2011 Stanley Cup Finals: Shaping the Canucks-Bruins Series, 5 Things from Game 1
For a league largely accustomed to the predictability of champions and finalists, the Canucks and the Bruins offer stark aesthetic differences to the usual suspects of the past two decades: Detroit, Colorado, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Dallas.
Now that Game 1 is in the books, and the Vancouver Canucks lead the series 1-0, we already have a taste of some of the early story-lines that are driving the plot.
It was a keyword for both teams before the series started, and it didn’t disappoint as Game 1 ended on the stick of third liner Raffi Torres, who intercepted a beautiful pass from third liner Jannik Hansen.
Hansen, for his part, was arguably the player of the game—at least of those not named Tim Thomas.
Both teams rolled their lines and both boast depth up front, but the difference is this: Vancouver’s top three lines have an edge on their Boston counterparts, but Vancouver’s fourth is a liability, which has lost the confidence of the coach.
Last night the Canucks' fourth line averaged less than two minutes of total time on ice. By contrast, Boston's fourth liners played 16, 7 and 5 minutes, respectively.
In a long series, and in long overtime games, that reliance on three lines becomes an enormously taxing factor.
What it means: The series will most likely tire and weather the Canucks faster than it will the Bruins.
Another keyword for both teams before the series began, the hype of goaltending also didn’t disappoint in Game 1.
Luongo and Thomas were outstanding, and Thomas specifically was undoubtedly the player of the night.
And there’s the rub: Sometimes, goaltenders have to steal a game or two for their teams to win a series. Last night, Thomas stole the game, and the Bruins still lost.
What it means: Time will tell, but that might have been a wasted performance for the Bruins. When your goaltender is playing like that, all night long, you have to leave with the win, because it’s a performance you might not see again in full.
3. Zdeno Chara
At 28:09 of ice time in Game 1, Chara was everywhere, including the power play and the penalty kill.
He and the Bruins kept the Canucks power play completely at bay, and he broke up the Sedin’s cycle and played the front of the net on the Bruins power play.
But despite their zero-conversion rate with the extra man, the Canucks power play looked dangerous and overdue. The Sedin’s and Burrows combined for 10 shots and had plenty of room to wheel and deal, and Chara looked like a larger version of the Tin Man—awkward and lost—when he was in front of Luongo on the Boston power play.
He also got pounded by fore-checkers. Like a fly on a rhino, yes, but clearly part of the Vancouver game-plan is to not shy away from taking the body, even when it is one as large and as terrifying as Zdeno Chara’s.
What it means: Chara is a jack-of-all-trades workhorse, and he proved it in Game 1. But for all his effort and all his ice time, he only disrupted and annoyed the Sedins' game (like a fly on a rhino), and hung on through Canucks power plays while wholly ineffectual on the Bruins power play.
If Game 1 is his high-water mark, the rest of his series will evolve much like Shea Weber’s did in Round 2—from solid and punishing to tired, dizzy, slow, and beaten.
4. Patience, Commitment, Execution
You might call them robots.
Like the Nick Lidstrom led Red Wings, the Sedin led Canucks are at their best when they’re at their most methodical.
They’ve done it as a team all season long, and it’s always bailed them out, even when trailing two or more goals in the third period. Their system finds a way to win. It’s bred confidence and a striking degree of arrogance. They know they’ll win, and they know they’ll win no matter what the score, time or style of play is on any given night.
That history, this season, was on display again last night. A 0-0 game with under a minute to play, and bang. One play, five seconds, payoff.
What it means: When you play a team that committed, that unflappable, and that deadly, a single mistake or confused moment can cost you a game.
Just as the lack of a fourth line will tax the Canucks the longer the series goes, the Canucks' mental fortitude will tax the Bruins.
5. Special Teams
We heard it before the series started: if the Bruins can keep it to even strength, they can take it to Vancouver (who needs their power play to do their damage).
Everything about that picture fell to pieces in Game 1.
Combined, both teams went 0 for 12 with the man advantage, and the Canucks were the better even strength team. The only special teams mantra which held true was the proficiency of each team's penalty killing.
But again, the difference was this: both teams' power plays looked exactly like they have for weeks now. Vancouver’s was dangerous and Boston’s was inert. The Canucks look overdue and the Bruins look confused.
What it means: Boston has to retool and Vancouver will most likely stand pat. It sets up Game 2 as a one-way street for surprises, and as a result the entire special teams forecast might be turned upside down once again.
As much of a non-factor special teams were in Game 1, they will be an enormous factor in the outcome of the series.