Luongo and Thomas Rise to Occasion; Reports of Bruins’ Demise are Shortsighted

The general consensus following last night’s 1-0 victory by the Vancouver Canucks in the opening game of the Stanley Cup finals is that the underdog Boston Bruins missed their one great chance at stealing a game on the road, and now the Canucks will bring their A-games and roll the Bruins right out of this series in a hurry.  While I understand the immense respect being paid to the talent and record of the Canucks this season, somebody needs to review what we actually saw last night.

We saw a sloppy game for the first forty minutes.  Each team tallied 14 penalty minutes in the first two periods, and neither total was boosted by a major or misconduct.  Sure, one pair was offsetting and twice the Canucks were assessed double minors, but in the end the power play opportunities were the same.  In actuality, Boston’s power play was more effective than Vancouver’s.  The following table illustrates why I say this:

Time On PP
PP Shots on Goal
Shots per Minute on PP
0 of 6
0 of 6

So we saw a Vancouver power play that was unable to get going despite its 28% clip this postseason.  Surely there is one side of the coin that says the Canucks’ power play probably won’t be held down twice in a row at home, but there’s another side that says Boston didn’t allow anything to Vancouver’s special teams in Game 1, so why is it impossible for this to continue?

Going down the same route, Boston outshot Vancouver 36-34 in the game, including a 26-20 advantage through the first two periods.  Again, the people who want to call this series over, or one Canucks win away from being over, are going to say that this was a fluke and won’t happen again, or that Boston generated poor shots, or that Vancouver has made out just fine in playoff games in which they have been outshot.  It is true that with last night’s win, Vancouver ran its 2011 playoff record to 6-1 in games when the shots against total is higher than the shots for stat.  But most of the argument for Vancouver wiping the rink with Boston lies in the idea that the Canucks are so talented in every zone that they will dominate possession, and therefore dominate shots on goal.  This still might end up happening, but it did not happen in Game 1, and all I’m saying is, let’s wait and see.

What I did notice was two goaltenders playing like veterans who wanted to start cementing some legacies in their first cracks at hockey’s final series.  Both Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas were nothing short of spectacular, although history is already beginning to paint a picture of Thomas rolling into town as the lone gunslinger who just didn’t have anyone in his posse that could keep a steady hand, and Luongo as the cushy benefactor who stepped up big when he had to, but don’t ever forget, he almost never has to.

I find this dichotomy to be a little bit played, because while Thomas was great last night and will win his second career Vezina Trophy later this month, Luongo did nothing less than Thomas did.  But when Thomas gives up a big rebound, we say that his unorthodox, aggressive style leads to some amazing saves, but also some extra chances that might otherwise have been swallowed up by a safer goaltender.  When Luongo gives up a rebound, we say that he is an unsteady, flappable mental midget who was lucky to survive yet another self-inflicted scare.  Look, the narrative is there.  Luongo has had some poor playoff showings in past seasons, and was dreadful in Games 4 and 5 against Chicago this year, but it might be time to lay off the guy and acknowledge that he has dealt with every situation this spring as well as he could have.  I will be the first to admit that I never really liked Luongo’s seemingly moody demeanor or that he was named team captain for two seasons.  But the way we all refer to him as some sort of cancer that the Canucks must constantly win in spite of in no way reflects reality.  At least not present day reality.

But, back to why the Bruins are still in this thing.  Boston played a pretty good game, but was beaten in the end by another tremendous individual effort by Ryan Kesler, which was followed by an on-the-money pass from Jannik Hansen to the lone goal scorer, Raffi Torres, who lit the lamp with under 19 seconds to play in regulation.  In the wise words of Sam Elliott, “Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar… well, it eats you.”  The Bruins were eaten in Game 1, but it’s just one game, and a road game at that.  There’s an old saying that I hate that goes, “A series hasn’t started until a road team wins.”  That’s not true, since the series starts when the puck is dropped in Game 1.  Additionally, many series, including the 2003 Stanley Cup final, would never have even started if we follow this logic.  But the point is, people use the saying when they like the road seed, but discard it when they think the home seed is a juggernaut.  Today, I’m not seeing many pundits trying to argue why this is actually a series, and so I’m just trying to offer my observations as to why we might be in for a better season finale than we think.

I’m obviously sticking to my “Canucks in 6” prediction.  Hope you enjoyed the opening game; Game 2 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. eastern time, and is again on NBC in the U.S.
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