With the Stanley Cup Finals shifting to Boston with the Vancouver Canucks holding a 2-0 stranglehold on the series, most of the attention is being focused on what the Boston Bruins need to do in order to get up off the mat and salvage their impressive post-season run.
But, the Canucks are poised to strike a veritable deathblow, and it can come Monday night in Game 3.
Here are five things they need to do to make it happen:
The energy in the building during Game 2 was electric, sparked in part by the return of Manny Malhotra.
The Canucks fed off it, dominated the first period and set the tone for the rest of the game, save for a fifteen minute span in the second period where Boston rallied and generated some of their own momentum.
On Monday night, the roles will be reversed. TD Garden is one of the most lively arenas in the league, and the presence of any Boston team in a Championship game or series brings the event that much closer to nuclear fission.
The first ten minutes of the game will be all Boston, and the Canucks will have to hang on and resist the tempo the Bruins and their fans will be forcing on them.
The easiest way to generate emotion is to play fast and physical. It’s also one of the easiest ways to fight back when the other team is playing with emotion.
In Game 2, the Canucks finished every check and rarely dipped below top gear in their effort to skate the Bruins into the ice and freeze them there. It was easy, and the crowd and return of Malhotra provided plenty of incentive.
In Game 3, the Canucks will have to fake it; they have no home-crowd advantage, and there won't be any heroic returns. Boston’s strength is their physical style, and if the Canucks don’t find a way to rise to the occasion by out-hitting and out-skating their counterparts, they won’t be forcing turnovers, and they can say goodbye to the three reasons they won Game 2.
Chara is a beast and eats up the front of his own net. When he’s on the ice, real estate there is at a premium. He makes Tim Thomas’ ‘first save and then sprawl-flop-swim’ style work by minimizing easy chances at banging home a rebound.
But Chara only plays 28-30 minutes a game. He matches up against the Canucks’ top gunners, but the Canucks’ are a deep, deep club with tangible skill on all four lines. When he’s not on the ice the Canucks have to shoot, shoot shoot. From everywhere.
Drive the net, whack at every rebound. Thomas is a freight train out of control after every save. If Chara’s not there to clear the tracks, the Canucks need to take as many shots as they possibly can.
He hasn’t shut down the Sedin’s production or limited their offensive chances. He’s a big man with a big reach, but against a team who can move and cycle the puck quickly and effectively, the big man is either static or left twirling in circles.
The Canucks know how to minimize his impact, and to do so they have to disengage him completely.
By moving and cycling the puck, the Canucks can force Chara into a wait-and-respond role in the defensive zone. This leaves time to set up and create opportunities, of which the primary choice should be fake-shots and one-timers.
Both have worked on three of the four goals the Canucks have scored in this series.
This one falls squarely to Vigneault for execution. We’ll see if he decides to fiddle or stand pat, but the fourth line of Jeff Tambellini, Manny Malhotra and Victor Oreskovich had an impressive showing in Game 2.
Tambellini and Oreskovich boast tremendous speed, and Tambellini has both vision and hands. Tambellini is an unlikely fourth liner, but against the big and physical Bruins we’ve already seen that Vancouver’s mobility—with and without the puck—has largely nullified the efficacy of Boston’s brute force.
In a war of attrition, Boston wins. But with a high skill, high speed lineup like Vancouver played in Game 2, the war could be over long before that.
The Canucks are up against a physically exhausting Bruins team, and their best defense is their ability to roll four balanced lines, each with measures of skill, responsibility and grit. If Vigneault keeps the same lineup going into Game 3, their chances at taking a 3-0 series stranglehold will be better for it.