VANCOUVER- A pair of Vezina Trophy finalists battled to a scoreless draw until the final minute of game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals at Rogers Arena Wednesday.
The Canucks’ Roberto Luongo stopped all 36 shots he faced while the Boston Bruins’ Tim Thomas had a shutout of his own cooking until the 59:41 mark of the game.
“I started to feel it was going to be a goaltenders’ duel at the puck drop of the first period,” Luongo said. “I had a feeling we were going to go to overtime.”
Vancouver averted the extra frame when Raffi Torres scored with 18.5 seconds remaining during what appeared to be the very last line change of the game.
“It was huge. It was just as exciting as an overtime goal,” said Luongo. “There was not a lot of room on the ice, as we saw. At one point I thought we might be playing all night here.”
The partial forward change for Vancouver left the checkers Torres and Jannik Hansen out with the No. 2 center Ryan Kesler, whose patience at the blue line keyed an odd-man rush that sealed Boston’s fate.
“I saw their line was changing and I saw an opening to maybe go on the offense,” said Kesler. “I just chipped it by their D, held on it for a little bit. I saw Jannik. Jannik made a great heads-up play to Raffi and Raffi buried it.”
Defenseman Kevin Bieksa set up the fitting combination on the winning goal. The valiant Kesler demonstrated flashes of his brilliance in the series against Nashville, in which he was involved in 11 of 14 Vancouver goals. The line of Torres, Hansen and the pot-stirrer Maxim Lapierre was Vancouver’s most important line Wednesday. Their relentless fore-checking and energetic offense swung the game at critical points for the Canucks.
“They’re going to win us games. They did that tonight and, hopefully, they can keep that going,” the top-line winger Daniel Sedin said.
The game was played at a high tempo early with a big hit by Alex Edler, a strong chance for David Krejci and the game’s first power plays going to Boston on a high-sticking double minor to Daniel Sedin.
An early goalmouth scramble with the hulking Zdeno Chara in front nearly opened the scoring but Aaron Rome came to Luongo’s aid to earn a freeze. Seconds later Kevin Bieksa cleared a dangerous rebound. Luongo erased seven shots in total during the four-minute span.
“(Luongo) had to make some pretty good saves,” said Kesler. “After the first couple power-plays, we kind of figured out what they were trying to do and we tried to stop it the best we could.”
After killing both penalties, Hansen head-manned a three-on-two break with Daniel exiting the box, but Hansen’s pass steered Sedin too wide to get a solid shooting angle.
Edler, Daniel and Mason Raymond each tested Thomas during subsequent power plays but each time they were denied.
“I don’t expect there to be high-scoring games in this series and that’s kind of what happened today,” said Boston center David Krejci, who registered five of his line’s 13 shots on goal.
Despite the fact that mostly stick infractions drew whistles early on, there was no shortage of nastiness in this game. To a man, neither side seemed remotely surprised at the chippy start to the series.
“Well, with what’s at stake, I expect both teams to want it real bad. That’s what we saw tonight,” Canucks Head Coach Alain Vigneault said.
At the end of the first period, ten players came together with Patrice Bergeron and Alex Burrows entangled well after the horn. The officials hit each player with a roughing minor and then an additional minor was assessed to Burrows. Bergeron alleged that Burrows bit his finger during the scuffle.
“He said that I put my finger in his mouth and ‘What else do you want me to do?’ That’s what he said,” Bergeron told ESPNBoston.com. “(The referees) didn’t see it, but we were speaking French and I (asked Burrows) why did he do that.
That linesman speaks French, and he said that (Burrows’) explanation was that (I) put my finger in his mouth and he had to do it.”
A high-sticking call against Bieksa put the Canucks down two men early in the second stanza.
During the five-on-three, Mark Recchi received a cross-crease pass beside a mostly open net, only to bang the puck off the side of the cage.
The Bruins’ power play provided acrid results again as they failed to score with the two-man advantage. Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien and Vancouver’s Kesler were among many to remark the increased activity of Boston’s power play. However, no one mistook that activity for achievement in a game in which they were held scoreless. They are now 5 for 67 this postseason with the advantage.
Dan Hamhuis leveled the larger Milan Lucic with a hip check in the neutral zone, causing ten men to come together near the boards. At some point during the incident, Hamhuis sustained what Vigneault called a “mid-body injury” and did not return. Vancouver played most of the game with five defensemen and Hamhuis’s status is currently day-to-day.
During yet another delayed-penalty situation, Kesler hit the blue line with speed, split two defenders and crashed in on Thomas, who negated the opportunity as Kesler slid in to create a faceoff. Dennis Seidenberg’s kneeing minor sent Vancouver back to the power play.
“We committed way too many penalties. They didn’t score, but you don’t want to give them opportunities to score on the PP,” Seidenberg said.
Two minors in quick succession to Boston’s Rich Peverley and Vancouver’s Burrows–who served eight minutes in the box Wednesday–created a lengthy four-on-three situation.
Vancouver failed to convert and the teams went a combined 0-for-12 on the power play in the game.
“I can’t complain because the penalties were being called both ways. Both teams got their chances. Both teams got five-on-threes, so it’s part of the game,” Bieksa said.
With a quarter of the second stanza remaining, Vancouver found some jump. A strong shift by their checking line culminated in a show-and-go move from Lapierre, who was rejected on a wraparound attempt. Kesler and Higgins each had point-blank chances to beat a flailing Thomas, but were each saw their opportunities go for naught.
“Obviously, in the third period they were the better team and they ended up scoring that goal,” said Julien. “It got away from us, but we still got an opportunity here in the next game to hopefully get that one and kind of get the home-ice advantage.”
As the Canucks surged, Thomas made consecutive saves, both on cross-ice passes that created sterling chances to the blocker side. He stoned Daniel Sedin on a shot from the left slot and then handled a tight redirection by Lapierre.
“You can’t really get a read on him, that’s what makes him a good goalie,” Daniel said.
Yet another blocker-side shot by Edler beat Thomas but dinged the post. A hurried challenge left Thomas out of position but Torres’ shovel attempt from the goal line went well wide of the vacated Boston net.
Torres would not be denied on his next chance, however, as the Canucks capitalized on a bit of confusion during partial line changes for both teams. Hansen sent Torres in with only Johnny Boychuk and Chris Kelly remotely deep. Neither arrived in time to prevent Torres’ winner.
Torres’ goal was the second-latest regulation go-ahead goal in the past 20 years. Only a goal at 19:47 of game 1 of the 1992 Finals arrived later. It was scored by none other than the Magnificent One, Mario Lemieux. That is not shabby company for Torres, who had been facing potential unemployment this season.
“Thanks for the reminder. It was a long summer. Obviously the phone wasn’t ringing off the hook,” Torres said. “But everything happens for a reason.
I’m in a very fortunate situation right now. For a chance to reach our ultimate goal, which is winning the Stanley Cup, it’s been quite a ride.”