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Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Five things to watch for in Game 4

By Scott Burnside


BOSTON -- Here are five things on our radar for tonight's Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals:

1. Tyler Seguin

There was a lot of discussion before Nathan Horton's season-ending injury in Game 3 about whether Tyler Seguin should or shouldn't be in the Boston Bruins' lineup; but all of that is moot now that Seguin will draw back in for Game 4.

When Seguin made his debut in the Eastern Conference finals, he piled up three goals and three assists in his first two games. The No. 2 pick in last year's draft was held pointless in seven straight games after that before being made a healthy scratch in Game 3 of the Cup finals, but maybe the rest will invigorate the talented young center.

The question is how Boston coach Claude Julien will choose to use him. Will he slot Seguin in on the wing on the top line in Horton's place, or is that too much exposure for a young man who still struggles with the defensive elements of the game that are so important to Julien? But if he moves Seguin down the lineup, he risks upsetting the line balance that generated seven different scorers in Game 3.

For the record, Julien declined to discuss how he might fill the gap created by Horton's season-ending concussion.

"I don't think anyone can replace a guy like Horts," Seguin said Wednesday morning. "Whatever role I'm put in, I want to make the most of it. I wasn't happy with how I played last game in Vancouver. I don't think I played my best. I can't say I saw [the benching] coming, can't say I was shocked. It was what it was. I gave Thorty [Shawn Thornton] a pat on the back and said, 'Go get them.' That's all you can do."

Tyler Seguin
Tyler Seguin was a healthy scratch in Game 3 of the Cup finals.

2. Good Roberto or bad Roberto?

Vancouver Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo opted to remain in goal for the duration of Game 3, although he looked as disinterested as the rest of the Canucks in giving up eight goals in the last two periods. Hard to blame Luongo for the first few goals, but the challenge will be to stop the bleeding in Game 4.

When the Canucks went sideways in the first round against Chicago, it took a couple of games to stop the slide. Will Luongo's performance in Game 3 carry over into tonight? If it does, the Bruins will tie the series and force the Canucks into winning a best-of-three.

In some ways, this is a defining moment for Luongo, who has enjoyed a terrific stretch of hockey since being lifted in Game 6 of the first round. If he can put Game 3 behind him, it will go a long way toward cementing his reputation as a clutch goaltender. If he can't, well, the Luongo story will take on a much darker tone.

3. Special, so special

Shocking to think the talented Canucks have been waxed in the special-teams battle so far in the series. Not only have the Bruins outscored the Canucks on the man advantage (3-1) but Vancouver also gave up two short-handed goals in Game 3. Heading into the series, the Canucks seemed to have a distinct advantage in this area; but if they cannot stop this trend, they'll risk seeing the series slip away from them.

"It's going to help, obviously. It's one of those things that can either win you a series or lose you a series," Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "If your penalty kill is not going, the other team's going to probably win the game. If your power play is not going, we need it to be going because it gives a little bit of an edge if we score a goal or two."

One shocking stat: Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin is without a point in this series and has yet to register a shot on goal in three games.

"Usually, when things work, you don't have to talk about the power play, and it's been working all year," Daniel Sedin said Wednesday. "Like I said, we had some tough stretches in the regular season and in the playoffs, too, and we have always been able to bounce back. We need to do better, we know that, but I like our group."

4. Thornton to the rescue

We admit we were surprised when Julien benched Seguin in Game 3 in favor of veteran Thornton, who had been a healthy scratch for seven straight games. Hard to put a hard-hitting forward such as Thornton into the middle of the Stanley Cup finals. Yet Thornton responded with an inspired performance, helping create a number of chances and drawing a crucial penalty.

Along with Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell, Thornton gave the Bruins' fourth line a needed boost and, as Paille would say afterward, its identity. Thornton, who was tossed out of Game 3 in the third period after having an extended chat with Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, will be bringing more of the same in Game 4.

"It's great having him here in the room, on the bench," Boston left winger Brad Marchand said. "He's so talkative. He just keeps the emotion up on the bench. He gets everyone fired up. Obviously, every time he's on the ice, the crowd loves him. He's bringing so much energy to the team that he's a huge help out there."

5. The extracurricular stuff

Since the Alex Burrows bite on Patrice Bergeron, there have been a few instances of players wagging their fingers in other players' faces and post-whistle tongue wagging and taunting. Pretty funny, actually. But NHL executive Mike Murphy, the man who handed down a four-game suspension to Aaron Rome for his hit on Horton, told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun on Tuesday that he will make it clear to both teams that any more of that "crap" would be met with a two-minute minor and 10-minute misconduct.

But will it change any of the obvious ill will between the two teams?

Julien, who blasted his own players for some of the shenanigans, said he hopes so.

"I think it's been some pretty exciting hockey," Julien said. "I think we need to focus more on that than the other stuff that's been making headlines here. I don't think we need that in our sport, and Mike Murphy was absolutely right in sending us that message to both teams. We need to sell this game in a proper way."

Marchand, who has been known to get under players' skins, wasn't so sure.

"There's no way of knowing. You get out there and everything just kind of carries over to after the whistle. We'll see tonight," said Marchand, who scored a crucial short-handed goal in Game 3 to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead. "It's a very exciting time for the fans and everybody that's watching it. That's what playoff time brings. It brings a little bit of everything. It's why the games are so exciting right now."

Bonus: Ice quality

There was plenty of talk about whether the hot, humid weather in Boston would make for slushy ice conditions in Game 4. Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault seemed unconcerned, pointing out that both teams have to play on the same sheet.

Julien joked that the soft ice suited his game.

"Well, I know I was flying. I don't know if you guys noticed," Julien said. "It looked really good; it was very good. They made some adjustments to this building. I think it's been some great adjustments. To me, the ice looked really good. I think the guys were pretty pleased with it last game, as well."