Judging by the tenor of Twitter toward the tail end of Game Four on Wednesday night, many fans have already written off the Vancouver Canucks. Given that a lot of Canadian fans are actively cheering against the team, this may be as much hope as it is belief, but even so it is difficult to escape the notion that the Bruins hold the edge in the series after a pair of decisive wins in Boston.

There are, however, a few things worth recognizing about Vancouver.

Roberto Luongo rebounded against Chicago. I know that this deep into the playoffs, we forget the lessons of the first round, so I will repeat one of them now. Roberto Luongo allowed 10 goals on just 40 shots in games four and five versus the Chicago Blackhawks. He was pulled in Game Six, returned to the net late in the game after an injury felled Cory Schneider, and looked shaky. This resulted in an overtime goal against and finished off three straight wins for the Blackhawks, the team that had eliminated Vancouver in the previous two playoff years and humiliated Luongo in the process. In Game Seven, Luongo responded by making 31 saves on 32 shots – including a pivotal power play shot from Patrick Sharp in overtime – to allow the Canucks to move on.

Roberto Luongo has a history of recovering from bad games. Back when the Canucks were dealing with Luongo’s implosion against Chicago, I researched his performance after consecutive bad games. From that article:

There are six instances (including twice in the playoffs) where Luongo had consecutively awful games, and in five of the six (including both playoff instances) his game following those two was tremendous. On one occasion, Luongo laid three stinkers in a row before playing brilliantly in a win.

The power play has gone 1-for-22 against Boston. Plus, if we add in shorthanded goals, Vancouver has actually gone minus-1 over 22 opportunities against the Bruins. This is not only expected, but it is wildly out of sync with what we knew about these teams entering the finals. In the playoffs prior to this series, Vancouver had gone 17-for-60 (28.3%); at that pace we would have expected them to score six power play goals against the Bruins. They were moderately worse during the season, scoring 72 goals in 296 attempts (24.3%); at that pace we would expect them to have five goals.

The other way to look at this is that the Bruins’ penalty kill has gone 21-for-22 (95.5%) against Vancouver. This is not in keeping with what we know about them – during the regular season they were decidedly mediocre, with an 82.6% kill rate (16th in the NHL).. Prior to this series, their penalty kill in the playoffs was humming along at an 82.5% kill rate.

We can draw one of two conclusions from this data: either a) Boston matches up well against Vancouver in this area and/or has seen a miracle of coaching prowess or b) this is an aberration that is unlikely to continue. I’m betting on the long run of regular season/playoff data being more indicative of power play performance going forward.

Tim Thomas has been phenomenal, win or lose. Tim Thomas was the best goaltender in the NHL this season, so this is not a surprise. He is capable of incredible performances and undoubtedly won’t make things easy for Vancouver. It is worth noting, however, that it is possible to expose him – leaving aside the (hilariously foolish) questions about his style following Alex Burrows’ overtime goal, he allowed 4+ goals in four of seven games against Tampa Bay. He’s a superb goaltender, but he isn’t unbeatable.

Winning games three and four after losing the first two simply means that the series is tied. The team to ask about momentum is the 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers. Like the Bruins, they lost the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals on the road. They followed that up with two “statement” wins at home. They followed those up with two more losses. The 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins also lost the first two games on the road, then followed those losses up with two wins at home. Detroit beat Pittsburgh 5-0 in Game Five, but it didn’t matter – the Penguins won a pair of squeakers to take the Cup in seven games.

This is my problem with many of the narratives spun out of the series to date: Luongo’s miserable play, the power play’s impotence, the excellence of Thomas, and Boston’s dramatic comeback – they all matter, but recent history has shown us that each is either fickle or unlikely to continue. Certainly, none of those individual factors tell us which team will win two of the next three games.

Comments (6)

  1. I agree with you. Tim Thomas is no doubt the best goalie this season.

  2. For a team that has generally been consistent in the playoffs, the Canucks seem to go on long stretches of indifferent play. As I’ve said before, last year they should have lost to the Kings in four (to his credit, Luongo bailed them out with two huge saves in Games 1 (Johnson, OT) and 4 (Smyth) that bought them enough time), and of course their struggles against the Blackhawks are well documented.

    But… I do think the PP is more of the Bruins being very well-prepared to match up against Vancouver. The Cup Final is a different beast than most – even the Bruins had ample preparation time, and given enough preparation time I always think a decent PK can be elevated into an excellent one. Even during PKs when they should be indifferent – such as that long one at the end of Game 4 – Boston has been doing a good job of denying a lot of chances.

    And, of course, outside of 11 seconds in Game 2′s OT, Thomas has been the best player in the series. I’m still thinking it’s a home ice series – the Bruins have to be kicking themselves that they’re not up 3-1 right now.

  3. Stephen:

    I suspect it’s a bit of both. I’ve no doubt the Bruins keyed in on what Vancouver does, but even so… it’s an average set of penalty-killers versus one of the best power plays in the game. Over the long haul, I have trouble believing that Vancouver won’t light them up.

  4. The “long haul” is now down to two or three games. I’d feel better about Vancouver’s PP in the immediate short term except for the observation that Ehrhoff, Edler, the Sedins, and Kesler all seem to b struggling on the individual level. Kesler and Henrik both appear to be pretty banged up.

    Still, nothing like an early PP goal to turn that all around. At this point I’m less concerned about trends and more about “what happens next”. Who’ll get the bounces tonight? The team that has gotten the breaks has won every game to date.

  5. I think this will be a good game tonight. I also think that Vancouver needs to stick with their team in good and bad times. That is what I like (the only thing) about Boston, Toronto and Montreal fans. they are fans of their team no matter what.

    Power play goals, strong defense and lots of scoring for tonight for the Canucks. Gotta fake out Tim Thomas. He’s amazing but not impregnable – go get him Burrows! God bless all Canucks tonight – show your talent and skill!!!

  6. [...] been excellent at rebounding from a pair of stinkers over the course of his career. I’ve pointed this out before, so I won’t rehash it at length, but suffice to say that as he can consistently come back from [...]

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