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Game 1 Recap: Canucks 1, Bruins 0


TheCanuckleheads.ca

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For the first half of Game 1 in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, the parade to the penalty box seemed like it would never end. Maybe the players were a little jumpy, and maybe the refs were too. Sure, you can't argue with the high-sticks. And Burrows deserved the extra two minutes at the end of the 1st. But the goalie interference penalty to deny Vancouver its 2nd-period 5-on-3 was a terrible call, and there were a few others that were pretty chintzy. Like a couple games in the Sharks' series, the refs seemed like cops at the end of the month trying to make their quota. And when you get a slew of penalties, you also get increased embellishment and too many scrums after the whistle.

The result of all the penalties was that Boston's anemic power play proved itself anemic. Zdeno Chara was left alone in front of Luongo and it's anyone's guess why Claude Julien is choosing to use him there instead of on the point, where his 100+ mile-per-hour cannon should do a whole lot more damage. But Julien has obviously tried Kaberle and Chara together, and with Kaberle as the quarterback, the clear strategy would be to play a forward high on Chara and back right off Kaberle — whose shot wouldn't scare Betty White. If I were Julien, I'd put Chara and Seidenberg together on the point, but what do I care? So long as Boston is struggling, I applaud the strategy.

As for Vancouver, they had their share of power-play chances too, and their execution was the one aspect of their game that looked rusty after the eight-day layoff. No doubt the power play will be sharper on Saturday, but the good news is that Luongo was razor-sharp and is now 8-1 in his playoff career in Game 1s, including three shutouts this year — against Chicago, Nashville, and now Boston. Vancouver was also the better team at even strength, which is where Boston wants to play. Given Vancouver's power play prowess and Boston's disjointed execution over the past several months, the Bruins want to play 5-on-5, where they had the best even-strength goal differential during the regular season and so far in the playoffs. But it didn't look like it last night.

In the opening minutes of the game, Vancouver had three B-grade scoring chances that Tim Thomas turned away before the penalty parade turned the game into a special teams' battle. Then, once the refs put their whistles away in the 3rd period, Vancouver once again proved to be the better 5-on-5 team. Of course, it was only Game 1, but Vancouver was faster, hit more, made better passes, and turned the puck over far less than the Bruins.

The Canucks outshot Boston 14-10 in the 3rd, which doesn't sound particularly dominant, but Vancouver doesn't tend to fire the puck on net from anywhere. Like Detroit, they are a puck possession team, and they're perfectly content cycling the puck and passing it around until their opposition starts running helter-skelter so they can expose the opening.

In the 3rd, Burrows had a golden tip-in attempt on a tic-tac-toe play initiated by the Sedins; Hansen had a breakaway; Lapierre had a beautiful re-direct; Edler hit the under-side of the crossbar; and then with 18.5 seconds to go, Torres finished off a gorgeous 3-way passing play for the Game 1 winner.

Kesler started the play by spinning across the blue line, retrieving a loose puck and firing a cross-ice pass to a wide open Jannik Hansen. Hansen looked to be loading up a wrist shot as he moved into the slot, but as Chara slid to the ice, Hansen slipped a beautiful pass under Chara's falling body to Raffi Torres, who was charging the net. Thomas, whose great strength and weakness is his willingness to skate way out of his crease to challenge shooters, was caught in no man's land when the pass went through. Torres had an easy tap in.

It may only have been Game 1, but it was an ugly, chippy, Bruins type of affair that Vancouver pulled out, proving once again they can play any style of game and win. Chara and Seidenberg played a lot and played well, and Tomas Kaberle moves the puck smoothly, but like the series against San Jose, Boston's blue line looks pretty thin. Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, and Andrew Ference are serviceable defensemen, but they offer precious little in terms of offense, and collectively, they looked too slow to deal with Vancouver's team speed and precise passing. So while the Sedins had their chances, and so did Kesler's line, Vancouver's best line was Lapierre's — a fact that has a lot to do with who they were playing against. Torres had the winner, Lapierre was buzzing all night causing havoc in the offensive zone, and Hansen was the best Canuck on the ice.

Just like the regular season, Hansen has been Vancouver's unsung hero throughout the playoffs, and he always seems to step up and play his best when Kesler and the Sedins are held in check. Last night, he was clutch in setting up the winner, but he also had three shots on goal and a few bone-crushing hits.

For some, the story of last night's game was the great goaltending of Luongo and Thomas, the poor power plays, the injury to Hamhuis, or the Burrows bite on Bergeron. And those are all valid storylines — especially the superlative goaltending battle. But with 10 hits between Lapierre, Torres, and Hansen, Vancouver's 3rd line set the physical tone, exposed Boston's thin defense with their speed, and then sealed the deal with a Sedin-like bit of magic in the dying seconds of the game to open the scoring.

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