Playing the Vancouver Canucks is like playing a collection of A-Rods or a full squad of Bill Laimbeers. The defending NHL Western Conference champions are a virtual conga line of Claude Lemieuxes and Ulf Samuelssons.
They are posers and floppers, arrogant and cowardly. It’s hard to believe Cam Neely ever wore their sweater. Beating them up is just so much fun, and flipping one of them butt-over-tea kettle sweetens the day. But you can’t put them on the power play 11 times or they will make you pay.
The Bruins paid dearly yesterday, losing a 4-3 slugfest (gloves all over the ice, all day long), as the best power play in the NHL converted four times in 11 tries.
Looking at the bright side, it was probably safe to walk the streets of Vancouver last night.
Pardon the hyperbole, but this really did feel like Game 8 of the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately, the Bruins’ lack of discipline cost them the game.
Nobody wants to hear that, of course. Not when a six-pack of Canucks jump on Shawn Thornton’s back in the fourth minute of play; not when the Bruins come out of the donnybrook playing two men short for two minutes and losing Milan Lucic to a bogus game misconduct. It was like taking a punch to the face, then going to jail for bruising your assailant’s knuckles.
There was more Bruin attrition. Coach Claude Julien had to manage the final period with only three lines after Little Ball O’ Hate Brad Marchand was ejected for spectacularly flipping Sami Salo with a low hit that will probably earn him a few additional games on the shelf.
Marchand’s game misconduct was another call that didn’t play well in Black & Gold Nation, and Julien tried to sell it as Marchand protecting himself, but the Lords of the Boards aren’t liable to buy that one.
This was one entertaining afternoon of hockey. It had everything except a Boston victory, and the Bruins have only themselves to blame. Boston went 0 for 7 on power plays. The Canucks batted .363.
“I didn’t imagine there would be that many penalties,’’ said Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. “We generally play a five-on-five game. It seemed like every time we started to get momentum, we had a long penalty.’’
“Let’s be man enough to admit it,’’ Julien said. “We didn’t do enough to win the hockey game. They scored four power-play goals. Instead of criticizing the referees, I prefer to criticize us for the penalties.’’
Bloodthirsty Bruins fans came to Causeway Street looking for a pound of flesh from tire-pumpin’ Roberto Luongo. Julien took the predictable high road when asked about Alain Vigneault’s decision to start Cory Schneider, but no one in the Garden was buying. It looked like the Canucks were trying to preserve Luongo’s fragile ego. It felt a little like LeBron James not coming out for the announcement of starting lineups when he returned to Cleveland last year.
The first “Luongo’’ chants were heard at the end of the second minute of play - just before six Canucks jumped on Thornton.
During a line change, Thornton got into a jam with Alexandre Burrows. Next thing he knew, there were Vancouver players on his back. He looked a little like Rob Gronkowski running toward the end zone wearing a bunch of Washington Redskins. It was especially amusing to see Maxim Lapierre cliff-diving into the pile once he knew it was safe.
“I knew there were a lot of bodies,’’ said Thornton. “I’m surprised I could stand up that long with six guys on the attack, until Z [Zdeno Chara] grabbed hold of somebody and pulled the whole pile down.’’
It seemed like a natural for “third man in’’ to be invoked. Maybe even “fourth man in,’’ “fifth man in,’’ and “sixth man in’’ (that means, you, Lapierre). But the Bruins wound up with the disadvantage and now must prove that Lucic didn’t break the rules. “It’s clear he did not come off the bench,’’ argued Julien.
The rest of the game was no less chaotic or thrilling. It was simply great theater. We had a toe-to-toe slugfest featuring Nathan Horton and Dale Weise. We had a nifty Marchand goal off a perfect long-range pass from Tyler Seguin. And we had provocateur Weise chickening out when Thornton threw down his gloves after a faceoff.
“I obviously thought it was go time,’’ reasoned Thornton.
The game was tied, 2-2, when Marchand tossed Salo (sounds like something on a menu at Strega). It no doubt felt good at the time, but Vancouver’s go-ahead and game-winning goals followed.
Sounding like Keith Jackson, Julien said, “Let’s not kid ourselves here. These are two teams that don’t like each other. A lot of things happened last year in the playoffs and carried over to tonight’s game.’’
Amen, coach. Can we get some more of this again in June?