Canucks, Bruins begin their best-of-3

The Stanley Cup Final is essentially back to zero, and one of these two teams known for bouts of mental fragility will finally shed that tag over the next three games, beginning with Game 5 on Friday at Rogers Arena (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET).
Tim Thomas has been the best goalie in the final, but he'll have to win in Vancouver for the Bruins to hoist the Stanley Cup. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Stanley Cup Final is essentially back to zero, and one of these two teams known for bouts of mental fragility will finally shed that tag over the next three games, beginning with Game 5 on Friday at Rogers Arena (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET).

Vancouver and its No. 1 goaltender have been mired in funks before, and they're showing classic symptoms after a combined 12-1 ledger in two games in Boston. One wonders how the Canucks and their fans will react if Boston takes the lead on Friday.

The Bruins, after all, are 10-1 when scoring first in the playoffs. The Canucks are 10-2.

Boston has displayed a tendency in the past to rest on laurels that, well, weren't really laurels. A big series lead last year against Philadelphia and a big lead in Game 4 last round against Tampa Bay were cases where the Bruins paid dearly for letting their focus wander.

All the way back

Since the best-of-seven final was introduced in 1939, four teams have come back to win from a 2-0 deficit: Toronto in 1942 (down 3-0), Montreal in 1965, Montreal in 1971, and Pittsburgh in 2009.

"We haven't accomplished anything yet," centre Patrice Bergeron said on Thursday. "The last two games have been the way that we wanted to come out and great games, but that being said, we can't get too high and too low in the playoffs, and we've seen that before."

Bergeron hit the right talking point, because Boston in a sense is still trying to go against the prevailing trend despite tying the series. Only 13 per cent of teams have won playoff series when trailing 2-0, and in the final that figure is only eight per cent. Pittsburgh pulled the trick in 2009, the first team to do so in 28 years and only the fourth overall.

Bruins fans of a certain vintage will remember that Boston fought back from 2-0 down in 1978 to tie the thing after four, but Montreal posted a pair of 4-1 results.

Philadelphia last year followed the same series trajectory before coming up short in the next two contests.

No cigar

Since the best-of-seven final was introduced in 1939, seven teams have squared the series heading into Game 5 after going down 2-0, but ultimately lost: Toronto in 1940, Montreal in 1955, Chicago in 1962, Buffalo in 1975, Boston in 1978, Anaheim in 2003, and Philadelphia in 2010.

The tenor of this year's final has been largely determined by the area immediately in front of Roberto Luongo. In the first two games, Vancouver, aided a bit by Boston's penchant for perimeter play, largely kept the Bruins' forwards boxed out or limited to just one shot on Luongo.

The Bruins' forwards burst through regularly in Boston, and the Canucks netminder helped out by reverting to the shaky form that saw him pulled for one game in the opening-round series against Chicago.

Boston's cause in this regard has been helped by a triple dose of misfortune to Vancouver on the back end — a Dan Hamhuis injury, an Aaron Rome suspension, and an unheeded Keith Ballard extreme rust advisory.

In truth, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault really didn't have much choice but to play Ballard. Could the undrafted rookie Chris Tanev be thrust in the lineup on defence instead for Game 5?

Luongo, who will get the start, will likely need to prove himself early or step aside for Boston native Cory Schneider. But Rogers Arena is a place where Luongo's allowed just 23 of his 55 playoff goals against, and where he's posted all three post-season shutouts.

During the season he had a ridiculous 1.90 goals-against average in the arena, just a shade behind the average Tim Thomas put up in Boston. In other words, we could be watching seven games here.

At the other end, the Canucks have been averaging nearly 37 shots per game, and there have been a ton of great scoring chances they couldn't bury past Thomas in the games at TD Garden.

Thomas, at 749 shots faced, could be in line to break the mark of 820 established by shooters on Canuck Kirk McLean in 1994. Thomas has a stellar 1.26 average and .966 save percentage in the series.

Lost in the rush to use the Nathan Horton injury in Game 3 as a neat and tidy dividing line in the series is the fact that after killing off the ensuing five-minute penalty to Rome on the Horton hit, the Canucks had a couple of great opportunities that could have easily seen them head into the dressing room with a 1-0 lead.

The stat line that no one expected to see at this point — the previously woeful Boston power play has a respectable three goals in four games, while the NHL's No. 1 regular season unit from Vancouver has scored just once in 22 tries.

Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa believes it's a matter of time before the opportunities become results.

"I think we're giving Thomas too much respect," Bieksa said. "He's leaky. Pucks go through him. We've seen it all year. We just need to put more pucks on him."

An interesting stat that shows that Daniel and Henrik Sedin and the rest of the Canucks have a chance to break the Boston's goalie's rhythm: in the nine games after posting shutouts this regular season, Thomas went 8-0-1. But Boston has lost each game after his two previous playoff shutouts this spring.

Game 6 will take place Monday in Boston.