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Six questions facing teams heading into Game 4

Wednesday, 06.08.2011 / 1:34 PM / 2011 Stanley Cup Final - Canucks v Bruins

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

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Six questions facing teams heading into Game 4
Who replaces Horton? Can Luongo rebound? Those are just some of the questions NHL.com attempts to answer heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final tonight
BOSTON -- Almost everything already has happened in the first three games of this Stanley Cup Final.

There have been last-shot victories and blowouts. There have been big hits and after-the-whistle scrums. There have been injuries and suspensions. And there have been surprises, such as Boston's suddenly dangerous power play and Vancouver's struggling man-advantage unit.

Game 4 is Wednesday here at TD Garden (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS). What else possibly could happen? Well, here are six questions to ponder before puck drop.

1. How will the Bruins replace Nathan Horton?

The short answer is it's unlikely that one player will be able to replace Horton, who is out for the rest of the series with a concussion. The Bruins don’t have any players sitting around who are that big and capable of providing his level of offense.

Boston coach Claude Julien would not reveal his plans for a new-look lineup Wednesday morning, but did confirm that rookie Tyler Seguin will be back after missing Game 3 as a healthy scratch. The best line for the Bruins has been the Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand-Mark Recchi trio, so it would make sense for Julien to keep them together; ditto for the energy line of Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton.

If Julien keeps those two units together, his options on the top line would be putting Seguin there in place of Horton, or going with one of Michael Ryder, Rich Peverley or Chris Kelly in Horton's spot. He also could break up David Krejci and Milan Lucic to provide more balance. If there's one player the Bruins could use more from it probably is Lucic, who has 4 goals in 21 playoff games after collecting 30 in the regular season.

2. What can the Bruins expect from Seguin?

Seguin will be back in the lineup after being removed for Game 3 so Thornton could be inserted. He had gone seven games without a point before losing his place.

The 19-year-old rookie made a huge impact the last time he was added to the active roster. Seguin had 2 points in his NHL postseason debut, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Tampa Bay, and followed that with a four-point period in Game 2 to help the Bruins draw even in that series.

The key for Seguin against Vancouver could be ice time. In five of the six games where Seguin has received at least nine minutes of ice time, he's had three shots on net. In the three contests where he had less than nine minutes, he failed to register a shot. Look for Seguin to get at least 10-12 minutes in Game 3, with some work on the power play likely, and if his form holds he could provide a boost to the Bruins' attack.

3. Will Boston carry momentum into Game 4?

The Bruins have every reason to believe they can even the series Wednesday. They stayed with Vancouver for 59 minutes in each of the first two games at Rogers Arena before a late mistake cost them. They came home for Game 3 and handed the Canucks one of the worst beatings in Stanley Cup Final history.

At the same time, the Canucks are one win from being in complete control of the series, even if the aggregate scoring isn't likely to reflect that. There were wild swings of momentum in Boston's last series with Tampa Bay, as neither team ever was able to build off the previous contest.

Game 4 will be a litmus test for this series. If Boston can carry some momentum and get off to a fast start, it could mean trouble for Vancouver. Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo gave up eight goals two nights ago and needs a good start to ward off panic in the Pacific Northwest.

4. Can Luongo rebound?
 
This might be the most important question of all for the Canucks, because despite their 2-1 series lead, Luongo currently is being outplayed by the Bruins' Tim Thomas. Granted, Luongo was excellent in Games 1 and 2, but it's hard to ignore the eight goals he gave up in Game 3 while Thomas was making brilliant save after brilliant save.
 
Even though the Canucks -- specifically the Sedin twins -- absolved Luongo of the blame for the 8-1 loss in Game 3, there is no question Thomas is going to give him a run for his money in this series. What, we didn't already know that?
 
It usually works out that the team with the better goalie wins the series, and right now it would appear that Boston has the edge despite the fact that it's trailing after three games.
 
So, yes, Luongo has to have a bounce-back performance or Vancouver will go home with the series even at 2-2. He certainly is capable of it. For instance, just look at how well he played in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference Finals against San Jose after he allowed four goals in Game 3.
 
Luongo actually is two more good-to-great performances away from potentially stealing the Conn Smythe Trophy. At the very least he can put himself in the running for the playoff MVP award if he is a difference-maker in the Canucks winning this series in five games.
 
But that only happens if he plays well in Game 4.
 
5. Will Vancouver solve its power-play woes?
 
Hockey can be a funny sport, especially when it comes to special teams play. One day you can be unstoppable on the power play and the next you can be like the Canucks are right now.
 
Boston entered the series as the team that got here in spite of its awful power play, but now it's the Canucks who can't seem to figure things out with the man-advantage. It's a bit much to say the Canucks' power-play woes cost them Game 3 because, really, the Bruins deserve way more credit than that.
 
However, failing on all eight chances and giving up two shorthanded goals is unacceptable. The Canucks are better than that.
 
They are 1-for-16 in this series after going 9-for-24 against San Jose. The problem appears to be in the puck movement. The Canucks are getting the puck moving in the zone, but a lot of it is off of stationary passes that are not forcing the Bruins out of their box.
 
The Bruins haven't had to work hard to kill off their penalties, and on top of that the Canucks are turning the puck over, leading to shorthanded goals, including the ones Marchand and Paille scored in Game 3.
 
To beat the Bruins' penalty kill, Vancouver has to be quick with the puck, zip it around the zone and use backdoor cutters and defensemen jumping in from the point. The Canucks have the personnel to make it happen, but now is the time to do it.
 
6. Do the Canucks remember that they lead in the series?
 
The answer is yes, they do. The Canucks realize that one loss does not make or break them, that they gave themselves a cushion for a stinker here in Boston by the way they played and won Games 1 and 2 in Vancouver.
 
The reason the Canucks weren't shaken after Game 3 is because they know they still have a chance to do what they came to do here in Boston, which is get a split and give themselves a chance to win the Stanley Cup on home ice in Game 5. They obviously are embarrassed by the way they lost Game 3, but it likely won't have any effect on how they play Game 4.
 
Many of the Canucks players were trying to put the blowout loss behind them moments after it was over. They say it's easier to do than when you lose in a tight, well-played game.
 
Vancouver knows what went wrong in Game 3 (neutral-zone turnovers, lapses in judgment, lazy play, poor goaltending, dreadful special teams). They not only know they can be better in all those areas, they've proven it on a consistent basis through the regular season and the playoffs.
Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic