Friday, June 10, 2011
Five things to watch for in Game 5
By Pierre LeBrun
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Here are five things that will be on our radar for tonight's Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks (click HERE for the full story on ESPN.com's Cross Checks blog):
1. Tanev in?: Canucks rookie blueliner Chris Tanev appears to have received the call for Game 5 over Keith Ballard.
Officially, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said it would be a game-time decision, but Tanev skated off the ice with the regulars Friday morning while Ballard stayed out late with the practice squad.
Tanev last played in Games 4 and 5 against San Jose in the Western Conference finals. He's a rookie, but he plays like a veteran in terms of his poise and composure.
Vigneault also said this morning Dan Hamhuis will travel with the team to Boston for Monday's Game 6. When asked if that meant the defenseman had a chance to play in the series, the coach would only say Hamhuis is "day to day." Hamhuis (lower-body injury) was injured four minutes into the second period of Game 1 after throwing a low hit on Boston forward Milan Lucic.
2. Canucks' power play: Imagine the Canucks' reaction had someone told them before the Stanley Cup finals they'd go 1-for-22 on the power play through the opening four games after lighting it up all season with the league's best unit.
"Well, I would have been surprised, but we've been through these droughts before," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said Friday morning. "It's just that in a moment like this, you get the extra attention, of course, because you're losing because of it. That's the tough part. But you have to stay upbeat."
Part of the reason for Vancouver's struggles has been Boston's excellent penalty-killing unit, which has been aggressive with the Canucks' puck handlers.
"They're doing a good job of getting in shooting lanes," Sedin said. "It's tough to get shots through. But when there are rebounds lying around, we need to get to those. That's something we have to look at."
But some of the problem has also been the Canucks' lack of mobility and movement. They've been too stationary. The Canucks' power play must wake up if Vancouver has any chance of winning the Cup.
3. The Kesler line: Ryan Kesler's line with Christopher Higgins and Mason Raymond has been awfully quiet since Game 1. The Canucks need to get those guys going.
"I think we just need to go out there and have fun," Kesler said Friday morning. "We're playing the game we love right now. If we work hard, compete and have fun, we'll be fine."
What's particularly troubling for Vancouver is Kesler's line has struggled despite having the more advantageous matchup against the Boston defense, since Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have mostly played against the Sedin twins.
4. The masked men: All eyes are on Roberto Luongo heading into Game 5 after he allowed 12 goals in two games in Boston and was pulled in Game 4.
"I'm not worried about him," Canucks winger Alex Burrows said Friday morning.
That was a universal refrain in the Canucks' dressing room. For what it's worth, Luongo appeared calm and loose this morning. He spoke confidently Thursday evening, impressing many with the leadership in his voice. All of that is great, but he needs to deliver on the ice tonight.
Meanwhile, Tim Thomas has been the best player in this series, period. The Bruins goalie has been nearly unbeatable.
"Coming into the series, we knew we were going to face a really good goaltender," Burrows said. "We talked about not getting frustrated because we knew he was going to make some saves. We were in the same kind of spot against Nashville with Pekka Rinne making big saves, too. As long as we keep plugging away and getting shots through, we're going to get some bounces sooner or later."
5. Home ice: It goes without saying that home ice has been a determining factor in this series.
Since 2009, the home team is 15-2 in the Stanley Cup finals. The Canucks are obviously hoping the home crowd, and the luxury of making the last change that will perhaps keep the Sedin twins away from Chara and Seidenberg, will at least mean they hold serve and take a 3-2 series lead.
The Bruins will be hoping they can carry their physicality into enemy territory, something that wasn't apparent for the most part in Games 1 and 2, when they seemed to wear down late in the game in both losses. The contrary was true in Boston, where it was the Canucks who seemed to flag after playing well in the opening periods in Games 3 and 4.