For the second time in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins put in a convincing bid for the most exhilarating 1-0 game of the season.
Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo turned back all 31 shots he faced as the goaltender gagged his critics with a masterful 1-0 shutout.
Maxim Lapierre scored the game’s only goal and the Canucks are now one win from the first Stanley Cup in their franchise’s history.
Luongo stood firm against three first-period power plays and rebounded from a pair of losses in Boston in which he posted a bloated goals-against-average of over seven per game. Despite the intense scrutiny from fans and reporters, Luongo took his walk along Vancouver’s Sea Wall and went about the business of stonewalling the Bruins.
“The only thing I have to prove things to is myself, my teammates, and my family and friends. That’s who I play for,” Luongo said. “I play the game because I love it and I want to win the Stanley Cup. So that’s the only motivation I need right now.”
The first period saw the Canucks take three penalties early and a matching minor late. Their penalty kill operated with aplomb in front of their greatest weapon Luongo.
Patrice Bergeron deflected a puck onto Luongo before he corralled the rebound and fired it back onto Luongo, who denied him with the pad.
Luongo also got a hand from the crossbar on a rising shot by Chris Kelly.
His opposite number Tim Thomas turned in another brilliant performance as well. He scrambled to deny Jannik Hansen’s sterling chance and made tough stops off redirected shots in the first frame.
He later made sliding stops against Chris Higgins off a three-on-two rush and Lapierre on a nifty give-and-go play with the trailing Raffi Torres. Tanner Glass fanned on a certain goal with Thomas extended out of his crease, leaving the game scoreless.
Lapierre would not be denied when Kevin Bieksa’s drive from the point banked off the right end boards and onto Lapierre’s stick at the left side of the net. Thomas nearly retreated from the border of his crease in time, getting a piece of the shot as Lapierre swept it toward the twine.
“(The save) is not hard if you’re playing in the paint,” Luongo said. “It’s an easy save for me, but if you’re wandering out and aggressive like he does, that’s going to happen.”
Though the play may have taken advantage of the aggressive style of Thomas and the shot-blockers in front of him, the Canucks struck without the benefit of a set play.
“We were patient with the game plan and we had our break and it was good,” said Lapierre, who also described the goal as a fortunate bounce.
Lapierre, a fiery pest who played for three teams this season, exemplified the resilience of the Canucks Friday. He took big hits from the top-pairing Boston defenders Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara, only to fire back over the boards with jump.
“We did it all year, we came back strong after a bad game,” Lapierre said. “But it’s the Stanley Cup Final. Nobody said it was going to be easy and we just had to regroup and bounce back and this is what we did tonight.”
In their two wins in Boston, the Bruins’ coach Claude Julien tapped on Shawn Thornton and Taylor Seguin respectively to come in the lineup to offer productive games. Friday, it was Vancouver Head Coach Alain Vigneault’s unexpected decision to dress rookie Chris Tanev that yielded a defensive boost for the Canucks.
“I don’t want to use the same joke over and over,” Bieksa told The Vancouver Sun, “but he could have played with a cigarette in his mouth.”
Both men were part of a revved-up physical game that saw the Canucks taking bodies early and often. Vancouver registered plenty of hits despite absorbing the first four power plays of the game. They killed all four penalties and only allowed seven shots in the process.
“We knew they were coming out hard and trying to be real physical on us and fore-check us hard. I think we did a decent job breaking out of our zone,” Seidenberg said.
For Vigneault, there was no consideration of sitting Luongo. He never questioned his confidence or capability.
“Everybody in our dressing room and around our organization knows Roberto’s character and his competitiveness and how he
prepares himself,” Vigneault said. “He went out tonight and he played a great game for us.”
The Canucks sought to recapture the pace and control of their first two home games, a pair of wins that started the series. Boston wanted to avoid allowing Vancouver to control possession and set up their fore-check, two areas where they did not quite succeed.
“I think a lot of the things that you saw tonight are a lot of the things that you saw in the first two games. Good effort, not good enough,” coach Julien said.
Seidenberg said that while Vancouver’s reinvigorated checking game played some factor in the game, the loss came down to Boston’s inability to score and sustain extended pressure on Luongo.
“We just didn’t get enough pucks deep and get enough zone time,” Seidenberg said, despite his team out-shooting Vancouver 31-25
Friday’s victory marked the second time that Luongo posted a shutout with the narrowest of margins in the series. In both games, Lapierre’s line tallied the winner. He had just left the ice when his line-mate Torres scored the opening-game-winner with 18.5 seconds left to play. The line has been just the right combination of fast, tough, tenacious and loose.
“When you come out and have fun, your game plan, it makes things way easier. This is what the whole team did tonight,” Lapierre said. “We came out confident and played a really good game tonight.”