BOSTON — The only thing even about the Stanley Cup final is the fact the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins have each won two games.
The matter in which the Bruins surged back into this series with a pair of blowout victories on home ice was markedly different than the way Vancouver established an early 2-0 lead. It’s created an interesting dynamic with the final shifting back to Rogers Arena for Game 5 today and a few more twists and turns expected on this emotional roller-coaster.
“We’re not searching,” Canucks forward Manny Malhotra insisted after Wednesday’s 4-0 loss. “We realized it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. They play really well at home, they fed off the energy of their crowd and they were able to accomplish what they set out for. Nothing changes for us — we’re going back to Vancouver with our focus on keeping home ice.”
The Canucks were the NHL’s best team from October to May and need two wins in three games to remain on top in June. Despite being outscored 12-1 at TD Garden in Games 3 and 4, opportunity is still knocking for a Vancouver team trying to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993.
“You know, if somebody would have told me at the beginning of the year that we could play for the Stanley Cup, best two-out-of-three series with home ice advantage in front of our fans, I would have taken that anytime to play for the big prize,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “That’s what we’ve got right now.”
It’s gut-check time for the team’s best players. Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler — each among the NHL’s top-six playoff scorers — have been stymied by Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who has turned in a Conn Smythe-worthy performance by allowing just five goals in four games.
Then there’s Luongo, a lightning-rod for criticism who could be facing a defining moment in his career. Fans watching Game 4 on the scoreboard at Rogers Arena cheered when backup Cory Schneider replaced him during the third period.
If Vigneault goes back to his No. 1 man in Game 5, can he handle the heat?
“If anybody’s going to be determined to have a great game, it’s going to be him,” Schneider said of Luongo. “He’s done it once before in the playoffs and we’re sure he can do it again.”
The biggest difference for the Bruins on home ice was how much they dictated the play. Buoyed by the energy from a long-suffering fanbase — sound familiar? — they were the more aggressive team, capitalizing on some good bounces and a few errors without taking their foot off the gas pedal.
It’s the second time this post-season Boston has erased a 2-0 deficit during a playoff series. They’re heading west to Vancouver with plenty of confidence after finding a way to rally again.
“I’ll tell you, you don’t get to where you are without going through adversity,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “That’s how you grow. When you’ve been through a lot of different things, you’re capable of learning from those things and growing through those things. That’s what I’d like to attribute this to.
“We’ve been through some tough times in the playoffs and the regular season. We’ve had our ups and downs.”
Vancouver is going to have to find a way to shore up its game defensively. With Dan Hamhuis still on the sidelines with a lower-body injury he suffered in Game 1 and Aaron Rome suspended for the series for his hit on Nathan Horton in Game 3, the Canucks are down their depth chart.
Keith Ballard was inserted for Rome in Game 4 and struggled mightily — something he candidly admitted afterwards.
“I think we made it difficult,” said Ballard.
“You know, we had too much separation between us and our forwards and we weren’t making very many good passes.”
The Canucks have been playing from behind a lot in the series, holding the lead for just over a total of 17 minutes so far. They won Game 1 with a goal by Raffi Torres at 19:41 of the third period and took Game 2 with an overtime winner by Alex Burrows.
So dominant for so much of the season — no NHL team scored more or allowed fewer goals against — they need to return to the form that got them to this position.
“We’ve got to find a way to score,” said Daniel Sedin.
Boston still sees itself as the underdog despite the dominance it showed in Games 3 and 4. Home teams are an amazing 15-2 during the Stanley Cup final since 2009 and the Bruins must win at least one game in Vancouver.
“They are one of the best teams in the league for a reason so we’ve got to go in there and try to steal one,” said forward Rich Peverley.
Both teams are halfway home. But there’s still a long way to go.