All the signs pointed to a Boston Bruins win in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Saturday night. Literally, every single sign.
After 60 minutes of play, both the Bruins and Vancouver Canucks were in a strong position to win the hockey game, but it seemed as though Boston had learned some big lessons after their heartbreaking late Game 1 loss.
Goals by Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi just 92 seconds apart in the second period gave Boston a lead it seemed poised to hold through the end of regulation -- especially since the Bruins hadn't lost (6-0) when leading after two periods all postseason. They didn't hold the lead, but when the game went to overtime, statisticians' collective heartbeats didn't necessarily increase.
Boston was 4-0 in overtime in the postseason. Vancouver was 3-2. Tim Thomas -- when in net -- had been stellar again, and his defense hadn't exactly left him out to dry in this game. And the Bruins were 5-1 following a loss in the postseason, to boot.
But when Zdeno Chara failed to deposit Alex Burrows to the ice as he chased him behind the net just seconds into the overtime period, and Thomas was busy flailing out of the net after over-committing, all of those signs quickly became meaningless. The statistics, out the window. The Canucks won the game.
It was a game which saw the Bruins fight harder, defend better and look sharper. It was a game that they had all sorts of reasons -- logical, emotional, statistical -- to win.
And yet, they didn't.
As the Bruins made the cross-country trek back home to Boston after Saturday's game, they likely wondered in the backs of their minds if they'd be making the trip back in the other direction again. They likely thought about what they could have done better to put themselves in a more ideal situation.
The answers aren't easy, because really, there's not much they could have done better.
The goaltending needs little improvement -- Thomas just needs to remember to stay in his crease. The defense needs little improvement -- they just need to take care of their men. The special teams needs little improvement -- it just needs to spend more time with an advantage and less time on the kill. And the offense needs little improvement -- maybe the lines could be switched up, maybe Nathan Horton needs to make his presence felt, maybe the Black and Gold need something more from their second and third lines.
That's just the catch. There really isn't much that the Bruins can do against this Vancouver team, which is stronger and faster than Boston, with better vision, better chemistry and probably better goaltending.
What can the Bruins do different? It's tough to say. Maybe the home crowd will give them a lift; they looked a bit sluggish at the end of Game 1 and the start and end of Game 2, after all. Maybe desperation will kick in. Maybe the nicks that Kevin Bieksa, Raffi Torres and Ryan Kesler took in Game 2 will prove to be bigger problems than anyone thinks.
Whatever they do, it's likely not going to be a big change. Claude Julien and his team believe in their system and there's no reason they'll abandon it. Besides, the system isn't the problem, the competition is.
The Bruins are going to need a boost, and they're going to need to find an extra gear that they haven't yet played in all season. After 102 games, that may be tough to do.
But then again, if they don't, there won't be any more games after 104.
The Stanley Cup Finals are ongoing, as the Vancouver Canucks battle the Boston Bruins. For full coverage on the Finals, stick with our Stanley Cup Finals hub, our Canucks blog, Nucks Misconduct, and our Bruins blog, Stanley Cup of Chowder.