- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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BOSTON -- If the Boston Bruins can find a way to make these Stanley Cup finals a long series, their greatest hope in winning is the wear and tear their physicality might bring on the Vancouver Canucks.
Ryan Kesler left Game 2 for a few minutes Saturday night after taking a whopping hit from Johnny Boychuk. Kevin Bieksa was hobbling in pain after taking a two-handed slash from Rich Peverley. And, of course, Dan Hamhuis missed Game 2 with an undisclosed injury after delivering a big hit on Milan Lucic in the series opener.
Hopefully we won't see any more two-handed slashes, but the overall point remains that the Bruins (for our money, the most physical team in the NHL) must continue to pound away at the Canucks to have any chance.
"Playing physical is part of our success and it's part of our identity," Lucic said Sunday after the team arrived home from Vancouver. "They've shown, too, that they're going to play physical and they're not going to get pushed around. That's what has made this series so far such a battle. We need to keep playing physical, that's for sure."
Lucic is correct in his assertion that the Canucks have not backed down from Boston's punishing style. But the reality is Vancouver isn't built along the same lines. That's why the Canucks are the faster and, quite frankly, more skilled team. Putting players through the boards isn't generally Vancouver's game, but don't tell that to Canucks coach Alain Vigneault.
"I think if you look at the stat sheet at the end of the day, we're hitting as hard as they are," said Vigneault, whose team outhit Boston 40-31 in Game 2. "If you look at the stat sheets throughout the playoffs, we're the team that's got the most hits. That's part of our game. Kevin didn't get hit by Peverley; he got a cheap shot in the back of the knee, so that's totally different. He went down because of something that obviously you don't want to see in the game.
"But at the end of the day, we know that they're a big, physical team. We can play a speed game, but we can also play a physical-type game, which I think we've shown throughout the playoffs."
Like his coach, Canucks captain Henrik Sedin wasn't buying the Bruins' physicality angle Sunday.
"I think it's been physical in every series we've been in,'' Sedin said Sunday. "Maybe it's a different fashion now, but last series was very physical. San Jose has a lot of forwards that came hard at our D. It's been different, but I don't think it's been anything special in this series."
We'll still stick by our theory. We believe that if somehow the Bruins can stretch out the series as they did with Montreal and Tampa Bay, they might prevail. Both the Canadiens and Lightning felt the residue of Boston's physical game by the end of those seven-game series. Yes, the Bruins are down 2-0 to the Canucks, but they've made them earn every inch of the ice.
"We did, and I thought we could be even a little bit more physical," Bruins winger Nathan Horton said Sunday. "These next two games, being at home, our fans giving us a little bit of a push, we need to try to be more physical and try to carry the play a little bit more."
The Canucks believe they not only can dish it out just as much on the physical side, but also minimize some of Boston's aggressive forechecking with their quick transition game. You've seen that at times in this series, especially in the third period.
"We can only control what we do, and we've been a very physical team so far and that's what we want to keep doing," Canucks blueliner Christian Ehrhoff said. "We just try to have good passes in our own end to break out and not give them a good forecheck."
That's exactly what Bruins coach Claude Julien cautioned Sunday. He's concerned about Vancouver's transition game, but, at the same time, he wants his team to continue to try to pound the Canucks.
"Well, I think what we have to continue is to bring that part of our game to the table every night," Julien said. "It has been part of our makeup. ... I don't think we plan on changing that part of our game. There are other parts that we feel are more important that we get better at. But the physical part is going to be there. I suspect it's going to be there right until the end."