After game two losses on Friday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Vancouver Canucks suddenly find themselves in the same boat. It’s a pretty lame boat: no shuffleboard, lousy in-cruise entertainment, every room is a smoking room, and the buffet doesn’t even have Jell-O. No Jell-O!
The Penguins and Canucks were both favourites heading into the playoffs, with many experts picking the two teams to meet in the Stanley Cup Final. Heck, even some non-expert bloggers like myself picked them to go to the Final. Those predictions are beginning to look awfully suspect as both teams lost their opening two games at home and are in desperate need of some playoff magic on the road to stay alive.
The sorcerer they should be apprenticing themselves to? Last year’s Boston Bruins.
One year ago, the Bruins won the Northeast Division with 103 points and faced the 6th place Montreal Canadiens, who finished with 96 points. In their last meeting in the regular season, the Bruins thrashed the Canadiens 7-0. Unsurprisingly, the Bruins were heavily favoured to win the series. Heck, Backhand Shelf boss Justin Bourne picked the Bruins to sweep the Canadiens in 4 games.
Instead, the Bruins were shut down by Carey Price in their own rink, losing their first two games at home. Their leading scorer, David Krejci, and leading goal scorer, Milan Lucic, were both pointless and a minus-2 through the first two games and were criticized for being invisible by their fanbase. Zdeno Chara was hospitalized with dehydration and missed game two; their defensive depth was tried and found lacking. Vezina-winning goaltender Tim Thomas was criticized for “choking” as his rebound control evaporated.
The Bruins had never won a playoff series after losing the first two games. Things looked dark.
The Penguins and Canucks find themselves in the same situation as the 2011 Bruins: down 2-0 in their first round playoff series and heading out on the road. In game one, the Penguins had a 3-0 first period lead before allowing 4 straight Flyers goals. The Canucks opened the scoring in game one as well, before eventually losing 4-2.
In game two, the Penguins once again jumped out to an early lead, going up 2-0 halfway through the first, before the game turned into an insane, see-saw affair that saw 13 total goals and an 8-5 victory for the Flyers. Two of those Flyers goals were shorthanded, which echoes game two in the Canucks/Kings series, as Dustin Brown scored two shorthanded goals to help carry the Kings to a 4-2 win.
It’s a bad situation that raises numerous questions. Marc-Andre Fleury has given up 11 goals in two games and the team has now twice given up multi-goal leads and lost. Roberto Luongo has given up 7 goals in two games, but has people saying that he’s the best player on the ice for the Canucks, whose vaunted offence has been stymied by the Kings’ stifling defence.
The Penguins and Canucks, quite frankly, have looked awful.
The 2011 Bruins responded to losing their first two games at home by winning the next two in Montreal, evening up the series at 2-2 and regaining home ice advantage, eventually winning the series in overtime of game seven in Boston. When they got to the Stanley Cup Final, they lost the first two games of that series as well, before turning the series around and winning the Cup in game seven.
Can the Penguins and Canucks do the same? It’s certainly possible. The Penguins have clearly shown that they can score on the Flyers, but they need to prove that they can defend as well and stop Claude Giroux and the Flyers’ attack. For that, they’ll need Fleury to be a little less terrible, or else the Penguins’ hopes will rest on Brent Johnson, who was a playoff hero for the St. Louis Blues, posting three consecutive shutouts in the first round against the Blackhawks…a decade ago.
Some better team defence in front of Fleury would also be helpful, just as it would be for the Canucks and Roberto Luongo. Despite Luongo’s solid performance, it’s possible that the Canucks will turn to superstar backup Cory Schneider for game 3, not as an indictment of Luongo but as a wake-up call to the rest of the team. Like the 2011 Bruins, the Canucks are missing one of their star players, Daniel Sedin. But while the Bruins got Chara back for game three against the Canadiens, it seems unlikely that the same will be the case for the Canucks.
Instead, the Canucks will have to make do with the players they have, and considering Daniel Sedin wasn’t considered that stalwart in the defensive end of the ice, his absence can’t be used as an excuse for the team’s efforts on that end. The Canucks’ inability to solve Jonathan Quick, however, is a problem that Daniel’s presence could certainly help solve.
The Canucks’ winger hasn’t skated with the team since Monday’s practice and reportedly experienced a headache and neck troubles. It’s likely that he won’t be ready to play in game three on Sunday, with game four on Wednesday completely up in the air.
If the Bruins had lost that first round series to the Canadiens, we would be questioning Tim Thomas’s ability to win when it really matters. We would be wondering whether the big, bad, bruising Bruins had built their franchise the right way. We would be asking if Zdeno Chara was a real leader. But they didn’t, so Thomas is a clutch goaltender and Conn Smythe trophy winner, the Bruins model is one to be emulated, and Zdeno Chara is immortalized.
For the Penguins and Canucks, it’s up to them how they will be remembered: chokers or champians.