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Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic during the first period in game three of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals against the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE/Greg M. Cooper)
Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic during the first period in game three of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals against the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE/Greg M. Cooper)

ERIC DUHATSCHEK

Canucks should have known better Add to ...

You'd think maybe the Vancouver Canucks would have learned a lesson in the opening round about what not to do when in a command of a playoff series. Remember how that went? The Canucks were in control against the Chicago Blackhawks until Raffi Torres unloaded on Brent Seabrook, leaving the latter with concussion-like symptoms and unable to play the next game.

The Torres hit on Seabrook so enraged and engaged the Blackhawks that they immediately rattled off three consecutive victories. Defenceman Duncan Keith, who'd had a mediocre playoff up to that point, suddenly started playing like the Norris Trophy-winning defenceman that he was the season before. Everybody on the Blackhawks woke up and the push-back almost pushed the Canucks out of the playoffs in the opening round.

Fast forward to Monday night. The Canucks were up 2-0 in the series against a Boston Bruins team where nothing much good was happening. Then defenceman Aaron Rome levelled Bruins forward Nathan Horton, sending him to hospital, and Boston responded in the most appropriate fashion, by clobbering the Canucks on the scoreboard. It finished 8-1 and it reduced the Canucks' lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final to 2-1, with Game 4 set to go here Wednesday.

Military history is full of examples of undermanned armies, winning battles against long odds, because somebody provided them with a cause. And now the Bruins have a cause.

Win one for Nathan Horton.

In these parts, it conjures up memories of a patriot with a similar-sounding name who paid a heavy price to support a revolutionary cause.

It was a theme of postgame comments Monday and it was a point reiterated again on Tuesday, when the Bruins assembled for practice at Boston University, the TD Garden having been giving over to the touring company of Glee.

Milan Lucic, Horton's linemate for much of these playoffs, acknowledged that Horton will be in their thoughts Wednesday as they take to the ice, trying to square the series.

"He is a good friend and a linemate and you definitely use that as motivation," Lucic said. "But this isn't the time of year when you go out and try to get reparations - or to get back at someone for something like that. The best revenge is beating them on the scoreboard and that's the way we have to look at it."

It was a sentiment echoed by Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron, a multiple concussion victim himself, who thought the four-game penalty assessed against Rome represented a significant penalty because "he's not going to come back. He's done for the playoffs.

"But losing Horts? You can't replace him."

Horton's absence forced coach Claude Julien to shuffle all his lines, and then he shuffled them some more in the third period, when the game got out of hand and the referees essentially exiled a quarter of the forwards to the dressing room, lest anybody else do anything stupid.

But this was not necessarily a bad thing for a slumping Bruins offence anyway. Recalibrated, some of the new lines looked pretty good and some of the players in scoring slumps snapped out of them. Brad Marchand scored a highlight-reel goal shorthanded. Mark Recchi registered two more.

With Horton out for the rest of the playoffs, Julien will play mix-and-match. Rookie Tyler Seguin will likely draw in on a line with Michael Ryder, the ex-Hab who played down the theory that the series has rapidly become a powder keg, ready to explode.

"We still have business out there," Ryder said. "We're still down 2-1. We have to make sure we win the game. We have to make sure we have the same mindset we had last game and try to play the same way and hopefully take the series back to Van 2-2."

The Canucks were thinking just the opposite. Coach Alain Vigneault theorized that a loss is a loss is a loss, no matter what the final score, and the Canucks have been very good at avenging losses in these playoffs. No arguing that point. But the Rome hit was unnecessary, dangerous, late and against a player in a vulnerable position, all things the NHL is trying to eliminate from the game. Four playoffs ago, the Anaheim Ducks' Chris Pronger received just a one-game suspension in the Stanley Cup final for a high, hard hit against the Ottawa Senators' Dean McAmmond that was far more violent than what Rome did to Horton.

Mike Murphy, the NHL's chief disciplinarian in this series, said the new, stricter standards of punishment were intentional and represented an evolution of the NHL justice system that will continue next year when Brendan Shanahan takes over as czar of discipline.

"We have ramped it up throughout the year," said Murphy, a long-time player, coach and executive in the NHL, prior to joining the league's hockey operations department.

The Rome hit represented everything the league wants to excise from the game, in the light of the concussion epidemic that shows no signs of ending.

In the grand scheme of things, where the chance to actually win a Stanley Cup only comes along so often, it may also have galvanized a Bruins team that looked as if it were heading for a quick exit.

Instead, on Monday night, after Horton left the ice on a stretcher, the Bruins suddenly gave the impression of a team that had sprung to life; and they did it with a major assist from the Canucks themselves.

Playoff series have turned on far less.

Follow on Twitter: @eduhatschek

 

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