The Boston Bruins skated off the ice at TD Garden last Friday night as the Eastern Conference Champions, having played what was arguably their most perfect game of the season. Not a great look was afforded to the opposition. Not an error was committed. Not a penalty was called.
But Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals turned out to be not-so-perfect for the Bruins.
Both the Vancouver Canucks and Boston played a knock-em-down, drag-em-out slugfest in Game 1 - the type of game you expect in December from the Bruins and, say, the Philadelphia Flyers, but not in June from two teams who have only seen each other twice in the past two seasons.
Alexandre Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron’s finger in a scrum at the end of the first period, and David Krejci threw a cross-check into an injured Dan Hamhuis after Hamhuis upended Milan Lucic on the wall in front of the Boston bench.
"I haven’t seen it," said Bruins coach Claude Julien of the Bergeron-Burrows incident. "But if that's the case, it's a classless move, not something players should be doing at this level."
Brad Marchand was in the face of anyone in a white sweater, and Zdeno Chara spent a lot of time in front of Roberto Luongo in the early going, when the Bruins had a lot of looks on the power play.
The first two periods saw 12 penalties called, seven against Boston and five against Vancouver, and as a result, neither team was able to generate any consistency offensively. Each team had an extended 5-on-3 chance, but neither was able to convert on it.
The penalties weren’t necessarily a side effect of sloppy play, but they didn’t help the teams get into the flow of the game.
After the end of the second, the referees put their whistles away and let the teams play. And Vancouver just put the Bruins away, setting up in the attacking zone and dominating the neutral zone, allowing Boston only a few good looks at Luongo, each of which the Canucks netminder handled well.
At the other end, Tim Thomas was no worse, making countless highlight-reel saves, but he couldn’t make the big one when it counted. Johnny Boychuk turned the puck over in a clearing attempt, and Ryan Kesler found an uncovered Raffi Torres streaking to the net. Torres redirected Kesler’s pass behind Thomas and into the net, with only 18.5 seconds remaining on the clock.
While many will point to the Bruins’ holding Vancouver to just one goal, it wasn’t a complete team effort like they’ve had so far in these playoffs. The Bruins defense didn’t do much when playing at full strength, and Thomas saved their bacon all night long.
Can the attack be better? The shots-on-goal advantage says it likely won’t be. Can the goaltending be better? Not likely. But the numbers won’t be what decide this series.
Burrows may well be suspended for his oral objection to Bergeron’s facewashing. Hamhuis never returned to the ice after the hit on Lucic. And the Bruins, despite the heart-breaking finish, kept the NHL’s most prolific offense to one goal in their own barn when they played a lot of the game downhill.
So what do the Black and Gold do to even the series up in Game 2? Establish a stronger counter-attack, help their goaltender out more and keep frustrating the Western Conference Champions by getting down low and not being afraid to chirp.
Can they do it? There’s no reason to believe they can’t. It’s difficult to imagine that the goaltending will allow one goal every 70 shots as the teams get more used to each other, and it’s even more difficult to imagine that the referees will continue to blow the whistle at the rate they did in the first 40 minutes - that, one can assume, was a statement that they wouldn’t allow a lot of nonsense as the series develops.
"I think we played a real good road game, to be honest with you. To be in the situation we were after two periods, I didn't mind it, especially against this hockey club," said Julien.
Of course, it’s easier to draw up a perfect game plan than it is to execute it against the reigning best team in the league. But if Thomas can play half as well as he did in the series opener and the team in front of him can improve their compete level, the Bruins have a very real shot in this series.
They already know that. Vancouver is now well aware of it. The adjustments that will be made between games one and two will, ultimately, decide the series. Julien’s proven his ability to adapt from game to game, but that ability will be tested more than it has at any point this season over the next two days.
If he continues to evolve and his team continues to execute the changes, it could make for a very interesting series. If not, it’ll make for a very short one.
Either way, it’s safe to assume that the Bruins would rather answer the questions they fielded after game seven than the ones they fielded after game one.