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ROY MACGREGOR

Gnawing uncertainty returns for Canucks Add to ...

They say a big hit can turn a game around.

But two games - and in the opposite direction?

Make no mistake, above the happy roar of the TD Garden crowd Wednesday night, that stunning hit Vancouver's Aaron Rome put on Boston's Nathan Horton Monday was still reverberating two days and two Stanley Cup final decisions later.

Since the Canucks defenceman put his shoulder into Horton's head - sending Horton off the ice in a stretcher, Rome out of the series with a four-game suspension - the Boston Bruins have answered with 12 goals, the Vancouver Canucks responding with only one, Wednesday's 4-0 victory evening up this best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

The Canucks - with the Prime Minister of Canada at the rink hoping to see them take one more step to winning the first Stanley Cup by a Canadian team since 1993 - now head into Game 5 at home Friday evening with momentum all Boston's and the questions all Vancouver's.

It has created a Stanley Cup of remarkable emotion, from the shock of seeing Horton lying helpless on the ice, his open eyes seeing nothing, to the surprising comeback of the Boston team, at that moment down two games to none in the series and having lost its second-leading scorer.

In Vancouver, the feeling is, once again, that gnawing uncertainty that seems to cling to this team like a burr. What happened to the Sedin twins, especially Henrik, the playoffs' leading scorer who is without a single point in this series? What of goaltender Roberto Luongo, so brilliant and consistent in the first two games, so scattered since? He carries on his padded shoulders still that one question Vancouver fans despise most: Can Luongo win the big one?

He has faltered before, was pulled twice against Chicago Blackhawks earlier this spring, and returned triumphant.

When Boston went ahead 3-0 in the second period, it marked only the 13th shot the Bruins had taken, as opposed to the 22 Boston's amazing Tim Thomas seemed to handle effortlessly.

"He's just mentally strong," Daniel Sedin had said earlier in the day of Luongo. "We don't really worry about those things. He's been there for us the whole year, he's been there in the past, and he's going to bounce back like every one of us."

He may well, but it didn't happen this game. Rich Peverley, expected to replace Horton as a scoring threat, did exactly that in the first period when he was sent in alone and fired the puck between Luongo's legs. A period later, it was Michael Ryder scoring on a wrist shot that dipped under Luongo's glove hand. Then Luongo's defence coughed up a puck that ended up on Brad Marchand's stick right in front and Marchand calmly lifted a backhander high into the far corner.

Were the goals Luongo's fault? Yes and no - the fault also of his defence but even more so the result of hard, determined Boston work.

The two teams play two profoundly different styles, in some small ways a 2011 NHL version of that Summit Series that is nearly as old as Vancouver's 1970 franchise. The Canucks, at times looking like Soviets, play a soccer style of hockey when they are at their best, using delicate little chip passes and body positioning to break out of their own end, moving down the ice with a front wave sometimes dropping the pack to a second wave, working the puck around the opposition end until, if all goes according to plan and happenstance, an opening presents itself for a quick pass and quick shot. It rarely happened this night.

The Bruins, on the other hand, at times look like a sped-up Original Six team, dumping pucks in and driving hard on the forecheck. They grind and they work and, whenever possible, they strike for the net in the hopes that a rebound will present itself. Precisely that happened in the third period when Luongo made a stop - only to watch helplessly as the puck bounced back into his net off Peverley's thigh.

It marked the end of Luongo's night, yanked on a goal that wasn't even remotely his fault. But such are the hockey gods when they suffer heatstroke and start thinking hockey should be a summer game.

There remains all the ingredients necessary for a superior hockey series: speed against strength, skill against will, luck against luck - with the latter usually deciding the day.

But those are other days - see Games 1 and 2 in this series. Game 3 was not about luck, nor was Game 4. It was about one team being fired up by a foolish, thoughtless act and using that as inspiration.

What Vancouver can counter with in Game 5 remains to be seen. Do they bring back Luongo because of his history of bouncing back, or do they stick with young Cory Schneider, who played well after replacing Luongo in the third period and was fine when he played, briefly, against Chicago? And where, of course, are the Sedin twins?

As of this result, a Game 6 back in Boston is a certainty. A Game 7 to settle matters in Vancouver a possibility.

Oddly enough, the Boston Bruins have never played in a Game 7 Stanley Cup final, though they have reached the final an impressive 18 times.

What's that they say in the hockey ads?

History will be made … perhaps.

 

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