Spector: Blackhawks entering belly of the beast

June 16, 2013, 9:21 PM

BOSTON — We had no idea what was to become of the Vancouver Canucks two years ago, when at last a Stanley Cup final shifted here, to Bobby Orr’s old lair.

The Canucks had handled Boston twice on home ice, winning 1-0 on a Raffi Torres goal with 18.5 seconds remaining in Game 1, and 3-2 in overtime of Game 2 when Alex Burrows capped a three-point night with a lovely wrap-around just 11 seconds into the extra session.

They weren’t controlling the games per se, but were in control of a series 2-0. And who ever loses a Stanley Cup final after gaining a 2-0 lead, right?

So we had no clue then that, as we flew literally from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to those of the Atlantic, that the Cup final was about to make a 180-degree turn the likes of which we have never before seen in all our years.

“I’d rather lose 8-1 than the way they lost their game,” Henrik Sedin found himself saying after Game 3, a night on which he went 42 per cent in the circle, had zero shots, and was minus-2 in the seven-goal drubbing.

Game 4 was closer, sort of. Boston shut out the Canucks 4-0, and by the time they had boarded the plane for Vancouver the Bruins had physically laid claim to the series — and to Roberto Luongo’s psyche.

“But Chicago isn’t Vancouver,” you say, and we’ll give you that. The Blackhawks are likely deeper in physical forwards than the Canucks were, and have not suffered the loss of players that Vancouver did as that series wore on back in 2011.

But, Chicago doesn’t have a 2-0 lead coming into the most intimidating building in the NHL either. Vancouver did, and it was taken away from them faster than Justin Trudeau would relieve Alberta of its oil revenues, if only he had the chance.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the excitement in this building,” Game 2 hero Daniel Paille said on Sunday. “I remember two years ago how loud it was. I can’t wait to hear it again.”

It has become a cliché. Every player and every coach says he has the best fans in the world. (Usually some time before they engage in a work stoppage, which robs many of those fans of their income and passion … But we digress).

In Boston however, the Bruins’ historic style and the fans’ zeal for a brutally physical game unite with perfection. The only thing bigger and badder than the Bruins are 18,000 blood-thirsty fans who collectively accused Mason Raymond of being a diver in 2011, when in reality he had broken his back.

“I mean, I’m used to getting hit … quite a lot. I know how to take a hit or two,” said Chicago’s Swedish defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson, when asked about such an environment. “I think for the most case, (we) might not be the most physical D core in the league, but we’re trying to move the puck quick. Sometimes you have to take a good hit to deliver a pass.

“They have some guys that are playing physical. Just try to keep your head up, not to get hit too hard.”

Good luck with that, Nik.

Another similarity working in the Bruins favour is goaltending. Two years ago Tim Thomas won that battle hands down over Luongo, posting two shutouts and three one-goal games to take home the Conn Smythe.

The Bruins know they could have lost Game 2 in the opening period. But they were able to survive, then patch their game back together for the final 40 minutes.

“A big part of that was Tuukka (Rask),” Paille said. “He kept us in the game. We had to kind of regroup in the first intermission and we were able to kind of slow the game down a little bit, where we were able to control for most of it. We found our game in overtime again there and it was good to have everyone kind of clicking at once.”

In the end, the Canucks were forced to try to win without offensive input from the Sedins, and they could not. Chicago is getting even less offensively from its captain Jonathan Toews, who has no points in this final, and has not scored in nine games.

You can bet these fans will target Toews the way they did Hank and Daniel.

“We’ve played a lot of games on the road in playoffs. We know this one is going to be as loud as ever,” Keith said. “We go into these games knowing that everybody in the building’s going to be against us. We stick together. Just try and block everything out.

“Hockey is the same game no matter what building we’re in. The ice doesn’t change. Nothing changes but the fans in the stands cheering against you.”

It changes here, Duncan. This place, we’d wager, is different.

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