BOSTON (AP) — Although the Boston Bruins realize they returned home from Vancouver with a daunting series deficit in the Stanley Cup finals, they already know an 0-2 hole isn’t necessarily a grave.
After all, this isn’t even the biggest jam they’ve faced in these playoffs. The Bruins were down 0-2 in the first round against Montreal — and both of those losses were at home.
“You’ve played 102 games up to this point,” forward Milan Lucic said Sunday after the Bruins’ cross-continent flight. “We’re not going to give up now. We haven’t given up. If we would have given up, we would have gave up against Montreal in the first round, so we’re definitely not going to give up now.”
The Bruins will make history in Game 3 on Monday night just by stepping on the ice for the Original Six franchise’s first home game played in June. They’ll get a rowdy reception from fans who are grateful to see their first finals game since 1990 — and eager to boo Vancouver’s infamous Green Men superfans, who found a sponsor to send them to Boston.
Yet the Bruins must overcome a whole lot more than two Canadian yahoos in neon-green bodysuits to come back against the surging Canucks, who defended their home ice by dominating late in a pair of one-goal victories last week.
“Now is not the time to squeeze your stick and to panic,” Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said. “It’s time to go back to what’s been giving us success. … Squeezing our sticks is not going to help us at all. We’ve got to go out there, play our game, make sure we play loose, and at the same time play hard and desperate.”
The Bruins realize they’ve got to win four of five against the NHL’s best regular-season team to claim their first title since 1972, but Boston’s tenacity can’t be doubted after surviving a perilous postseason. Thanks to two clutch goals by Nathan Horton, they’ve already won two Game 7 showdowns this spring. After falling behind against Montreal, the Bruins calmly won two straight games to even their first-round series before winning it in seven. Boston hasn’t lost a Game 3 in the postseason, either.
Before they rallied to beat the Canadiens, the Bruins had never won a playoff series in 26 tries after falling into an 0-2 deficit.
Now, Boston just has to do it twice.
“You take experience from that situation,” Bruins forward Rich Peverley said. “You don’t get tense. You don’t get impatient. You stay calm. We’ve been down before.”
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Still, only four teams have rallied from an 0-2 finals deficit in 46 tries. What’s more, the Canucks are rolling, winner of seven of their past eight playoff games with a depth and toughness that only seems to grow in the third period and beyond.
The Bruins are in a bit of a drought, scoring just three goals in their past three games going back to the conference finals. They’re also still smarting from their late struggles in Game 2, in which they lost for just the third time in 41 games this season when they had a lead after two periods.
Vancouver dominated the third period for the second straight finals game, with Daniel Sedin tying it midway through before Alex Burrows won it with his thrilling wraparound goal 11 seconds into overtime. Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault realizes Boston will be eager to boo Burrows, who escaped suspension after appearing to bite Bergeron’s gloved finger in Game 1.
Vigneault doesn’t mind a physical series, but he adamantly defends the sportsmanship of Burrows, who dominated Game 2 with a three-point night. The coach also hasn’t forgotten Peverley’s nasty slash on Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa behind the play in the same game, an infraction that went unpenalized.
“I think if you look at the stat sheet at the end of the day, we’re hitting as hard as they are,” Vigneault said. “If you look at the stat sheets throughout the playoffs, we’re the team that’s got the most hits. That’s part of our game. Kevin didn’t get hit, he got a cheap shot in the back of the knee, so that’s totally different. He went down because of something that obviously you don’t want to see in the game.
“But at the end of the day, we know that they’re a big, physical team. We can play a speed game, but we can also play a physical-type game, which I think we’ve shown throughout the playoffs.”
That physical play has been most obvious against workhorse Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. Vancouver is trying to wear out the 6-foot-9 star by sticking to a strategy of constant physical collisions, even if the Canucks take the worst of those crashes. By finishing their checks on the hulking defenseman, the Canucks believe they can wear him — and it showed in Chara’s numerous misplays and turnovers.
“We have four lines that go out there and play the same way,” said Daniel Sedin, the NHL scoring champion. “We get pucks deep. We forecheck really hard. It wears teams down. It’s been like this the whole season. It’s nothing new for us. I think when we’re at our best, we usually have a lot of success in the third period.”
The Sedin twins’ line didn’t score in the first five periods of the finals, but it broke through for the tying goal in the third period of Game 2 with a beautiful passing display after forcing a turnover by Chara, who was on the ice for more than 28 minutes.
The same Vancouver line was on the ice to start overtime — thanks to a nifty bit of gamesmanship by Vigneault, who ordered his top line onto the ice moments before the puck dropped — when Burrows scooted right past Chara, around diving goalie Tim Thomas and behind the net for the electrifying wraparound winner.
“I thought we took over (with) five minutes left in the second period,” captain Henrik Sedin said. “You could see they were maybe a little bit tired, and that’s when we came hard at them.”
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Chara and partner Dennis Seidenberg have played superbly throughout the postseason, but the Sedins weren’t alone in thinking Chara appeared to tire as the game went on. Boston coach Claude Julien adamantly defended Chara’s work — yet he already made a move to rest Chara during power plays by taking him out of the slot and putting him back on the point, where he’ll take less punishment.
Chara isn’t worried about the Bruins’ mental state heading into a game they’ve got to have.
“We feed off our home crowd, and we have to use that,” Chara said Sunday. “I don’t think we need to do any motivational speeches at this point. We know what’s at stake, and it’s the Stanley Cup finals, and it’s very exciting.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)