There were many good reasons to predict a Vancouver Canucks victory when the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals began (I predicted they’d win in five games), and though the first two games were close, the Canucks seemed by all measures to be the better team.
But the Canucks demonstrated some questionable judgment in those first two games – most notably Alexandre Burrows’ biting of Patrice Bergeron’s hand and Maxim Lapierre’s subsequent taunting – and public favor rapidly shifted towards the Bruins’ side.
Then came Game Three, and a monstrous blind-side hit delivered by Aaron Rome to a defenseless Nathan Horton that left the Bruins’ leading goal-scorer motionless on the ice. Having already lost their best playmaker (and first-line center) Marc Savard to a head injury earlier this season, one would have forgiven the Bruins for concluding that this wasn’t to be their year.
But the Bruins instead showed tremendous fortitude, devastating the Canucks by a lopsided 8-1 score and leaving serious doubt as to whether Vancouver’s heroes have the requisite moxie to capture the Cup.
When last night’s Game Four began, both teams played tentatively, likely a combination of uncertainty and bad ice. But when Rich Peverley (playing in Horton’s spot on the first line) struck to give the Bruins a 1-0 first period lead while goalie Tim Thomas shut down two Canucks power plays, the packed TD Garden in Boston started to get the sense that their beloved hometown heroes had actually seized control of the series. And it proved to be so beyond a shadow of doubt in the second period, when the Bruins scored twice more to completely take the wind out of the Canucks’ sails.
An early third-period goal from Peverley wasn’t pretty, but it was enough to send Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo to the showers, and now he’ll be dealing with an onslaught of questions about his seemingly shattered confidence when he returns to Vancouver to prepare for Friday night’s mission critical Game Five.
Undoubtedly, many pundits will argue that the Canucks should go instead with rookie netminder Cory Schneider, just as they argued for Luongo over Martin Brodeur in last February’s Winter Olympics. Luongo is not playing anywhere close to his best right now, and it’s a critical reason why Vancouver is in a world of trouble heading into Game Five.
Much credit for the Bruins’ success is certainly due to head coach Claude Julien,who has given his team a blueprint by which to defeat more talented opponents, but it’s the players who are executing that game plan to perfection. Indeed, it’s quite impressive to see Marchand (a former third round pick) and Peverley (an undrafted free agent) step up and provide some much-needed firepower to counteract the losses of two elite-level offensive talents. They certainly epitomize what this club is all about, 20 Musketeers who are far better than the sum of their parts.
But no Bruin better symbolizes the lunch-mentality of this Bruins team than Thomas. A ninth round pick (by the Quebec Nordiques) back in 1994, Thomas’ journey to the NHL included stops in the AHL, IHL, ECHL, Swedish and Finnish leagues before he finally earned a regular spot with the Bruins in 2003-04.
A Vezina Trophy winner in 2009, Thomas set the modern NHL record for highest save percentage in 2010-11, and he’s following that up with a scintillating playoff run.
“Anybody that knows the story of Tim Thomas, he’s taken a real bumpy road to get to the NHL,” Julien said after the game. “He’s had so many obstacles in front of him that he’s overcome, it makes him a battler, it makes him the perfect goaltender for our organization because that’s what we are, we’re a blue-collar team that goes out and works hard and earns every inch of the ice that you can get.”
Playing with tremendous confidence, Thomas seems to be completely unflappable in the Bruins’ goal. Nothing seems to faze him, not defensive zone breakdowns nor Canucks crease-crashing. If the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite can maintain his seemingly unshakeable focus for just two more games, the Bruins will improbably capture their first Stanley Cup in nearly 40 years despite being without both Savard and Horton.
All for one and one for all, these Bruins are without question a team worth celebrating. They’ve persevered through seemingly endless adversity, rarely stooping to the level of their instigators. They’ve gotten under the Canucks’ skin and into their heads while playing a clean game, and should the Bruins manage to capture the chalice, that will make the victory even sweeter.
For reference, here’s the hit delivered by Aaron Rome to the head of Nathan Horton…