A little unsteady when even
Bruins need to establish more stability on offense
For a team that led the league in five-on-five goals this season, and limped into the Stanley Cup Final a paltry 5 for 61 on the postseason power play, part of the Bruins’ strategy against Vancouver was twofold, yet simple: Don’t let special teams beat them, and continue their even-strength success.
Through two games, and two painful, one-goal losses, the first part has worked well; each team has one power-play goal. The second? Not exactly.
Revving up an offense that seems stuck in neutral will be at the top of the to-do list if the Bruins intend to make this a competitive series. They welcome the Canucks to TD Garden for Game 3 tonight, the franchise’s first home game in June. They’d like two more, but to force a Game 6 next Monday, they’ll need to locate an offense that’s gone missing.
To improve matters up front, they’ll look to shore up the middle and back first.
“I think it all starts in the neutral zone and in our end. That’s where we need to be better and get the pucks out and no turnovers,’’ Nathan Horton said yesterday, after the team returned from Vancouver. “If that gets better, I think we’ll get more offense.’’
The opposition always has something to do with a team’s ability or inability to put pucks in the net, and Vancouver came into the Stanley Cup Final packing a potent 1-2 punch: most goals scored, fewest goals allowed. Through 120 minutes, they’ve limited the Bruins to just two strikes, both in Game 2.
Roberto Luongo, a Vezina Trophy finalist along with Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and the Bruins’ Tim Thomas, has knocked away 64 of the 66 shots sent his way.
Not enough chances, say the Black and Gold.
“We’re never pleased with the amount of scoring chances you have. You always try to get more,’’ coach Claude Julien said. “You also have to give the other team credit sometimes for how they defend. So that’s one of the areas I think that if we can improve on, make it a little harder for them to defend against our offense, it’s certainly going to help our chances.’’
Thomas has been busy enough tending to his own business, but he’s seen enough of Luongo’s workload to make a professional observation.
“I think he’s played well with what he’s been tested with. But I don’t think we’ve tested him enough,’’ Thomas said. “That’s part of the reason we’re down 2-0 in the series.’’
Fair enough. But how do the Bruins go about attacking a defense that doesn’t give up many goals, and isn’t prone to making many mistakes?
“Obviously, start with some traffic in the front, find a way to get through to the front of the net,’’ said Patrice Bergeron, who has four goals and a team-high 12 assists in the playoffs. “They’re doing a good job of boxing us out. It shouldn’t be an excuse. We need to find a way. We’re in the finals.
“Yes, [Luongo] is doing a good job on the first shot if he sees it, but if he has some traffic, going out there for the rebounds, that’s going to create some havoc.’’
Maybe a return to the Garden will help. Since dropping the first two games of the opening series with Montreal, the Bruins are 7-1 at home, scoring 28 goals in that span. Unless they’d like to tempt fate and see if they could become the first team to win a Stanley Cup Final after losing the first three games, peppering Luongo, pushing some pucks past him, and winning Game 3 is somewhat imperative.
“We haven’t given up. If we would have given up we would have gave up against Montreal in the first round,’’ said Milan Lucic. “We haven’t played 102 games to get to this point, to roll over and die. We’re going to fight to the end, and we have to figure out a way to get ourselves back in this.’’
Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.