The Bruins do their best work in 5-on-5 play, so let's take a page out of their book and offer up five takeaways from last night's gut-wrenching loss to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals (Alex Burrows mouthguard optional).
1. Opportunity lost -- Last night wasn't just a 1-0 loss for the Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. It was a lost opportunity to shake the confidence of the Canucks. The Canucks are the favorites (or favourites in a nod to our neighbors up north) in this series. All of British Columbia is banking on them to win the Cup for the first time in the franchise's 41-season history.
The Bruins had the Canucks right where they wanted them -- locked in a goal-less grind in a game destined to be determined by a fortuitous bounce in overtime -- and then they let them off the hook with 18.5 seconds to play.
The Canucks scored with 18.5 left on a tic-tac-toe two-on-one started by Ryan Kesler, who found Jannik Hansen who dished to Raffi Torres for the goodnight goal.
It's tough to blame Johnny Boychuk for trying to make a play on a 50/50 puck, but in that situation you would rather see him be extra cautious than get caught up ice, as he did after Kesler worked his magic to get possession of the puck and somehow managed to stay on-side.
2. Bite me -- Vancouver (bite) wing Alex Burrows left a lasting impression on Game 1 and Patrice Bergeron, when he decided to sink his incisors into the Bruin's right index finger during a post-first period scuffle. Burrows's cowardly decision to dine on Bergeron's digit should have been costly. But the NHL offered him no biting rebuke.
NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy, pinch-hitting for outgoing czar of punishment Colin Campbell, who does not rule on Bruins-related matters because his son Gregory is a Spoked-B, did not suspend Burrows for Game 2 on Saturday.
That would have been a significant loss for the Canucks because Burrows's seven goals are tied with Kesler for the second-most among Canucks in the playoffs. Burrows rides on the Canucks' first line with twin terrors Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Depriving Vancouver of any of its considerable firepower or chemistry would be a boon for Boston.
Of course as Bruins fans know the disciplinary decisions handed down by the NHL have been a mixed at best when the Black and Gold are involved.
3. Let's get physical -- What was apparent from the outset last night was that the Canucks were determined to turn Game 1 into a hit parade. The biggest example was Dan Hamhuis flipping Milan Lucic in the second period, which backfired and rendered Hamhuis hors de hockey for the rest of the night.
But where the strategy really took root was against Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. Vancouver pushed, shoved, nudged, and jostled Chara all night. The plan appearing to be to try to wear down the Brobdingnagian blue liner by making him joust every time he took the ice.
It seemed to work in the third period on Chara, who played a game-high 28 minutes and nine seconds. Between Big Z's duties with Dennis Seidenberg on the shutdown defense pairing and as a net front presence on the power play he looked gassed in the final period and didn't play with the same domineering presence, opening up the ice for the Canucks.
For all of Claude Julien's public proclamations of support for Tomas Kaberle, he played him just 10:09 of even-strength ice time, compared to 4:03 on the power play. If the Canucks keep chopping away at Chara, then Kaberle is going to have to see more shifts to lighten the load. If he can't be trusted more at even strength then the Bruins gave up an awful lot for a No. 5 defenseman.
4. Saving account -- The Bruins have enjoyed a goaltending edge in every series they've played in thus far, and the Stanley Cup finals are no different. Yes, Roberto Luongo got the shutout, but Tim Thomas was clearly the best net minder.
In prior series it has taken Thomas a game or two to warm-up. He came out last night on top of his game from the start and carried over his play from Game 7 against Tampa Bay. Before Torres tucked the puck past him, Thomas had stopped 61 straight shots dating to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Thomas made 33 saves, and at least four were of the game-saving variety in the third period. He denied Burrows on a tip 42 seconds into the third period, made a sterling glove save on Maxim Lapierre 2:12 in, and stoned Hansen on a pair of should-have-been goals. There is no way the Bruins would have been within seconds of overtime without him. He remains their best hope for winning this series. You just have to hope that there is more where Game 1 came from.
5. Time change -- I'm a well-documented supporter of Julien, but one adjustment that needs to be made for Game 2 is cutting down the ice time of Mark Recchi and increasing the time of Tyler Seguin. Julien did this in Game 7 against the Lightning.
Last night, Recchi got 15:18 of ice time and Seguin, just 6:21, although the rookie did serve 1:20 on the impotent (0 for 6) power play. The Canucks are a swift-skating bunch and Seguin has the legs to keep up, even if the penalty is a potential youthful indiscretion or two on the ice. Conversely, Recchi's legs are nearing the end of their warranty and the admirable veteran is now pointless in his last eight games and goal-free in 11.
Julien should be looking to get Seguin and Rich Peverley on the ice whenever he can because they have the speed to match up with Vancouver.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.