Boston Bruins sophomore defenseman Johnny Boychuk did, in fact, personify his team in Wednesday night’s Stanley Cup Final opener at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. But not in the knee-jerk sense that he deserves the brunt of the blame for the Bruins blinking, 1-0, in the Tim Thomas-Roberto Luongo starting contest.
Like his 19 Black-and-Gold compatriots as individuals and as a band, Boychuk had a night where he was far from a pitiful loser. He was certainly not a winner at night’s end, either, and will simply have to kick some ice chips over that one blemish come Saturday.
The said blemish sprouted in the final minute of Game 1, when Boychuk failed to win a battle along the blue line with Canucks playmaker Ryan Kesler. He then failed to keep moving his feet upon hearing the absence of any offside whistles, which gave Kesler the green light to proceed in the Boston zone.
And to complete the anti-hat-trick, Boychuk failed to keep pace with Raffi Torres as he cut to the net unbothered, soaked in a diagonal feed from Jannik Hansen and inserted the game’s lone goal with 18.5 seconds left in regulation.
But all of that was not before Boychuk had doubled up all of his teammates with eight body checks on the night. Ironically, of all the 36 skaters in action Wednesday, Torres fell second in that category with five hits.
Likewise, Boychuk’s costly mishap was not before he had blocked three Vancouver shots, placing him second on the team to Dennis Seidenberg’s four.
And the scoreboard was still pristine at the 8:52 mark of the second period, when Boychuk recorded a takeaway, one of only four credited to a Bruin on the night. Ditto the 12th minute of the third period, when Boychuk and Thomas did everything in their power to bail out partner Andrew Ference on his own gaffe.
Ference had relinquished the puck and opened the door to a two-on-one after being stapled by Maxim Lapierre whilst attempting to clear the zone and hustle to the bench. With the puck-carrier Hansen strolling in to his right from the center line and Lapierre to his left, Boychuk had about as much chance of repelling Hansen’s cross-ice pass as Thomas would later have of thwarting Torres.
Nonetheless, Boychuk warded off Hansen and tried to plug the passing lane by lowering his left shin in a goalie-type maneuver.
Had Lapierre beat Thomas upon receiving the puck that dodged Boychuk en route to his blade, one would have had three equally qualified candidates to claim the Bruins albatross—none whatsoever, unless one would prefer to concede the Cup early rather than see if Boston can still usurp home ice with a better result in Game 2.
It was a team loss decided by a team hiccup. Plain and simple.
After all, while three other Boston skaters tried to suffocate Kesler along the far wall, Milan Lucic failed to catch up to the pass recipient Hansen the same way Boychuk failed to restrain Kesler.
And Zdeno Chara, who had settled into the slot in anticipation of an onslaught, fell short of obstructing Hansen’s subsequent pass to Torres—kind of the same way Boychuk had failed to block Hansen’s dish to Lapierre eight minutes earlier.
If anything, both Ference’s role in that sequence and Boychuk’s role in the game’s deciding play reflected a team-wide bout of fatigue in the final phases of the closing frame. That would explain why the Canucks charged up a 9-3 edge in attempted shots over those last eight-and-a-half minutes, beginning with Lapierre’s try with 8:26 to spare.
A slight cutback in calls for Thomas to give Bruins fans CPR will be in order for Game 2. But so will a couple of keener offensive threats in the depths of Luongo’s property. And, naturally, a more fruitful power-play attack.
On that note, perhaps Boychuk would like to charge up a couple of shots next outing. “Shots on net” was one of the few areas he was lacking in Wednesday, just as “shots in net” was where Boston lacked the most.