BOSTON (AP) — Michael Ryder and Keith Ballard both realize the Stanley Cup finals have reached a tipping point, and they’ve each got a chance to push the series in their club’s favor.
Either Ryder’s Boston Bruins will ride the momentum from their blowout victory and even the finals in Game 4 on Wednesday night, or Ballard’s Vancouver Canucks will rediscover their dominance with a third victory, earning the chance to parade the Stanley Cup around their own rink two days later.
“It’s a big game, a big point in the series,” said Ballard, a healthy scratch in the first three games. “Both teams know what’s at stake in this one.”
Ryder and Ballard are likely to be thrust into important roles when the clubs return from a combustible Game 3 in Boston. Nathan Horton, the Bruins’ top-line right wing, has a season-ending concussion after a late hit from Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome, giving the Bruins and their fans a deep well of injury and insult from which to draw motivation for a crucial game.
Ryder is thought to be coach Claude Julien’s most logical candidate to replace Horton alongside center David Krejci, while Ballard is likely to fill in for Aaron Rome, who is suspended for four games.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” said Ryder, who had a goal and two assists in Boston’s 8-1 rout on Monday. “I played with Krejci before, and with (Milan) Lucic on and off at times. Yeah, I feel comfortable there. I’m not sure what Claude has planned, but if I get put in that position, I’ll have to step it up and make sure I help those guys out as much as I can. I’m not Nathan Horton, but I can try to do what I can out there.”
Nobody is sure what to expect — except slushy ice — when the teams return to TD Garden on what’s expected to be a 90-degree day in downtown Boston.
Rome’s hit changed the tenor of a tight, defense-dominated series that featured just six total goals in the first two games — and just two by the Bruins in the first seven periods. Boston returned from the first intermission determined to win big for Horton, scoring eight goals in the next 40 minutes as the game degenerated into a prolonged brawl with nine misconduct penalties and 118 penalty minutes in the third period alone.
“The times we play the best are when there’s been a lot of emotion in a very physical game,” Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said. “(That’s) what our sport is all about — finding that line, playing hard. We’re allowed to be physical. That’s part of the fabric of our sport. We understand that it is a very fine line. A hit like that doesn’t mean the guy is a bad guy or anything. They are split-second decisions, but they’re split-second decisions that obviously can affect lives.”
While the Bruins agreed it seemed a bit indelicate to credit Horton’s devastating injury for improving their play, that’s exactly what happened. In just two periods, Boston produced the highest-scoring performance in a finals game in 15 years, battering Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo — who allowed goals on each of Boston’s final three shots — and holding their NHL-best power play scoreless in eight chances while Boston goalie Tim Thomas made 40 saves.
The Canucks largely discounted the defeat. They’ve been routed before in this postseason, losing consecutive games to Chicago by a combined 12-2 after taking a 3-0 lead in that first-round series. Vancouver is most concerned about its suddenly slumping power play, 1 for 16 in the finals after being so dominant in the first three rounds.
“Five-on-five, I think we’re doing a good job, but we need to score on our power play,” NHL scoring champion Daniel Sedin said. “We’ve done it all year, done it in the playoffs, (but) it hasn’t been good for the first three games. We need to be better. It’s costing us games right now. You don’t have to score on the power play, but you have to at least gain some momentum for your team. We’re not doing that right now.”
While brushing their collapse, the Canucks also decried the severity of Rome’s suspension, noting apparently worse hits that went unpunished earlier in the postseason. Rome was a victim of such a hit in the Western Conference finals, missing two games after San Jose’s Jamie McGinn checked him into the boards from behind.
“Aaron isn’t a dirty player,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “Never has been, never will be. It was a hit that unfortunately turned bad.”
The Canucks uniformly rallied to Rome’s defense Tuesday after their off-day skate at Boston University. Daniel and Henrik Sedin both said a suspension wasn’t warranted, claiming the hit was legal.
No matter the interpretation, the Canucks are down two starting defensemen after losing Dan Hamhuis in Game 1 to an apparently serious lower-body injury.
“You feel bad for both guys who have worked their whole life to get here, and now it’s taken away,” Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo said.
The Bruins will draw motivation from sources other than Horton, who left the hospital Tuesday and told teammates he was feeling much better. Boston is only halfway to its goal of erasing Vancouver’s 2-0 series lead with at least one more cross continent trip looming this season.
“We can’t get comfortable,” said Lucic, who got a congratulatory text from Horton on his 23rd birthday Tuesday.
“We can’t go into the next game with the mindset that the goals are just going to go in,” Lucic added. “If you win by seven or you win by one, it’s just a win in the end, and you go into the next game 0-0 against the same team. Everything is wiped out and cleaned out. As much as you can’t dwell on a loss, you can’t dwell on a win.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)