Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Fast, Furious, Victorious

Monday night, the Boston Bruins delivered a dandy of a birthday present for Cam Neely.

The Bruins President celebrating his 46th birthday was feted by the crowd as he unfurled the huge Bruins banner for delivery around the TD Gardens and then through sixty minutes of hockey the Bruins delivered the best of all presents, a solid 8-1 thumping of the Vancouver Canucks.

On the very same day that he was traded to the Bruins 25 years ago (a day that will live in infamy in British Columbia) the Bruins found their scoring touch and showed goaltender Tim Thomas that his hard work in games one and two of this series and throughout the series was not in vain.

Seemingly infected by the need to provide gifts to the Bruins President, the Canucks also added to the Bruins goal totals, coughing up  short handed goals, as well as an own goal off the stick of Ryan Kesler, overall a wholly unforgettable night of hockey for the visiting squad.

The game of course was overshadowed by a horrifying incident in the early portion of the first period, the now much replayed hit by the Canucks' Aaron Rome on the Bruins Nathan Horton, a collision that left the Bruin player laying on the ice, contorted in a position that would make even the most enthusiastic proponent of physical hockey turn away.

Much has been said of the hit at the Canucks blue line, some pointing towards it being a hit of the most dirty nature, others suggesting that if it had been delivered a millisecond earlier it would have been the thing of a Rock em', Sock em video.

Of the myriad of debate on the incident, Bob McKenzie, perhaps with a bit of distance from that of those that cover the two teams, seems to have outlined the most knowledgeable review of the situation, though it would seem that he was a minority opinion on Monday night.

Rome, who has no particular record of dirty play, seemingly wanted to deliver the kind of check that we have seen through the ages, a stand them up at the blue line hit that would set the tone for the remainder of the game.  His hit however, came late, of that there is no doubt, Horton no longer in possession of the puck, was in what hockey folk call a vulnerable position, the hit it would seem knocked him out on his feet and with that his head hit the ice, accentuating the dangerous nature of the incident.

Taken from the ice on a stretcher, Horton was transported to a Boston hospital where he remained overnight for observation, the prognosis of Tuesday morning providing the news that he will miss the remainder of the playoffs with a severe concussion, with some suggestions that even his training camp next September may be in peril.

The NHL met in conclave on Tuesday morning as well, delivering the ruling that for his hit Rome will be suspended for four games, effectively taking him out of the playoffs and removing what obviously could have been the kindling for even more trouble to come.

The ruling, in the era of more pro-active discipline, would seem to be the correct one, especially with the knowledge that Horton will not play for the rest of the playoff run. It  provides guidance that player safety still resonates with the league office, even if they don't always seem to offer up that guidance on a consistent basis.

Bruins' supporters, who justifiably are concerned for their player and having seen this movie in the past, none the less must keep in mind that they have been on the other side of this discussion.  It wasn't too short a period of time ago (March) that we could have replaced the name of Horton with Pacioretty, casting the villains cape to Chara, instead of Rome.

The hits while both violent in nature do have their differences, the Rome hit was to be an open ice hit, while the Chara hit was one which directed a player into a stanchion,  the result was much the same however, with injury and fear for a players health.

The Bruins defenseman however was back in the line up with nary even a one game suspension, the message at that time from the NHL that the hit in question was a hockey play  was clear as mud when it comes to defining player safety.

The league made their thoughts a little more instructive today, its a lesson that the players need to understand, though in a game where speeds at time appear to reach dizzying accelerations, unless the game become no contact hockey, collisions are going to continue to be a part of the game, the difference between the highlight reel one from the dirty listed in the milliseconds and in the nebulous world of intent.

The remainder of the game's fifty five minutes at times hearkened back to the era of the seventies, there would be no shying away from further body contact, the stick work at times seemed to be on the verge of getting out of hand and the yapping post whistle continued on, with the Bruins seeming to take up the charge with both Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic clearly  disregarding the pre game lecturing of their own coach regarding taunting and such.

As for the actual scoring on the ice, Game three was all Bruins, who finally found reward for the frustrations of games one and two.  The Canucks on this night were the team that provided the turnovers that the Bruins exploited to much success, from exploding sticks to deflections into their own net, the Canucks never seemed to get their cadence in place.

The Bruins for the most part delivered and finished their checks, knocking the Canucks off their game, so enthused with the physical play of the boyos in the B sweaters, even Tim Thomas was caught up in the physicality of the game, delivering a check to Henrik Sedin in front of the Bruin net.

The 8-1 washout at the hands of the Bruins was probably not as bad as it looks in print, by the third and with a depleted bench the Canucks seemed to be merely trying to survive the third to play another day, leaving their goaltender to suffer the onslaught, a team that was hardly skating, seldom clearing, certainly not in any danger of scoring.

The debate post game being whether Alain Vigneault should have removed his goaltender from further trouble in that third period (Luongo apparently advising his coach to leave him in the game, advice that perhaps Vigneault should have graciously turned down), a debate that in consensus, offers up that Cory Schneider should have been thrown to the wolves in the third frame.

As history has shown,  this is not the first time that the Canucks have been aired out in this Stanley Cup playoff year. Vancouver seems to suffer at least one blow out per series (with both Chicago and San Jose finding their range earlier on in this playoff year, while Nashville would have needed some offence to provide that in their series) each time they have managed to correct the course and find success.

For Vancouver fans the past could be their guide and in fact for some the prospect of a game five on home ice, with its potential for a Stanley Cup clinching game is about the only positive they can take from the Game three meltdown in Massachusetts.

Of course to get to that game five, they still have to go through a game four, a game which we imagine will offer much of the same intensity as the previous three, another pivotal game in a series where every game seems to be offering a defining moment.

As usual, the full review of Game three from a variety of sources can be found in our Stanley Cup archives, which you can view here.

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