June 02, 2011
The Boston Bruins had a pretty good idea what they were facing heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, and knew exactly what they had to do if they were going to have a chance to beat the 2-to-1 favored Canucks.
They needed to shut down the Sedin brothers, keep Ryan Kesler(notes) in check and hope that Tim Thomas(notes) would absolutely stand on his head. If they managed to do all those things, they knew they could be there at the end of the game.
They were succeeding in pulling those things off (though Kesler played well), and sure enough, they were there at the end of the game.
In the end, the score didn't end up in their favor for another reason altogether: their vaunted depth at forward got out-played by the Canucks depth players ... badly.
When hockey analysts ran through the "which team is stronger where" checklist prior to the series, depth at forward was one of the few (only?) real advantages you could mark down for the B's. And, the good news for them is, that's still the case. (The Canucks fourth line of Jeff Tambellini(notes), Victor Oreskovich(notes) and Alex Bolduc totaled just over six minutes of ice time in Game 1, while the Bruins fourth line racked up closer to 30 minutes.)
But the Bruins, who so badly need scoring to come from top to bottom up front, could only watch as the line of the Jannik Hansen(notes), Raffi Torres(notes) and Max Lapierre looked more like Marty St. Louis, Steven Stamkos(notes) and Vincent Lecavalier(notes) than a third line, and they inexplicably had nothing close to an answer. If it wasn't for Thomas' phenomenal goaltending, they could've potted four or five before the final buzzer sounded.
The fact that we're talking about players outside of Henrik, Daniel and Kesler is supposed to be a good thing if you're rooting for Boston. That was the goal and with that accomplished the B's should be holding the upper hand right now.
For the Bruins to have a chance, their depth guys have to outplay and outscore the Canucks bottom six forwards. Vancouver's roster forces Boston to invest so much time and energy into containing a few players that when they get the chance to go at any lower Canucks line it needs to be a feeding frenzy, or this going to be one hell of a short series.
At the very least (and I mean very least), those forwards have to play well enough to allow the top line the appropriate rest they need to battle the big guns. It wasn't just that they weren't creating much offensively, it was the fact that if Tim Thomas wasn't playing like Tim Thomas, they'd have had more dashes than a track meet.
If you're Claude Julien last night and you're watching your third and fourth lines allow Jannik Hansen a breakaway, Max Lapierre an odd man-rush chance and Raffi Torres a good look from the slot, you feel like you have to get your top lines back out there as soon as possible. But knowing you want those lines to play against the Canucks biggest threats, it has to be a helpless feeling.
Lesser GM's watched Chicago in last year's Final and somehow took away the idea that you don't need decent goaltending to win the big prize anymore. Smart ones saw the Hawks' depth and tried to replicate that, which is precisely what Peter Chiarelli did. Being that they don't have the same premier forwards, he shaped them so they're not overly reliant on any one player or line, and everyone gets plenty of ice time. They play as a team, they win as a team.
For Boston, that means that when half the team takes care of business and the other half disappoints, they don't have the firepower to overcome it.
When the puck drops for Game 2 on Saturday night, one thing seems a little clearer than it was before Game 1: this series may just come down to the forwards farther down the lineup.
The final score may have been 1-0 last night, but it didn't look like much of a fair fight. The bell has rung for the Bruins depth players, and we'll be ringside in two short days to see if they can answer it.