with the matchup you want is always better than having to change on the fly. That’s the advantage we have at home.’’
In Game 5, the Canucks targeted Boston’s fourth line of Campbell between Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton as a possible weak link. When Julien sent out the fourth line, especially for faceoffs, Vigneault answered with the Sedins. Vancouver’s plan was to gain control of the puck as quickly as possible, then put the Bruins’ fourth line on the defensive.
At times, Julien has instructed his fourth line, in such situations, to get pucks deep and change. At other times, Julien has trusted his fourth line to go head-to-head against the Sedins, provided Chara and Seidenberg are there for assistance.
“When you’re playing against an offensive line like that, the best defense is to be in the offensive zone,’’ Campbell said. “That’s our goal. Having said that, you have to be aware of them, their offensive ability, and their awareness. Maybe key on them a little more. Be aware that if you are out against them, one of them is usually looking for the other one. The one without the puck is the most dangerous. That’s what our focus is.’’
Perhaps the most striking advantage of the last change is how the home team can build a shift-after-shift rhythm. There are fewer on-the-fly changes. Lines and pairings can roll.
Tonight, if the Bruins can get pucks deep and ramp up their forecheck, they can execute crisp line changes. They did so in Games 3 and 4. There is no reason why they can’t duplicate that tonight.
“The coaching staff has a plan in place. They had that plan before the series of which guys they want to play against certain players,’’ Campbell said. “It’s always an extra little competition that goes on between coaches — to win that matchup battle. I know that’s big for a lot of coaches. These two coaches are big on matchups. Hopefully that does create a little momentum. But if you’re not going to get the matchups, it’s not an excuse. The guys on the ice have to do their job.’’