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Pregame Notebook: Game 6 vs. Vancouver

by Hannah Becker / Boston Bruins
BOSTON – Tonight’s contest with the Vancouver Canucks could mark the last game the Bruins play this season. The B's are hoping it's just the last time they play in Boston.

The Black & Gold find themselves down 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Final series with Vancouver, and must win tonight if they wish to play for the Cup on Wednesday in what would be Game 7 in Vancouver.

Boston will look to play desperate hockey tonight from the moment the first puck drops and will have to find the back of the net behind Roberto Luongo, who is coming off a shutout in Game 5. Meanwhile goaltender Tim Thomas and the Boston defense will have to keep the Sedin twins and the rest of the Canucks off the board.

In the end the equation is simple. Score more goals than the opponent and force a Game 7.

Tonight is the test.

Bruins look to take advantage of home-ice
In the first five games of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Bruins and Canucks, the home teams have prevailed.  While home-ice advantage is something that all teams work towards throughout the entire regular season, it’s rare that it has this much effect on a series.

Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider stops Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron after replacing Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo during the third period of Game 4 of NHL hockey Stanley Cup finals, Wednesday, June 8, 2011, in Boston. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)
Credit the thundering fans, last change or just pure chance, but there is an obvious trend developing throughout this series. Tonight, the Bruins hope to keep the trend alive, and then put a stop to it in Game 7.

“I don’t know,” Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said when asked why home-ice has been such an advantage in this series.

“It’s a good question but, you know, obviously we’re going to have to use our fans to our advantage tomorrow and then go from there, but to be honest I don’t have an answer for that. “

While it’s the media and analysts' job to try and figure out the enigma that is home ice advantage, the teams are just looking to go out and win.

But in order to do that, the Bruins will have to take advantage of some of the things home-ice brings to them. Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien likes to keep his team in a normal routine, something that is much easier to do without coming off a six hour flight and a three hour time change.

Last change is also an advantage Julien has used to his benefit in Boston’s first two home games of the series. Last change allows Julien to see who the Canucks put on the ice and counter that with the best lines or defensive pairings he can put out. For example, if you see Vancouver’s top line of Henrik and Daniel Sedin with Alexandre Burrows on the ice, it’s a fair bet Julien will counter them with his top defensive pair of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.

“I think it's smoother when you have the last change. There is less changing on the fly and you get the better match-ups and that's for sure,” Julien said.

“I think we've been more or less content with what they want against us and what we want against them, except obviously the back end is something that's been a bit of a challenge for both teams to try and get away from or get as a match-up.”

While last change is a logistical advantage to Boston, the roaring crowd is an additional benefit the B’s can pull energy from. While getting up for an elimination game in the Stanley Cup Final isn’t something the B’s will have trouble with, feeding off the energy from an expected sold-out crowd of 17,565, is an element of playing at home the Bruins have gotten used to.

Breaking decibel records in both Games 3 and 4, the TD Garden crowd is expected to be on a whole other level tonight.

“That’s the way I think we’ve got to approach it is, we’re still in it and you haven’t won or lost the series until you’ve won that fourth game so it’s always the toughest to get,” Bergeron said.

“And for us we’re concentrating on getting that third win and going from there.”

Biggest game of Thomas’ career?
With the Stanley Cup on the line, skating in front of his biggest fans on the back end of what could very possibly be his second Vezina trophy winning season, tonight’s Game 6 could mark the biggest game of Tim Thomas’ career.

Thomas leaves a team practice in Boston on Sunday, June 12, 2011. The Bruins are scheduled to play the Vancouver Canucks in Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup finals on Monday in Boston. Vancouver leads the series 3-2. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)
He played college hockey at the University of Vermont, took his team to the Frozen Four, and played many games on the big NCAA stage. But never has Thomas found himself in this position.

With millions of people watching him on the NHL’s biggest stage, Thomas is focused on staying focused. Even with his mind staying on the game, the meaning of tonight’s game isn’t lost on Thomas.

“The first thing I do is don't think about the millions and  millions  of  people  that are watching,” Thomas said with a laugh.

“There are only twelve players out  on the ice at any given time, max, and the ice surface is the same  size. There  is only one puck in play at all times, and I think you just focus on the nuances of the game.”

For Thomas, the crowd can still be considered an advantage, but it’s also important not to get too interested in what the crowd is chanting and screaming. Blocking out even a crowd rooting in his favor is something Thomas does to keep his mind focused on what is going on in front of him on the ice.

“Really,  you  just  pretend -- you don't pretend that the fans aren't there,  but  I  guess what I'm trying to say is it shouldn't matter whether you have a packed building or playing in an empty rink.  You're focus is on the  game and playing the game,” he said.

“Really, if you approach it like that it can be really fun.”

As for his college days, Thomas will be one of the first to tell you his time spent at UVM helped develop him into the player he has become today. With the ranks of college players making it to the NHL growing, Thomas’ influence as a college graduate playing in the Stanley Cup Final is an important aspect to the series.

The Canucks’ backup goaltender Cory Schneider is also a NCAA product. The Marblehead native spent his college years at Boston College.

Thomas is one of a select few college-product goaltenders to make it to the Stanley Cup Final. The first was Ken Dryden, who played at Cornell, was drafted by the Bruins and then lifted the Cup with the Montreal Canadiens. Thomas considers himself in good company with Dryden.

“When  I  was in college, I remember looking at what he'd accomplished and his stats.  Those were stats that I was gunning for to try and reach in college  because he had a good college career.  I read his book either when I  was  in college or I think the year after I was out of college, too, and gained some insight from that,” Thomas said.

“So  I  didn't realize that was the case.  I would like to hope that I can finish it off and get the Cup like he did.”

Canucks top line, power play quiet
Despite finding themselves down 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins have done a few things very well. They have been able to all but bring the Canucks’ potent power play to a screeching halt and have minimized the scoring of Vancouver’s top line.

Henrik and Daniel Sedin
Daniel and Henrik Sedin skate on Vancouver’s top line with Burrows. While Burrows scored two goals in the Canucks’ 3-2 Game 2 victory, the Sedins have been held to only a combined two points in the series.

“We're still confident. You lose confidence when
 you're cheating or doing things wrong. But this is a tough team. They don't give up a whole lot of chances. If  you're  going  to  start  cheating to get points, it's going to hurt us more,” Henrik Sedin said.

“We're battling hard. They are a good team. We know we aren't  going  to  get the chances maybe we get usually. That's the way it is.  We  have  to  bear  down  and  get chances and find a way to beat Tim Thomas.”

Vancouver’s confidence is still high when it comes to the power play as well. The Canucks had the best power play in the regular season and throughout the first three series of the playoffs. With their prior accomplishments under their belt, the Canucks know they can still count on their man-advantage to come up big when they need it.

“It's  gotten better, our last game was a big step in the  right  direction.  It's our job to get rebounds and do a better job in front,” said Henrik Sedin.

“Look forward to [tonight’s] game and hopefully get a bounce because we've been working hard for those.”
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