BOSTON — Walking underneath the stands on the way to the dressing rooms Saturday night in Vancouver, you could hear the thundering chant: "We want the Cup!" In the Boston room, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, almost cheery in defeat after Game 1, seemed almost sullen now. In the Vancouver room, Canucks captain Henrik Sedin didn't hesitate when asked if he thought the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final would leave a lasting impression.
"I hope so," he said.
These weren't just Vancouver victories. These were Boston heartbreakers. First, the Bruins wasted an outstanding performance by Thomas and suffered a 1-0 loss on a goal with 18.5 seconds left in regulation in Game 1. Then, the Bruins blew a 2-1 lead and lost 3-2 on a goal only 11 seconds into overtime in Game 2.
"I'm not sure how they feel over there," Sedin said, "but if I would have been in that position, that's tough, knowing that you could have been up 2-0. Now you're down 2-0. I think mostly they try to stay positive, and they know that as long as they don't lose at home they're going to be in [the series] again. I'm sure they're going to try to stay positive."
Key word: try.
The Bruins have many reasons to hope entering Game 3 on Monday night at TD Garden. They fell into a 2-0 hole in the first round against their ancient rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, and they did that at home. They won that series in seven and swept their second-round series with the Philadelphia Flyers. After dropping Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final at home, they eliminated the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven. All they have done now is lose their first two road games by one-goal margins, right? They have won three in a row and seven of their last eight on home ice, right?
Right. Win Game 3, and this is a series again. Win the series and Boston's first Cup since 1972, and this will have been only a rough start that will add to the lore of a resilient champion.
But the Canucks aren't the Canadiens or even the Lightning. They were the winners of the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team, the favorites to win the Cup entering this tournament. The Bruins had two chances to upset them on the road and didn't take advantage of either one, and that could turn out to be their downfall.
Though the games were close, they might not have been as close as they appeared. Only in one short stretch did the Bruins seem like the better team: when Milan Lucic(notes) and Mark Recchi(notes) scored in a span of 2:35 in the second period of Game 2. The rest of the time, the play has been even or the Canucks have carried it, and the Canucks have carried it when it has mattered most. In the third period and overtime, they have outshot the Bruins 26-15. Facing a 2-1 deficit in Game 2 just seemed to wake them up.
"That's this team a little bit," Sedin said. "We know we're in trouble, and then we step up and we can play better."
Is that the Bruins? When they know they're in trouble, can they step up and play better?
If they don't do it Monday night, this series is as good as over. The Canucks blew a 3-0 series lead in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks, and coming back from a 3-0 series deficit ain't what it used to be. The Bruins can tell you that. They blew a 3-0 series lead and lost to the Flyers in the second round last year. But that Chicago series seems long ago for the Canucks, who have been getting stronger and stronger, winning the first round in seven games, the second in six, the third in five. If they win Monday night, no one should be surprised if they close out this one in four.
It's too late for the Bruins to make major changes.
The Canucks, smart and skilled, have burned Thomas for his aggressive, risk-taking style – particularly on the overtime winner Saturday night when Alex Burrows faked a shot, drew Thomas way out of position, skated around the net and stuffed the puck into the vacated goal. Two years ago, Thomas won the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender. This year, he should win it again. He has been spectacular at times in this series. Questioning him, Bruins coach Claude Julien said, is "ridiculous."
"I have a pretty good idea of how to play goalie," Thomas said. "I'm not going to be taking suggestions or advice at this time. I'm just going to keep playing the way I have."
The Canucks, deep and fast, seem to have worn down the Bruins' defense and forced mistakes late in games. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara(notes) played 28:09 in Game 1, 28:12 in Game 2 when he was on the ice for the tying goal in the third period and the winner in overtime. The Bruins can't play him much more, and it doesn't make sense to play him less to keep him fresh.
"He's handled it all year," Julien said. "Where we are right now, we have to look at it this way: He's got all summer long to rest. Now is not the time to start giving him a rest. We're in a fight here for a Stanley Cup. He's capable of taking it."
Julien will have an easier time getting the matchups he wants now because he has the last change at home. Otherwise, the Bruins' formula stays the same – be physical to wear down the Canucks, keep the puck in their end as much as possible, keep the games as tight as possible.
The Bruins' challenges remain the same, too. How do they cut down on turnovers, like the ones by defenseman Andrew Ference(notes) that led to two goals Saturday night, including the winner? Can they generate enough offense? Lucic and Recchi scored Saturday night. Still, that gives Lucic only two goals in nine games, Recchi one in 12. Recchi's goal came on the power play, but that was only the Bruins' sixth of the playoffs. The Bruins have scored only three goals in three games. Though the shots are almost even in this series – 67-66, Vancouver – the Canucks have had more bonafide scoring chances.
Asked about Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo(notes), Thomas said: "I think he's played well with what he's been tested with, but I don't think we've tested him enough. That's part of the reason we're down 2-0 in the series."
Forgive Thomas for being testy. He's right, and he was maybe the only Bruin who stepped off the plane Sunday – after two heartbreaking losses and a long cross-continent flight – who wasn't spouting only clichés. It's time for the Bruins to test Luongo. After all they have been through, this is their biggest test.