VANCOUVER One thought must have become quite apparent to the Bruins amid the final 20 minutes of Game 1 against the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final:
They arent in the Eastern Conference anymore.
That much was clear to coach Claude Julien once the ice chips settled and his Black and Gold skaters had been worn down in three periods of hustling, dead-even hockey that ended with one ill-timed Johnny Boychuk gaffe of aggression late in the third period.
The Bruins have met their five-on-five match in a Vancouver team that seems to do everything well.
It was pretty simple, said Julien. I think they beat us at the five-on-five game last night. I think our special teams were good if not better than theirs, to be honest with you. We had more scoring chances on our power play. Our penalty kill did a great job against a pretty potent power play. Special teams was not an issue, but five-on-five they were no doubt a better team.
The Bruins had battled, muscled and simply overpowered their way to the Cup final by bludgeoning finesse teams from the East with their 5-on-5 might.
The Game 7 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning serves as perhaps the best example.
It was scoreless heading into the third period, but the Bs were imposing their will and physical style from the moment the referees swallowed their whistles for the night.
That was the inherent advantage the Black and Gold lorded over every team in the East after leading the conference with a plus-51 goal differential in the regular season. It came to the forefront as they romped through a series of flawed teams in the playoffs.
The Flyers were clearly hurting, but the Habs and Lightning were both finesse teams that couldnt match the Bruins once it came down to muscle, might, and bodies mashing together in fits of playoff brutality.
Those teams couldnt hang with the Bruins despite pushing them to seven games on both occasions.
The Canucks? They can certainly hang.
There was a perception Vancouver was cut from the same dainty cloth as the Habs and Bolts, and was just another skilled, finesse team the Bruins would drive through with their Black and Gold bulldozer.
But thats far from the five-on-five truth. Ryan Kesler gives Vancouver plenty of fighting spirit on the ice, and energy players like Raffi Torres, Kevin Bieksa and Alex Burrows bring a little snarl to go with Vancouvers obvious skill.
"Both power plays kind of wiped each other out in Game 1. Five-on-five there were spurts I thought we played well and spurts where they took the play to us, said Chris Kelly. Obviously they were the best in the league during the regular season for a reason. Most of the game is five-on-five, and if we think its going to be a cakewalk five-on-five against them then wed be fooling ourselves. We definitely dont think that.
The Canucks are a team built on speed and skill with the Sedin twins bringing their special brand of playmaking to the mix. But they were also a plus-71 goal differential during the regular season, and every bit Bostons match when it comes to five-on-five play and heaviness on the puck.
There are no 6-foot-9 behemoths on skates on the Vancouver roster, but they wont be overwhelmed by the Bruins as many other teams have this postseason. The Canucks matched every punishing lick thrown by the Bruins in Game 1, and even gnawed on the fingers of the Big Bad Bruins when opportunity presented itself.
It was even-handed hockey game in many ways, but with the possibility looms that Vancouvers high-wattage power play could explode at any time.
It was kind of a back-and-forth game, said Andrew Ference. We had sections where we had decent pressure and chances. They obviously had the same thing where they had blocks of time with great pressure against us. It was obviously a give and take game and the closeness of the score said that.
If you go into a series expecting that youre going to have great control of all the games then youre kidding yourselves. Its how you weather it and minimize teams having that advantage. I dont think there were huge blocks of game where they controlled it.
The Bruins know they played a good game against the Canucks in Game 1, but thats not nearly good enough to beat a hockey club without any discernible weakness to exploit.
There were a lot of good things, said Mark Recchi. Number one: the way that the guys just handled the big stage. For most of the guys it was their first game in the Stanley Cup Final. I think our special teams were good. We handled that well. But five-on-five weve got to be a lot better.
Usually, the Bruins are the better team five-on-five, but when it comes to their matchup with the Canucks, even strength looks to be just that. Even.