Canucks edge Bruins, move to brink of NHL title
The next moment was a study in hockey geometry. The puck caromed off the boards behind Thomas' net to the far side, where Maxim Lapierre gratefully banged it into the only sliver of net Thomas couldn't cover.
That's how goals are scored against two goalies who look unbeatable.
That's why the resourceful Canucks are one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time.
Lapierre scored the only goal with 15:25 to play, Roberto Luongo stopped 31 shots in a stirring shutout after getting pulled from his last game, and the Canucks took a 3-2 series lead with a 1-0 victory over the Bruins in Game 5 on Friday night.
The Canucks have scored just six goals in five Stanley Cup finals games against the brilliant Thomas, yet they're one victory away from their first NHL championship. Thomas was almost perfect in Game 5 after shutting out the Canucks in Game 4, but Luongo was thrilled after Bieksa and Lapierre used the Boston star's aggressive style against him to manufacture a historic goal.
"It's not hard (to stop) if you're playing in the paint," said Luongo, who rebounded after allowing 12 goals in just over four periods in Boston. "It's an easy save for me, but if you're wandering out that's going to happen."
Ouch. With just a few days to go, even the goalies are getting chippy in these fantastic finals.
Game 6 is Monday night in Boston, and the Stanley Cup will be there.
Luongo posted his fourth shutout of the playoffs and second of the Stanley Cup finals after a pregame walk on Vancouver's picturesque seawall to clear his mind.
Luongo was pulled from Game 4, but coach Alain Vigneault stuck with him for Game 5. The Olympic champion was only occasionally spectacular, but he still narrowly outplayed Thomas, who has received just two goals of support from his teammates in three games in Vancouver.
"There was something about him before the game," Bieksa said. "He just seemed so comfortable, so confident. He was vocal, and usually he's not a vocal guy. We thought it would be something special."
Neither team found an offensive flow in a Game 5 nail-biter, but Luongo kept Vancouver in it until Lapierre's goal set off a crazy celebration among tens of thousands of fans thronging downtown Vancouver. After Vancouver's Tanner Glass missed a backhand on an open net one period earlier, Lapierre was more than ready to put it behind Thomas for just his second goal of the postseason, pumping both fists frenetically in celebration.
A few Bruins — and even Vancouver's Alex Burrows — wondered whether Bieksa meant to miss.
"I hope I was trying to miss the net, because I missed it by about 8 feet," Bieksa said. "I didn't have a real good angle to the net, so I just put it up there and got a good bounce."
Lapierre was a late-season acquisition who largely serves as an agitator for the Canucks, not a scorer. He's never managed more than 15 goals in a season, and he had just six this season while playing for Montreal, Anaheim and Vancouver.
"It's been six months I'm thinking about a goal," Lapierre said. "We got lucky. Good bounce. It was challenging there for us, right spot at the right time."
Thomas made 24 saves in Game 5, but lost his shutout streak of 110 minutes, 42 seconds dating to Game 3. With injured forward Nathan Horton's jersey hanging in the visitors' locker room, the Bruins' power play regressed to its previous postseason struggles, going 0 for 4.
Thomas made only one mistake, but it was enough.
"Those are usually the kind of goals that go in when no one is scoring," Thomas said. "A lot of times it's going to be that fluke one off the boards, and Lapierre didn't even get the shot off clean. If he got the shot off clean, I would have been able to read it better and would have had a better chance at it."
The Canucks hung on for their sixth straight home playoff victory since May 7. The home team has won every game in the series.
"I don't know how to explain it," Boston forward Milan Lucic said. "Especially in a series where you don't have home-ice advantage, you've got to find a way to win at least one game on the road if you want to come out on top, and for some reason we haven't been able to."
Yet if Vancouver can't improve on its last trip to Boston, the finals will go to Game 7 in Vancouver on Wednesday night.
"We've been through this, I don't know how many times," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "We're not a team that's done anything the easy way, so in a way, it's not a surprise we're here."
In the last 21 times the finals were even going to Game 5, the winner went on to claim the Cup 15 times — yet Colorado (2001), Tampa Bay (2004) and Pittsburgh (2009) all overcame Game 5 losses to win it in the past decade.
Luongo receives more criticism than almost any goalie with his level of accomplishment at hockey's most elite levels, yet he has shown resilience throughout the postseason. He came back from a one-game benching in the first round against Chicago with a 2-1 victory in Game 7, and Vigneault unhesitatingly stuck by Luongo in the finals, ignoring widespread trashing of his $10 million goalie after Boston's 8-1 and 4-0 home wins.
Luongo didn't hesitate to take his seawall walk among the Vancouverites who equally love and mistrust him. He did it once before in the postseason, clearing his mind before knocking out the defending champion Blackhawks in Game 7 of the first round.
"I don't know if they have any seawalls in Boston, but I'm going to look for that," Luongo said. "I put my hoody on and my headphones, and I don't know if somebody said anything. I can't hear. I just focus on the journey and everything I need to do to be ready for the game, and that's what gets me prepared."
The Canucks were grateful to return to Rogers Arena, where they eked out two one-goal wins to open the series on late goals by Raffi Torres and Burrows. Vancouver seemed to be in control when the club left Canada last weekend — but then the Bruins seized charge of the series with two inspired performances after Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome's late hit knocked Horton out for the series with a concussion early in Game 3.
Boston is still having tremendous defensive success in the finals, holding 2010 league MVP Henrik Sedin without a point and limiting NHL scoring champion Daniel Sedin to one goal. Vancouver's power play is 1 for 25 in the finals — yet the Bruins just haven't scored timely road goals to back up Thomas, who allowed one goal in two games in Boston.
Boston had three early power plays in Game 5 and controlled long stretches of play, but couldn't crack Luongo. Chris Kelly hit Luongo's crossbar with an early shot, and Luongo made a stunning point-blank save on Patrice Bergeron's rebound shot from the slot during Boston's third power play.
Vancouver killed another Boston power play and survived several dicey sequences in the second period before taking control of play midway through the game. Glass fanned on an uncontested 15-foot backhand, leaving him staring skyward. But after Lapierre's goal, the Canucks weathered Boston's pressure impressively. Luongo was forced to make only a handful of tough saves on Boston's 10 shots in the third.
The foreboding clouds above downtown Vancouver matched the mood of many fans who watched as their worst fears about the Canucks were realized back in Boston. Vancouver's impressive skill level and high-scoring offense has been negated by opponents' toughness and will in previous postseason runs. What's more, many Canucks fans still simply don't trust Luongo, who has been under fire from home fans for a few years despite his superb career achievements.
Tens of thousands of fans still flooded downtown for Game 5, wearing their team's crisp blue-and-green jerseys and waving flags or carrying replica Stanley Cups around Granville and Robson streets. The sea of people erupted in raucous cheers when Lapierre scored.
NOTES: Canucks rookie D Chris Tanev played his first game of the series, replacing Keith Ballard after the veteran struggled in Game 4. Tanev's pass set up Glass for his missed chance. ... Boston had scored 10 goals in the second periods of the past three games before getting shut out in Game 5. ... Boston D Tomas Kaberle played in his 100th postseason game in a career spent entirely with Toronto until this season. ... NBA star Steve Nash sat in the stands, leading cheers for his hometown team with a white rally towel.