For two games, they looked like a team poised -- if not destined -- to win the Stanley Cup. The Vancouver Canucks skated hard shift after shift, received steady and sometimes spectacular goaltending and got the lucky bounces they needed to walk away with two wins.
Then, for the next two games, they struggled. Their legs looked heavy, their goaltender was shaky and their power play -- and entire offensive production, for that matter -- was anemic.
It's the tale of two cities, in every sense of the phrase.
When the Stanley Cup Final was in Vancouver for Games 1 and 2, the Canucks grabbed a 2-0 lead in the series, displaying the swagger and skill of a Stanley Cup champion.
Yet, when the series shifted to Boston for Game 3 and 4, all that was gone. Boston won two games in convincing fashion, and the Canucks looked like a team desperate to return to Vancouver for Game 5 and capitalize on any type of home ice advantage they could get.
"It's 2-2 and that's the way you look at it," Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa said, insisting the Canucks would put Games 3 and 4 behind them. "They won their two at home and we won our two, so it looks like it could be a homer series and luckily we have two of the next three at home."
The Canucks weren't the only team that looked dramatically different when the series shifted geographically.
The Bruins were competitive to start the series -- they lost Game 1 on a late goal in regulation and Game 2 on a goal scored 11 seconds into overtime. But they played dominant hockey in Games 3 and 4 at the TD Garden.
After scoring just two goals in the first two games combined, Boston erupted for 12 goals in two games in front of their home faithful.
So what's the deal? How can two teams play completely different hockey in two separate venues?
Statistically, there is an answer.
Home clubs are 4-0 in the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season. With Boston's 4-0 shutout of Vancouver in Game 4, home teams improved to 15-2 in the Stanley Cup Final since 2009.
Playing on home ice presents obvious advantages. The hosts are able to make the last change. But then there are the intangibles -- feeling comfortable in your own building and playing in front of an energetic and welcoming home crowd.
Yet, to break through and win the best-of-seven series, Boston will have to overcome that. If the series goes the distance, two of the final three games will be played in Vancouver, starting with Friday night's Game 5.
"Being on the road, the other team does get the last change so that's one thing that changes, but as far as the crowd, it's the same people on the ice," Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said. "The crowd can't be out there on the ice with you. So as the opposing team, you just have to be mentally strong enough to focus on that 200-by-85 that you're playing on and not what's around it."
For six months, it's a really good accomplishment. But as soon as April [11, the end of the regular season] comes around, no one thinks about the regular season anymore. For six months, it's a real battle to get into the playoffs in the NHL these days. There are a lot of good teams, and it takes consistency over a long time.
— Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau on clinching a playoff berth after a win against the Islanders on Saturday