Roughly 18 seconds remained in Game 1. In overtime, a mere 11 seconds elapsed in Game 2. Add it all up and you get 29 seconds that have separated the Bruins from the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final, which returns to Boston tonight for the first time since 1990.
Admittedly, that is a relatively simplistic – and optimistic – way of looking at things, but what real choice do the Bruins have now? For all intents and purposes, the Bruins face a must-win in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden. Though the Vancouver Canucks twice compiled four-game losing streaks during the regular season, the Canucks are not likely to do so now, with a championship at stake, with the Bruins on the ropes. Any chance at a Bruins comeback in this series must start tonight, and the Bruins must convince themselves all that stands between them and the Canucks at the moment is those 29 seconds.
They still have a chance.
Perhaps it is their only chance.
“You could use that to look at it as a way to say that you've been right there in the games, but the reality was you lost two games,’’ Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas told reporters yesterday. “It doesn't really matter if we were down with 18 minutes left in the third and still lost by one goal, we still lost.”
And yet, the Bruins must believe in those 29 seconds, need to believe in those 29 seconds, because to do otherwise would be to admit that the Canucks are simply a better team.
That, too, is indisputably true at this juncture, though it hardly means that the Stanley Cup Final has been decided yet. It just means the challenge is greater. Vancouver led the NHL in just about everything during the regular season, and the Canucks have been the faster, more skilled, more physically imposing team in Games 1 and 2. From the beginning, the Bruins’ best chance in this series was to puncture Vancouver’s confidence, get inside the head of Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, put the burden of expectation squarely on the shoulders of the team that is supposed to win.
Instead, the opposite has happened. The Canucks can now play freely in Game 3 and, perhaps, Game 4. Vancouver can lose both games in Boston and still have home-ice advantage. The Bruins have actually held a lead in this series for a longer stretch of time than the Canucks have – 18:02 for Boston, 17:06 for Vancouver – and yet Vancouver holds a sturdy 2-0 series edge all because of those 29 backbreaking seconds.
“Obviously, we’ve got to find a way to play for the whole 60 minutes and plus - if we go in overtime,” Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. “Obviously, they're a good team and when they do have room, they're going to make some plays, so we have to make sure we stay tighter.”
On the flipside, the Bruins need to make some plays, too, their inability to generate good scoring chances the obvious and most glaring deficiency throughout the first two games of this series.
In retrospect, for all of the talk about Vancouver’s speed and skill, hasn’t that been the biggest problem for the Bruins in this series thus far? Boston’s only goals in this series essentially came from crowds in front of the net, the first by Milan Lucic off a rebound, the second deflecting off Mark Recchi on the power play. Overall, the Bruins have had relatively little space to operate. Their only goals have come from a combination of will and brute force (the first), and from good fortune (the second). Too often, the unspectacular Luongo has been able to drop into his butterfly, looking like a chunky hen sitting on its eggs, pucks all but disappearing into a pile of feathers.
In that way, the first two games of this series were akin to the first two games of the Montreal series, a seven-game affair in which the Bruins came back to win after dropping the first two.
The differences in this case, of course, are that the Canucks are a better team than the Canadiens were – and that the Bruins are now returning home rather than having to venture to Montreal. Since those first two playoff-opening defeats to the Canadiens, the Bruins are 7-1 at home in the postseason, dropping only Game 1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. Backed by the home crowd in Game 7 against Tampa Bay, the Bruins turned in a performance for the ages, controlling play from start to finish in a truly complete-game performance.
Now, against the better Canucks, the Bruins need another complete game. In fact, they need two. They have positively no margin for error. The Bruins created openings for the Canucks in Games 1 and 2, and Vancouver struck swiftly on both occasions. Any chance at a Stanley Cup celebration must begin now, must begin with Game 3, because their chance at a championship depends on it.
And because, as we have learned in Games 1 and 2 of this series, the Bruins do not have a second to spare.
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