EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 9, 2011

Are Canucks really paper lions?

On Pro Hockey
Bill Burt

BOSTON — A few days ago they roared like lions. They also bit, mocked and, for all we know, had begun chilling the Champagne.

The Vancouver Canucks, the unequivocal best hockey team in the world from the last week of October through the first few days of June, won a pair nail-biters 2,500 miles away and they appeared to be having fun in the midst of their seven-month winning streak.

Probably too much fun.

Being we are the most provinicial metropolitan area in the world and watch little hockey outside of our little comfort zone from Montreal to, say Pittsburgh, we took people on their word about the Canucks and their dominance.

We were told they can win 6-5 and 1-0. Pick your poison, as they say.

Well, we saw 1-0 in the opener, when Vancover's Raffi Torres scored with 18 seconds remaining in the game. They were right, we surmised. A few days later, it was 3-2 in overtime, this time a fluky goal by Alexandre Burrows just 11 seconds into overtime.

Here we are just a days after that "insurmountable" 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Finals and the Canucks, to put it bluntly, stink. I mean really, really stink.

Their power play is 1-for-21. And their No. 1 goalie has given up 12 goals in four periods.

By the last few minutes of last night's 4-0 win by the Boston Bruins, on the heels of an 8-1 drubbing two evenings earlier, the skate was on the other foot when it came to mocking.

First it was Bruins forward Brad Marchand ducking as Daniel Sedin, making his first attempt at a check in the series, approached him along the boards only to be upended on his keister. After that, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas initiated a fight with Vancouver's Alexandre Burrows in front of his goal.

The missed check and the unneeded scuffle were both embarrassing and the low points of this series.

If you're doing math this morning while eating your Cheerios, the score is 12-1 in favor of the Bruins since the teams left Vancouver. The score is 12-1 since journeyman defenseman Aaron Rome became a household name and KOd Bruin playoff hero Nathan Horton with a shoulder to the head area and prematurely ending his season.

What we're learning is that there is a very thin line between being a first-round knockout, like the Bruins almost were against the Montreal Canadiens, and a legitimate Stanley Cup champion, like they are now.

If goalie Tim Thomas doesn't make that incredible save in overtime against Brian Gionta in Game 4, when he read the 2-on-1 pass to the diminutive forward, the Bruins would have been down 3-1 in the series and probably would have been mincemeat by the end of Game 6.

Now, they are two wins away from winning the Stanley Cup.

"That's the thing about playoff hockey," said Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. "You have to have guys step up. It can't just be one guy, either. That's why it's so exciting ... anything can happen."

The Canucks have a two big problems and both center around one Bruin, Thomas.

One, Canucks forwards can't score on him. And two, maybe more importantly, Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo appears to be a lost soul in his efforts to keep up with him.

It's almost an obsession. Every time a Canuck, including its coach Alain Vigneault, is around a microphone, somebody is talking about Thomas breaking some law.

Is he out too far? Is he fair game to get clobbered by a Canuck? If he's protected like all goalies are why is he allowed croak opposing players?

It sounds to me like whining. It sounds a lot like the Canucks, having never been here before, are buckling under the pressure.

"I don't think it was ever an issue to begin with," said Thomas, about the issues the Canucks have with his "style." "I think it was made an issue by the people that were talking about it. But in reality, it never was an issue."

Maybe that's what happens this time of year. We run out of stories after six weeks and we start making them up.

I realize the series is tied, 2-2. I realize the Bruins will play two of the next three games (if a third is necessary) in Vancouver.

But I wonder if the Canucks have bit more than they can chew, if you know what I mean.