- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Facing elimination for the third time in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Boston Bruins once again answered the bell and forced a decisive Game 7 with a 5-2 win over the Canucks at TD Garden Monday night.
The home team hasn’t yet lost in this series. Can the Canucks repeat what the New Jersey Devils did in 2003 when they won all four games on home ice to win the Cup in a classic seven-game series? Or will the Bruins repeat what the Pittsburgh Penguins did in 2009 to the Detroit Red Wings when they broke the home team win streak in that series by capturing their third Stanley Cup at Joe Louis Arena in Game 7?
Before we get to Game 7 of this amazing series, here are five takeaways from Game 6.
1. Thomas is the Conn Smythe winner hands down: Regardless of whether Tim Thomas and the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in Game 7 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday night, the Bruins goaltender should (and likely will) win the Conn Smythe Trophy for the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.
ESPN.com NHL columnist Pierre LeBrun mentioned in the ESPN.com Game 6 live chat that the writers with votes on the Conn Smythe had basically already chosen Thomas and that the only question heading into Game 6 was should a player on a team that loses the finals by two games win. But if Thomas were to get to Game 7, it was “academic” at that point.
Thomas is now 15-9 in the playoffs, and just as he was in the regular season he is the leader in GAA and save percentage with a 2.06 GAA and .937 save percentage. He has allowed only eight goals in the finals and has 30 or more saves in five of the six games thus far.
“He's been in the zone for the whole playoffs and you can barely count on one hand how many bad goals he's given up in this whole playoffs,” head coach Claude Julien said following Game 6. “That speaks volumes for him. He's come in and decided just to focus on his play and nothing else. He's been outstanding for us and we all know the teams that normally win the Stanley Cup usually have unbelievable goaltending. We feel like we've got that.”
And Thomas has got the Conn Smythe locked up.
2. Recchi didn’t want his career to end Monday night: Mark Recchi is a proud leader and it was obvious in Game 6 that the 22-year veteran and two-time winner of the Stanley Cup didn’t want his storied career to end on a low note with a loss. A source close to Recchi told ESPNBoston.com on Monday that Recchi -- who prior to the playoffs said he would retire if the Bruins win the Stanley Cup -- would retire win or lose now.
After setting up three goals and being his usual net-front presence, Recchi has one more chance to end his career on a high note and win his third Stanley Cup.
Recchi admitted the thought of Game 6 being his last game entered his mind prior to puck drop and said that, win or lose, he has been proud to be in the NHL.
“It crosses my mind, but, you know, I have a job to do out there for the guys and I can't put those thoughts in my head,” he acknowledged. “I'm going to, you know, lay it on the line one more time and see where it takes me after that. No matter what, it's been a great 22 years, and I've enjoyed every minute of it. This has been one of my best ones, regardless of what happens, and I'm just still proud to play in the NHL. I love playing hockey and love being in the NHL and I think it's the greatest sport out there.”
3. Power play made a difference and will need to do so again in Game 7: The Bruins were rewarded the first four power plays of Game 5 and couldn’t convert on one of them en route to a 1-0 loss. Even just one power-play goal could have made Game 5 a much different contest.
Well, in Game 6, with the Bruins already up 2-0 early in the first period, they were given another chance to direct the game in their favor and bury the Canucks early with their first power play of the game. This time, they took advantage of it. Andrew Ference took a Michael Ryder feed and beat Luongo at 8:35 of the opening frame. They would add another power-play goal when David Krejci scored his league-leading 12th goal of the playoffs at 6:59 of the third period and the power play went 2-for-5.
There were hardly any questions asked about the much-maligned Bruins' power play following the game. It was a factor in the win and will need to be there in Game 7.
4. Marchand keeps rolling but still needs discipline: Brad Marchand is making a name for himself in the playoffs in a positive and negative manner. Marchand set the tone with his ninth goal of the playoffs, opening the scoring at 5:31 of the first frame, but he also might’ve given the Canucks some motivation for Game 7 when he used Daniel Sedin’s face as a punching bag in a scrum with 1:31 left in the game.
Now, that could also rattle the Swedish superstar and his team even more than they might have been at that point, and Marchand surely has done a great job of being the agitator. He just needs to walk the line a little more and be careful not to take bad penalties.
That being said, this 23-year old rookie from Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the playoffs for the Bruins and they will take the bad that comes with the edge that Marchand plays with.
“He's a young kid that plays on the edge and sometimes the emotions get the best of him,” Recchi said. “But when you're young, that's not a bad thing. I would rather have a kid like that than a kid that plays with no emotion. It's a big part of his game and he's learning. He's learning to coral it when he needs to, and when we need a lift he's learned to go out and do it. That's the sign of a smart, young player who wants to get better and better. You know, it was a huge goal he scored and he emotionally kept on driving for us. It's a great thing. He's such a good kid and it's nice to see him get rewarded but also play an intelligent game tonight. He still played with the edge, but it was on the right side of it.”
5. Can the Bruins break the home-team streak? For whatever reason, each team can’t seem to play their game in the opposing rink in this series, but if there was a team that has the edge in doing so, it appears to be the Bruins. They have lost each game at Vancouver by only one goal thanks to Thomas and intervals of playing their physical brand of hockey. They're likely to get another gem from Thomas, so all they need to do is turn those intervals into 60 minutes and they should be able to beat a Canucks squad that can be easily rattled.
It may help if the Bruins can bring Rene Rancourt along to give them that home-ice feel with a dressing-room rendition of "O’ Canada" and "The Star Spangled Banner." But even without Rancourt, they should be able to break the home streak and win their first Stanley Cup since 1972.
7dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald