On paper, the Vancouver Canucks seemed like the obvious “winners” amid the fallout of Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton. While the Boston Bruins lost a big, talented top-line forward for the rest of the playoffs (and sadly, perhaps quite a while longer than that), the Canucks lost a marginal depth defenseman.
Of course, professional sports aren’t played in a vacuum. Emotional reactions might cause athletes to make mistakes hear and there, but a pivotal event can also turn the tide of momentum in ways that defy dry statistics and logic.
Joe Haggerty makes the justifiable argument that Rome’s devastating and dirty hit fueled the fire of almost everyone on the Bruins roster. Saying that anger and pride were the main catalysts for Boston’s 12-1 run stretches things a bit – and discounts the undeniable talent on this Bruins team – but there was the sense that the atmosphere was bound to change because of that unsettling moment.
The angry B’s have outscored the Canucks by a 12-1 margin in the five periods since the Rome/Horton incident, and the series is starting to look a great deal like the Bruins/Habs series in 2002 after Kyle McLaren decked Richard Zednik with a head shot and riled up the Habs at exactly wrong time.
The disclaimer is that the series is still just tied at 2-2, and the Bruins still have to win a game in Vancouver. But they’ve clearly taken control of the series by punishing the Western Conference’s best with aggressive physical play and a choking forecheck.
The whole tenor of the series has changed as the Bruins continue to beat up the Canucks and pilfer their lunch money.
As marginal as Aaron Rome can be, it also must be said that Vancouver’s defense is looking awfully shabby in its current state. Looking at price tag alone, it seems ridiculous that Keith Ballard and his $4.25 million salary cap was parked in street clothes so often during the 2011 playoffs. Yet after watching his turnover-filled Game 4 meltdown, it’s pretty clear why Canucks coach Alain Vigneault scratched him for so many playoff games.
Bruins rolled with punches while Canucks struggled to adapt to lineup changes
Is it possible that losing Rome is just as problematic for Vancouver as Horton’s absence might be for Boston? It seems ridiculous considering the disparity in those two players’ talent levels, but Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley have done a nice job of filling that gap so far. Ryder is something of a poor man’s Horton, anyway; he’s smaller and less imposing than Horton, but they both possess a rifle of a right-handed shot. That was on display when Ryder fired a shot past Luongo in Game 4 while Sami Salo failed to close the gap. Peverley brings different skills to the table, but his skating ability and versatility make him a great change-of-pace option if Ryder struggles.
Compare the Bruins’ ability to plug in that gap with Vancouver’s inability to deal with the absence of Rome – but especially top stopper Dan Hamhuis – and one wonders if both teams truly wish that the hit didn’t happen. While plenty of the focus is justifiably centered on the debate to start Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider in net, neither goalie will be in a position to succeed if the Canucks cannot cut down on their back-breaking turnovers.
Horton’s absence might be more pronounced as the games get bigger
Don’t get me wrong, losing Horton is absolutely tougher than losing Rome. Yet after considering the intangible motivation Boston generated from it and the lineup alterations for both teams, the trade-off may not have been as one-sided as most of us expected.
Of course, one of Horton’s trademarks in the 2011 playoffs was scoring huge goals. As the Stanley Cup finals wind down to what is essentially a three-game series, we’ll see if the Bruins miss him when the games get even bigger.