Ryan Kesler fought Dennis Seidenberg in the late stages of Game 3 in Boston. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
BOSTON – The Vancouver Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy and made it to the Stanley Cup final largely because their best players grasped the concept of discipline and “playing between the whistles.”
They would do well to remember that Wednesday night as they embark on what has developed into a crucial Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final. With all the momentum and emotion going with the Boston Bruins at the moment, it will be imperative that the Canucks keep their heads about them.
But precisely the opposite has happened. With Alexandre Burrows dining out on fingers and Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Kesler freelancing when it comes to extracurricular activities, the Canucks are not only reacquiring a reputation they’ve worked so hard to shed, but they’re also putting their Stanley Cup aspirations in peril.
“We want to play like we've played all year,” Lapierre said, “and that's what we're going to do tonight.”
All three are going to have to clean up their acts. Lapierre has done an admirable job of staying in line since being acquired from Anaheim, but has allowed the big stage of the Stanley Cup final to get the better of him. Along with Raffi Torres and Jeff Tambellini, he has done such a good job on the fourth line for all the right reasons, but cannot afford to make himself a center of attention for the wrong ones.
Burrows long ago grew out of the agitator role that initially got him into the NHL and has developed into a top-line player. He must return to that form. And Kesler? What exactly is a 40-goal scorer doing picking a fight late in a blowout, particularly amid reports that he’s playing injured?
If Canucks coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t livid about that one, he should have been. It was actually interesting that when asked about it after the morning skate, Vigneault refused to take ownership over the way the Canucks seem to have lost their discipline, instead going back to the age-old well of blaming the referees.
“All year long we've played whistle to whistle,” Vigneault said. “That hasn't changed in this series. All the referees have to do is call the ones who initiate the scrums. That’s going to stop right there.”
It will be interesting to see how the Canucks respond to what will be an amped-up crowd in Game 4. We’ll also see just how good a captain Henrik Sedin is when it comes to keeping his teammates in line. The Canucks have been successful all season because they have followed the lead established by the Sedin twins and their leadership group. You can bet the Sedins have done their best to calm their teammates down and remind them of what got them to the final. Now if they can go out and back it up by getting some results on the scoreboard, they’ll have righted the Canucks ship.
For the Bruins, the major key will be building on the emotion and momentum they stocked up with their victory in Game 3. The Canucks, most observers would contend, are the better team on paper in the final. So the Bruins will need to call on all their reserves of emotion, and draw upon the atmosphere at the TD Garden, to overcome the discrepancy between the two teams.
It is the Stanley Cup final and teams shouldn’t need any added motivation with a championship on the line, but there’s absolutely no doubt the Aaron Rome hit on Nathan Horton galvanized the Bruins and the emotion in the building was a factor in the Bruins not letting up. The Bruins will almost certainly want to keep the level of physical play ratcheted up for a couple of reasons. First, that style seems to bring out the best in them. Second, if the Canucks respond to it the way they did in Game 3, the Bruins will have them exactly where they want them.
“For the most part, when we’ve had games like (Game 3), we’ve come out on the better end of most of them,” said Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid. “It’s the finals here and there’s a lot of emotion involved and both teams are trying to do whatever they can to win. But you’ve got to make sure that even though you’re playing with as much emotion as you can, you’ve got to make sure you’re controlling it.”
Tim Thomas’ wandering ways continue to be an issue in the series. In Game 3, he hit Henrik Sedin when Sedin was gloving a puck in the air in Thomas’ crease area. Thomas maintained earlier in the series it was his impression that once he established position outside his crease, not only was he entitled to that ice, but also to a clear path back into the crease.
“Well, that’s wrong,” Vigneault said. “He’s got the wrong rule on that. If we’re behind him, that’s our ice and we’re allowed to stay there. We’ve talked to the NHL about that. We’ve talked to the NHL about him initiating contact like he did on Hank. They’re aware of it. Hopefully they’re going to handle it.”
According to the words of the rulebook, they might both be right. Rule 69.4 states that, “When a goalkeeper has played the puck outside of his crease and is then prevented from returning to his crease area due to the deliberate actions of an attacking player, such player may be penalized for goalkeeper interference. Similarly, the goalkeeper may be penalized, if by his actions outside of his crease, he deliberately interferes with an attacking player who is attempting to play the puck or an opponent.”
There is clearly some grey area there, however.
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