VANCOUVER- An estimated 100,000 fans on Granville Street said more with one deafening roar than two million words about the Canucks’ storybook victory Saturday night ever could.
Alex Burrows scored 11 seconds into overtime to win a Hockey Night in Canada game in which he avoided a suspension, the Canucks trailed late, Manny Malhotra returned to the ice from a severe eye injury and two British Columbia natives scored for the opposing Boston Bruins.
Burrows, whose alleged bite of Patrice Bergeron in game 1 was reviewed by the NHL, said he put the incident firmly behind him. His play demonstrated as much as he scored twice and assisted on Vancouver’s other goal in their 3-2 win.
“It was definitely up there as one of the biggest moments of my life,” Burrows said.
A moment early in the game bore tremendous significance to Malhotra, who made an improbable return from a severe eye injury he sustained on March 16. Malhotra, who did not know he would play until Saturday afternoon, was greeted by raucous ovations before the game and on his first shift of the contest.
“When you come to Vancouver, to say that the fans here are passionate would be a gross understatement,” said Malhotra. “So just to be able to be out there again, to hear them cheering, to hear an ovation like that, it definitely makes you feel like a Canuck. You just feel like a part of this family.”
Malhotra made an immediate contribution as he won six of seven faceoffs, including five in the defensive zone.
On the Boston side, the Vancouver native Milan Lucic and the Kamloops, B.C. legend Mark Recchi each scored goals, adding as much as opposing scorers could to the home team’s triumph.
Vancouver has now accomplished the hockey equivalent of hitting three straight walk-off home runs or buzzer-beaters. In game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against San Jose, Kevin Bieksa’s wobbling winner from off the stanchion came in overtime. In game 1 of this series, Raffi Torres scored with 18.5 seconds left in regulation to break a scoreless tie. Saturday, Burrows delivered the game-winner at the start of overtime.
“I think obviously (these finishes) are exciting and they’re fun,” said goalie Roberto Luongo. “That’s what playoffs are all about.”
The opening frame blended physical play with strong pace. The emotional first shift for Malhotra rallied the crowd. Moments later, a huge hit by Boston’s Johnny Boychuk on Ryan Kesler riled up the fans on hand.
Each team had solid chances early that were nullified by superb goaltending. Tim Thomas denied Sami Salo’s strong bid with his right pad before Dennis Seidenberg cleared a dangerous rebound inches from the goal line. Luongo denied David Krejci on a pivoting, point-blank bid.
Luongo held his ground between the pipes against a strong effort by Michael Ryder, as Boston established an early 6-3 lead in shots on net.
The Boston captain Zdeno Chara interfered with Kesler, sending the Bruins’ defensive anchor Chara to the box. Vancouver’s ensuing power play allowed them to open the scoring. Sami Salo shoveled the puck to Chris Higgins who made an alert pass in tight to Burrows for a wrist-shot goal.
“(Burrows) brings a lot to the table,” said his linemate Daniel Sedin. “He works hard, fore-checks, brings pucks to us. Like he showed today, he can score some big goals.”
Although Burrows may have narrowly avoided suspension for this game after the alleged biting incident, the Bruins all said that it was the loss–not who handed it to them–that mattered.
“If we start using that as an excuse, we’re a lame team,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said.
Early in the second stanza, a delay of game minor to Kevin Bieksa sent the hungry Bruins to the power play and the massive Chara back to the front of the net.
Vancouver’s penalty killers controlled the puck for 45 seconds and earned a solid scoring chance, portending yet another goose egg for the struggling Boston power play.
The Bruins would generate an excellent chance at even strength as Brad Marchand’s whirling one-time set-up for Krejci tested Luongo on his blocker side.
After they solved a temeritous Vancouver fore-check, the Bruins set up in the offensive zone. Krejci pulled the puck back to Boychuk, who snapped it off Luongo’s right arm. Lucic beat Christian Ehrhoff to the rebound for a tap-in equalizer. The goal ended Luongo’s streak of 55 straight stops and 69 scoreless minutes in these Stanley Cup Finals.
“It showed we could score on that guy, it was a big one,” Krejci said.
Boston earned the extra man by way of an Aaron Rome holding minor. Chara returned to his more familiar point position and the move paid immediate dividends. Chara smacked a bouncing shot toward the net that was redirected home by Recchi.
“(The front of the net) is a very taxing position to be in. We thought that Lucic was bringing a pretty good physical presence tonight. He was capable of doing the job there for (Chara),” Julien said.
Recchi became the oldest player in NHL history to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Finals. At 43 years and 123 days old, he surpassed Detroit’s Igor Larionov.
Trailing 2-1, Maxim Lapierre nearly knotted the game immediately with a chance in tight. Seconds later, his linemate Jannik Hansen’s extended shift ended after a similar point-blank shot off a cross-ice pass was improbably rejected by Thomas. Jeff Tambellini sent his own close bid wide as the Canucks pushed hard against their deficit.
“I think Timmy played great again tonight. He made some great saves on backdoor plays there and that’s just him,” said Bergeron. “We have to better in front of him.”
After successful penalty kills by both teams, a pair of net-mouth scrambles for Vancouver nearly tied the game early in the final frame. The Canucks were unable to find an abandoned Boston net during the first melee and could not hit it during the second one that came as part of an extended possession.
Vancouver remained relentless on the fore-check and their pressure ultimately cracked the Boston defense. Alex Edler moved the puck low to Burrows, who found Daniel Sedin for a wrister from inside the left faceoff circle that singed the nylon.
“We can push the pace and create scoring chances,” Vancouver Head Coach Alain Vigneault said. “(The Sedin line) took over in the third and spent a lot of time in their end wearing down their defense. It paid off for us.”
The Canucks then had consecutive odd-man breaks with both rushes that went for naught. Henrik Sedin over-handled a puck that was stick-checked away by Boychuk. Thanks to another strong back-check by Andrew Ference, Lapierre managed only a mundane shot off a potential four-on-one break.
“That’s what you need, obviously the back-check is always a big part of any game. You have to work extremely hard to catch that man and our guys did an extremely good job,” Chara said.
Ference was back on both plays but he also made a turnover that led to an earlier goal as well as a critical neutral-zone giveaway in overtime.
After Bergeron won the opening faceoff, Ference coughed the puck up to key a counter-attack that went from Edler to Daniel Sedin to Burrows. Chara pushed Burrows wide as Thomas challenged aggressively, but Burrows pushed hard to sweep in a wraparound goal for the winner.
“Danny (Sedin) made a perfect chip and I have a little bit of room and I’ve been doing my pre-scouting on Thomas. He likes to challenge and if I shoot there I think he stops it,” said Burrows. “He covers all the angles so I want to walk around and shoot it right away, but it kind of trickled on me and I lost the puck a little bit and I was just lucky enough to be able to wrap it.”
Coach Julien pointed to poor puck management, further struggles on breakouts and those mistakes feeding into the Vancouver fore-check as major reasons for his team’s loss. Nevertheless, he remained optimistic about the Bruins’ continued resiliency.
“We’ve seen it happen in front of our own eyes. We were down 2-0, came back and won the series,” Julien said, referring to his team’s rally to beat Montreal after losing two games at home to start that first-round series.
“I don’t think there’s any reason here to not be positive. You don’t get this far and all of a sudden hang your head.”
Boston’s players pointed to their comebacks against Montreal as well as Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, they each understood the urgency of game 3 in Boston Monday.
“We need to play desperate,” said Chara. “We’re coming back home and we need to focus on the first one.”
For Vancouver’s Luongo, who has played the best hockey of his career since game 7 of the Canucks’ first-round series against Chicago, success in Boston would nothing new.
“Well, I played my first NHL game in Boston. I got my first win, my first shutout against the Bruins. Yeah, pretty good history, I’d say.”