In the Vancouver Canucks locker room, there's a good chance the following sentiment is being passed around after Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins: if, at the start of the season, they were offered the chance to play a three-game series with home ice advantage for the Stanley Cup, would they take it?
Of course they would.
I've written before about how I'm not a big believer in game-to-game momentum. I am, however, a believer in habits and trends. One of Vancouver's most glaring trends over the past two games is the inability to play stable, controlled hockey after the Bruins score a goal. A seeming lack of composure is leading to bad turnovers, screened shots, and poor positioning -- and that all stems from letting bad habits creep in.
When you're playing catch-up, desperation tends to take over and this can go in one of two ways. The positive way is that your legs push harder, the pain hurts less, and the will to do anything necessary is stronger. It's reckless, potentially painful, but required to break through. This can work remarkably well if your team generally stays within the prescribed system. That allows for the extra energy and passion to come into play while providing enough structure for teammates to know where they are and what they should be doing.
The negative way isn't too far off. The physical aspect of it remains the same but the mental part changes. Rather than bringing an extra energy to a team's system, desperation causes players to equally overthing and underthink, creating a group of individuals rather than a team on the ice. The effort doesn't matter if the cohesion has broken down, as this leads to really tired guys who are caught out of position or are missing assignments. Even if it only happens for a few shifts, things can go really wrong, really quickly.
The Canucks have been on the winning side of this, of course. Their series against the San Jose Sharks featured plenty of back-and-forth spirited hockey, along with colossal moments of desperation-gone-wrong from the Sharks side. The Canucks were able to capitalize, and the series ended much quicker than many people predicted.
Now, the tables are being turned on them. The truth of the matter -- and the series -- is that Boston has controlled the pace in every game this series. For the first two games, Boston slowed the game down and could have won had they not made critical errors at inopportune moments. In the last two games, Vancouver may have had a reasonable shot total but the scoring chances didn't match. Yes, Tim Thomas did a heck of a lot to bail out the Bruins when needed, but the Canucks simply aren't dictating the game the way they know they can.
At their best, the Canucks have the best transition game in the NHL. Their combination of speed and skill moves with the puck into the offensive zone with deadly precision, and once there, they can hurt you with so many different options: mesmerizing passing in a down-low cycle, grinding it out with guys like Ryan Kesler, or moving the puck out to the point with Vancouver's deep blueline.
We've hardly seen this during the Stanley Cup Finals. It's been there for spurts, but nothing more than a few minutes in each stretch at best. The goal for Game 5, then, is to re-think the team's strategy and look to beat Boston's defensive scheme. And the best place to go for this is probably Boston's previous series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
While Tampa's noted 1-3-1 system is different from Alain Vigneault's system, the Lightning are still basing their attack on a quick transition. For half the series, Tampa couldn't operate the way they wanted to, but for the other half, the Lightning bombarded Tim Thomas. Thomas certainly held Boston in check, but there were long stretches where Tampa's skill players could work their magic.
There's no doubt that Vancouver has more skill than Boston. However, the Bruins have cluttered the neutral zone and pushed Vancouver's attack to the outside. What they're trying simply isn't working, so it's time for Vigneault to consider other alternatives for getting past the Boston defense.
Any team would take a two-out-of-three chance to win Lord Stanley. But in a theoretical short series like that, there's no room for error -- a few quick mistakes can lose you games very fast. So regardless of how the Canucks got here (and really, you could look at either glass-half-full or half-empty scenarios), the bottom line is that they need to win two games and they have home-ice advantage. It's time to let their skill shine.
The Stanley Cup Finals are ongoing, as the Vancouver Canucks battle the Boston Bruins. Stick with this StoryStream for full coverage of Game 4. For coverage on the Finals, stick with our Stanley Cup Finals hub, our Canucks blog, Nucks Misconduct, and our Bruins blog, Stanley Cup of Chowder.