VANCOUVER (AP) — The Vancouver Canucks’ captain hasn’t scored in the Stanley Cup finals, and his NHL scoring champion brother only has two points.
Their star goalie yielded 12 goals in their past two games, and several key players are hurting.
Given everything that went wrong for the Canucks in Boston this week, it’s tough for some of their fearful fans to remember that this powerful club is still two wins away from an NHL title.
Vancouver returns home for a pivotal Game 5 in the finals on Friday night after the surging Bruins outscored them 12-1 in the past two games.
Unless the Canucks slow their slide on their home rink, where they haven’t lost since May 7, Boston will get the chance to clinch the Cup at their own home Monday.
“If you ask anybody on our crew, we’re not happy with the way we played last two games,” embattled goalie Roberto Luongo said Thursday after the Canucks returned home. “We’re all pretty upset with ourselves and our performances, (but) at the end of the day, we’re two wins away from reaching the ultimate goal. I don’t think it’s a time for us to be putting our heads down, or to not have any confidence. I think we’re close.”
Although Luongo was pulled from Game 4 after giving up his 12th goal in just over five miserable periods in Boston, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault is sticking with his Olympic gold medal winner when the Canucks attempt to get their title run back on track, even though Luongo’s inability to match Boston goalie Tim Thomas’ aggressive brilliance was the most eye-catching aspect of the Bruins’ dominance in the past two games.
“Roberto is the guy, he’s my guy, and he’s playing,” Vigneault said. “It’s that simple.”
Luongo allowed seven goals on the last 23 shots he faced in Boston.
Vigneault also wants his players to get out of their heads long enough to appreciate where they are.
“This is not a one-man affair here,” Vigneault said. “We all know that our whole group can play better and will play better in the two games. We’re excited about the opportunity that’s in front of us. Geez, we are one of the last two teams playing for the Stanley Cup final, playing with home-ice advantage in this great city with these great fans. Doesn’t get much better than this.”
The Canucks needed just one win in Boston to earn the chance to parade the Cup around home ice. Now they’ll need to win Game 5 just to stop the Bruins’ impressive momentum behind Thomas, who looks increasingly unbeatable after giving up one goal in two home games.
He posted his third shutout of the playoffs in the Bruins’ 4-0 victory in Game 4, and has quieted doubters of his aggressive style with an impressive 1.26 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage in the finals, stopping 141 of 146 shots in four games.
“I think it’s important for us to play the same type of game that we played the last two games,” Thomas said Thursday. “That’s what led us to the success that we had. The challenge is doing it. It’s easy to say this is what we have to do, but it takes an extreme amount of effort and people laying their bodies on the line, and that’s what we’re going to need.”
For the third consecutive season, the home teams have won the first four games of the Stanley Cup finals — but the Bruins earned both of their wins emphatically, while the Canucks squeaked out two one-goal victories. Vancouver believes it all starts with its approach against Thomas, who has emerged as the favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.
“I think we’re giving Thomas too much respect,” Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. “He’s leaky. Pucks go through him. We’ve seen it all year. We just need to put more pucks on him.”
The Canucks’ problems in front of Luongo stem from injuries that forced them to mix-and-match defensemen into three new pairings this series. Although teams refuse to discuss injuries at this point in the season, the Canucks also are running out of healthy players.
Center Ryan Kesler, a stellar playoff performer and the leader of Vancouver’s shutdown defensive line, has played with a fraction of his usual disruptive force in the finals while apparently nursing an undisclosed problem. Puck-moving defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has an injured shoulder that’s preventing him from shooting the puck with his usual vigor.
And those are just the players healthy enough to suit up. The Canucks’ biggest loss has been Dan Hamhuis, the versatile veteran defenseman who hasn’t played since hurting himself delivering a check in Game 1.
Without Hamhuis and suspended defenseman Aaron Rome, the Canucks’ offense was hampered in Game 4 by an inability to move quickly up the ice in transition. Vancouver’s aggressive offense is built on its cadre of mobile, puck-moving defensemen, but the Canucks no longer have the manpower to do everything they desire.
“We didn’t expect to sweep these guys,” Bieksa said. “We have to focus on the positives, and can’t hang our heads. If we come out the next game and score three (goals) in the first, no one will remember these games.”
Vancouver still isn’t getting much from the Sedin twins, who have largely disappeared at the biggest moment in their careers.
Boston defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg deserve much of the credit for preventing the Sedins from passing and shooting with their usual fluid teamwork, holding the NHL’s past two scoring champions to two points — both from Daniel Sedin — in four games.
“It’s playoff hockey. Not always one line that decides it,” Luongo said. “If we have to win a game 1-0 like we did in Game 1, then that’s what we’ll have to do.”
At least the Canucks have experience in coming back from embarrassing losses during this postseason. After taking a 3-0 lead on the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, they lost the next two games by a combined 12-2.
Vancouver hung on to win Game 7 in overtime, and the Canucks don’t expect this breakthrough to be any easier.
“Lou is going to be fine,” Vigneault said of Luongo. “He’s one of the best goaltenders in the league. We’ve got a lot of trust and faith in him, in his ability to play well.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)