VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Raffi Torres checks in with injured Vancouver center Manny Malhotra after every period in the playoffs, soliciting advice and encouragement from his longtime friend and teammate.
“Just a couple words of wisdom from a guy that knows what he’s talking about,” Torres said of his pep talks with Malhotra, who’s fighting to return from a career-threatening eye injury.
Whatever Malhotra said to Torres before the third period of the Stanley Cup finals opener Wednesday night, the journeyman wing turned it into a dramatic game-winning goal for the Canucks — even if Torres waited until the very last minute to do it.
Torres scored on an exceptional pass from Jannik Hansen with 18.5 seconds to play, ending a scoreless standoff between star goalies Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas and sending Vancouver to a 1-0 victory over the Boston Bruins.
“It seems like it was a goaltender’s duel right to the end,” Hansen said. “It’s a matter of sticking with it, no matter how many saves it seems he came up with.”
Game 2 is Saturday night in Vancouver.
Until Hansen wired his pass to Torres, the NHL’s highest-scoring team was profoundly frustrated in its first finals appearance in 17 years. NHL scoring champion Daniel Sedin took eight shots without a goal against Boston’s formidable defense, and Vancouver’s vaunted power play failed to score in six tries.
The opener was a chippy game filled with hard hits, after-the-whistle scrums and one bizarre moment in which Vancouver’s Alex Burrows apparently bit the gloved right index finger of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron.
But after 59½ scoreless minutes, Vancouver’s third-line wings only needed an instant to connect. Ryan Kesler made a heady play along the boards and eventually got the puck to Hansen, who hit Torres in stride while streaking to the net.
“I heard Raffi yelling,” Hansen said with a grin. “It was easy to hear him.”
Torres put a slick redirection past Thomas to score the latest go-ahead goal in a finals game since 1992, when Mario Lemieux connected with 13 seconds left in Pittsburgh’s series-opening win over Chicago.
“Just got to get open,” Torres remembered thinking. “(Hansen) made a great play there to get it over. I was fortunate enough to get it in the back of the net.”
Torres is the only Vancouver player with previous finals experience after participating in Edmonton’s 2006 run, but he was a healthy scratch in the playoffs for Buffalo last spring. He was out of a job for about seven weeks last summer until the Canucks took a chance on the redheaded forward with a $1 million contract.
He nearly became a playoff goat for the Canucks in the first round when his nasty hit on Chicago’s Brent Seabrook awakened the Blackhawks for three straight wins before Vancouver survived in Game 7.
“We brought him in because he was an emotional, physical player,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “He’s had nothing but a great attitude and a great work ethic with us all year long. He comes to play, prepares himself real well. We need him to play the way he does. You know, he’s a little bit sometimes outside the box, but you’ve got to let him be who he is.”
Luongo made 36 saves in his third shutout of the postseason — and the first by a Canucks goalie in the franchise’s three trips to the Stanley Cup finals. Vancouver has won all four series openers during the postseason, with Luongo also posting shutouts against Chicago and Nashville.
“I thought we were going to play all night the way it was going,” Luongo said. “It was an exciting way to start the series. It was such a close game. It could have gone either way, a flip of the coin.”
Burrows could face a suspension for biting Bergeron while both players argued in French after the first-period buzzer. Bergeron appeared to put his finger in Burrows while attempting to facewash the Canucks’ top-line wing, but Burrows claimed he didn’t actually bite down on it.
“I don’t mind the rough play and those scrums at the end, as long as it’s just pushing and shoving and all that,” Bergeron said. “But biting? I mean, come on.”
The Canucks also might have lost top defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who skated off in agony during the second period after landing a low hit on Boston’s Milan Lucic.
Thomas stopped 33 shots for the Bruins, who went scoreless on six power plays. Boston also killed six Vancouver power plays in an outstanding defensive game.
Torres’ goal ended the 37-year-old Thomas’ shutout streak at just under 128 minutes. He hadn’t allowed a goal since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, shutting out Tampa Bay in Game 7.
“It’s a nice goal by them,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “I thought for the first two periods we played a pretty even game. In the third, we just seemed to lack some energy and lost our legs. They just seemed to come at us pretty hard. They kind of took the game over in the third period and obviously found a way to win it with a late goal.”
Both teams entered their first playoff meeting looking to end lengthy Stanley Cup droughts. Vancouver has never won the NHL title in four decades of existence, losing its only two trips to the finals in 1982 and 1994. Boston is back in its first finals since 1990, but the Bruins have lost five straight finals since winning in 1972.
After a full week off, the Canucks came out with palpable energy from a crowd that shook the arena violently enough to dislodge a bit of confetti left over from the Western Conference finals onto the ice before the game.
But the officials kept both teams on a steady parade to the penalty box in the first two periods, a big change from the Bruins’ penalty-free Game 7 against Tampa Bay.
Boston got nine shots without a goal during an early four-minute power play against Vancouver before failing to convert a two-man advantage for 1:32 early in the second period. Luongo was outstanding in the opener of his attempt to win the Stanley Cup on the same ice where he backstopped Canada to the gold medal in last year’s Olympics.
NOTES: Teams winning Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals have gone on to hoist the trophy 77 percent of the time (55 for 71) since the league went to a best-of-seven format in 1939. … The Canucks hadn’t gone into the third period of a scoreless playoff game this spring. Boston had done it three previous times. … Former Maple Leafs captain and Canucks forward Mats Sundin attended the game, as did Vancouver resident Michael J. Fox.