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Use of Malhotra, Chara among story lines for Game 2

Saturday, 06.04.2011 / 1:51 PM / 2011 Stanley Cup Final - Canucks v Bruins

By Dan Rosen and Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writers

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Use of Malhotra, Chara among story lines for Game 2
Use of Malhotra, Chara among story lines for Game 2
VANCOUVER -- The Canucks and Bruins have waited almost three days to get to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. It's here now (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) and Vancouver is looking to grab a 2-0 lead before the series shifts to Boston for Monday's Game 3.

Before anthem singer Mark Donnelly and the 18,860 inside Rogers Arena belt out 'O Canada' and the puck is dropped, here are six questions that will need to be answered:

1. How will Malhotra be used if he plays?


Manny Malhotra's potential return to the Canucks' lineup for Game 2 should provide an emotional lift to the club and will undoubtedly bring a huge roar out of the Rogers Arena crowd; but, more importantly, his presence should provide something tangible to a team looking to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

Malhotra, who is expected to center the fourth line between Jeff Tambellini and Victor Oreskovich, will find himself playing an increased role because of his ability on faceoffs and in the defensive zone.

He is one of the best faceoff men in the League (he won 61.7 percent of his draws this season) and if the game is as tight as everyone expects, there will be important faceoffs in the third period that Malhotra will most likely take. He'll even go out there if Henrik Sedin's line is on the ice because the draw is all important to the Sedins getting control of the puck.

Henrik won only eight of 25 faceoffs in Game 1 and the Canucks as a whole were just 44 percent (28-of-64). Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci each won 12 of 21 faceoffs while Chris Kelly won six of 10. Vancouver has to counter that in some way to gain possession of the puck, especially later in the game, and Malhotra should be a big help.

2. Will Hamhuis' expected absence affect the Canucks?

It should be noted first that Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said Hamhuis is still a game-time decision, but if he can't play -- and all indications lean that way -- the short answer to the question is yes. Hamhuis is a steadying influence on the back end and his presence is partly why Kevin Bieksa is having such a big postseason.

That being said, the Canucks best area, in terms of depth, is on their blue line, so not having Hamhuis shouldn't really change their style or the way they approach the game.

It would appear that Andrew Alberts will draw in for the injured Hamhuis, who hurt himself four minutes into the second period of Game 1 after delivering a hip check to Milan Lucic. Alberts should slot in on the left side of Christian Ehrhoff with Aaron Rome moving away from Ehrhoff to play with Bieksa. Sami Salo and Alex Edler should remain together.

Alberts has been a healthy scratch for the past nine games with his last action coming in Game 3 against Nashville. He's only played in three games this postseason. By no means is he an upgrade over Hamhuis, but Vancouver plays such a solid, yet underrated team defensive game, that he should fit in seamlessly -- provided his minutes stay between 12 and 15 in regulation.

For that to happen, Vigneault will have to lean heavily on his top five, but he had to in Game 1 and Vancouver ended up with a shutout victory.

3. Who will be Vancouver's unsung hero in Game 2?

Third-line right wing Jannik Hansen stepped into the starring role in Game 1 with his world-class performance, which included the pretty assist on Raffi Torres' goal with 18.5 seconds left in the third period. It wouldn't be shocking if Hansen had another solid performance in Game 2, but he's already wiped away the element of surprise.

So, for Game 2, we're going to go with linemates that we think could be sitting at the podium later Saturday night as the stars of Game 2 -- second-line wingers Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond.

Ryan Kesler's linemates have been solid, but quiet, since combining for 2 goals and 3 assists in Game 2 against San Jose, a 7-3 Vancouver victory. They both played good games Wednesday against Boston, with Raymond firing four shots on goal and a total of seven at the net. Higgins had one shot, but he was credited with two takeaways and two blocked shots.

Vancouver's third line provided the energy in Game 1, but you have to expect that with two days to prepare Boston conjured up some idea of how to take some of the energy away from Maxim Lapierre, Torres and Hansen. The Bruins' gameplan to stop the Sedins and Alex Burrows is already well-documented with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg again prepared to match Vancouver's top line.

But, the Canucks' second line is the one that might still be somewhat of a mystery -- even with Kesler in the middle of it.

4. Can the Bruins score against Vancouver?

The next goal against the Canucks will be the first for Boston in this series. Goaltender Tim Thomas was excellent in Game 1. The top two defense pairings did an admirable job of containing the Sedin twins. Boston's penalty killers turned away the potent Vancouver power play six times.

All of this happened and none of it mattered because the Bruins couldn't score.

The Bruins squandered six chances of their own on the man advantage, including a four-minute power play and a lengthy 5-on-3. Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo's workload was busy in volume, but he didn't have to make many tough saves. More traffic in front of Luongo would be a great start, but the Bruins also need to find ways to generate better opportunities in general.

"Well, I think it starts obviously in the neutral zone" Patrice Bergeron said. "Once we're in their zone, we got to find a better way to get to the net and battle for those loose pucks, but also fight for ice. They're doing a good job of boxing us out."

5. Where's Zdeno?

It won't be hard to spot the only 6-foot-9 guy in the NHL when Boston goes on the power play for the first time in Game 2. The big question is this -- can putting Zdeno Chara in front of Luongo help the Bruins snap out of their extra-man funk, or should the mammoth defenseman be out on the point bombing away with his 100 mph-plus slap shot?

Chara moved up front for a game against Tampa Bay in the last round, then back to the point before returning to the edge of the crease for the start of this series. He might make life difficult for Luongo, but if the Canucks defenders leave him alone and are able to harass the other four guys into mistakes or not getting the puck on net, is Chara's presence really helping?

"I think the main purpose of the whole thing is the same: you have to be willing to do whatever it takes," Chara said. "All five guys have to do their jobs on the power play to be successful. You know, whatever position I'm on or in, I just try to do my best."

6. Can Boston establish superiority at even strength?

While Boston coach Claude Julien said he would be happy if his team can continue to play Vancouver to a draw on special teams, it won't help the Bruins stay in this series if they don't win the battle at even strength. That is supposed to be Boston's top advantage -- the Bruins have been the best team in the NHL at even strength both in the regular season and in the playoffs.

That wasn't the case in Game 1. While Boston actually out-shot Vancouver 14-7 on special teams, the Canucks clearly had the better of the 5-on-5 play -- both in the opening few minutes and in the final period; the two stretches where there were no penalties.

"Well, I think the main thing is we got to get the puck right off the start and we have to get it in deep and play in the opposition's zone, just like they did to us last game," Milan Lucic said. "They got the puck, went forward with it. They didn't waste any time. They got it in deep and they went to work."

Quote of the Day

Your team is going to want to recapture the feeling. What they're going to have to figure out is they're going to have to rewrite the story. Because you're going to rewrite the story doesn't mean you want a different end. It's just that you're going to have to learn that there's different challenges to get there, and if you're going to try and tap the same feeling, it ain't going to happen.

— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi on maintaining their success from last season