Stumbling around a playing surface that could only loosely be called “ice,” the Vancouver Canucks saw their series lead evaporate Wednesday night in Boston, thanks to a 4-0 Bruins victory in Game 4.
The pucks didn’t want to lay flat and glide for either team, but the newly sprayed rink seemed to particularly frustrate the Canucks, who repeatedly had pucks jump their sticks at the wrong moments. It was already a hot day in Boston, as the temperature peaked in the mid-90s. On top of that, apparently there was a Glee concert Tuesday night at TD Garden, and therefore the playing surface had to be remade entirely in the heat. CBC’s Jeff Marek predicted that the result would be a playing surface that would slow the game down and hinder creativity, and he turned out to be spot on.
But both teams had to play on the crappy rink, so why did Boston seem to handle it so much better than Vancouver? There’s the typical argument that the Bruins are much more physical, and that the finesse game of the Canucks couldn’t flourish on top of a slightly chilled swimming pool. But I’m not sure that’s what we actually saw, as Vancouver outshot Boston in every period. Sure, often times the shots on goal statistic gets skewed once the score gets out of hand, but why then did Vancouver outshoot the B’s in the first period, when the game was still very much in doubt? To be honest, I thought Vancouver played a pretty decent first 25 minutes.
A better explanation of this game could be that Tim Thomas was simply great again, and that Vancouver made clear mistakes on every goal. Thomas scored another shutout — his third in the last nine games. Add to that stretch three games in which Thomas allowed only one goal, and the soon-to-be two-time Vezina Trophy winner might be in what the cool kids call “the zone.” This is an issue that Vancouver must solve soon, because while you can expect players to play great at home, hot goalies are perhaps the best ingredient for a road victory, which is something that Vancouver cannot afford to concede in Friday night’s Game 5.
Speaking of conceding, each of the first three goals saw a specific mistake by a mid-to-low end Canuck skater. I hate to cite college football, or as it should properly be called, “semi-pro legalized prostitution,” but Raffi Torres reminded me of that University of Texas safety that just jogged out of bounds to let Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree walk in for the game-winner a few years ago. Instead of trying to defend a flying Rich Peverley, the Canuck third-liner got caught not moving his feet around the boards on the blue line, and let Peverley make him look more like a football punter than an NHL tough guy.
Boston’s second goal was that snipe by Michael Ryder from the left wing, but the time and space to shoot was due to Canucks D man Sami Salo never wanting to stop the puck or impede Ryder’s progress. To make matters worse, Salo did that thing where you throw your stick six inches in front of the shot, which effectively gives your goaltender two things to worry about: the initial shot, and the potential deflection. Salo only needed to lean and reach because he wasn’t moving his feet, and it cost the Canucks on that one.
The third goal for the Bruins led me to eat some crow. I’ve been calling for Keith Ballard’s insertion into the lineup since stud defenseman Dan Hamhuis went down with an injury in Game 1 of the finals. Instead, Andrew Alberts got the call, and played just fine. Then Aaron Rome got suspended, and it was finally time to throw in Ballard, the $4.2 million healthy scratch. At first it seemed Ballard was doing fine. He was advancing the puck and sending it away when it fell in a vulnerable position for the Canucks. But then in the middle of the second period, Ballard fell down behind his own net, albeit after a little chop by Bruins forward Brad Marchand. After laying there for a couple seconds, Ballard got up and shifted over to try to cancel out Patrice Bergeron, who was at the left post. Ballard kicked and swatted, but couldn’t make contact with the puck, which Bergeron chipped right out in front to Marchand, who fired a backhand off Luongo’s glove and in. The play caused a bit of a stir for Canucks fans, who point to this as an example of why Ballard cannot regularly crack the lineup on this team. But at least it’s not like Ballard is on the books for $4.2 million for each of the next four years, while blue liners like Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Alberts and Salo are unrestricted free agents in less than a month. What’s that you say? Oh, that’s right, it is like that. It’s actually exactly like that.
Roberto Luongo was pulled from the game after allowing the fourth goal, and Cory Schneider came in and saved all nine shots he faced in just under 16 minutes of play. I don’t think there’s another goalie controversy, and I think it’s probably a waste of time to talk about it. But, we all remember the circus surrounding the latter half of the Chicago series.
One potentially notable statistic is that while Vancouver won its home games by a combined score of 4-2 (which was 2-2 through the first 59.5 minutes of each game), Boston smashed Vancouver to the tune of 12-1 in its home games. Doesn’t make you feel comfortable if you’re a Canuck fan.
To close, this is now the third year in a row in which the first four games of the Stanley Cup finals have been won by the home team. Vancouver will be looking to channel 2010, when Chicago rebounded for wins in Games 5 and 6 to win the Cup over Philadelphia. Boston, meanwhile, needs only to look to its black and yellow brethren in Pittsburgh, who prevailed over Detroit by winning Games 6 and 7.
Vancouver has been outscored by five goals in the 2011 playoffs, which is alarming considering where they are. Much of that is explained by their two stinkers each against Chicago and Boston, however.
Game 5 is Friday night at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT live from Vancouver on NBC, CBC and RDS.