VANCOUVER, British Columbia — With a fortunate bounce and a flawless goalie, the Vancouver Canucks are heading back to Boston with the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time.
Maxim Lapierre scored on a carom off the back boards with 15:25 to play, Roberto Luongo stopped 31 shots in a stirring shutout after getting pulled from his last game, and the Canucks moved to the brink of their first NHL championship with a 1-0 victory over Boston in Game 5 on Friday night.
Luongo helped Vancouver take a 3-2 series lead, posting his fourth shutout of the playoffs and second of the Stanley Cup finals after giving up 12 goals in less than four periods during two blowout losses in Boston.
“There was something about him before the game,” said Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who set up the only goal. “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.”
Game 6 is Monday night in Boston, and the Stanley Cup will be there.
The Canucks have scored just six goals in five Stanley Cup finals games against brilliant Boston goalie Tim Thomas, yet they’re one victory away from winning it all.
“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. … Tonight was certainly not a good night for our power play, not a good night for our whole team in creating scoring chances.”
Neither team found an offensive flow in a Game 5 nail-biter, but Luongo kept Vancouver in it until Lapierre and Bieksa teamed up on a goal that set off a crazy celebration among tens of thousands of fans thronging downtown Vancouver.
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.
“(Luongo) knows that we believe in him,” Vancouver forward Alex Burrows said. “He’s unreal. We have so much confidence in him, and he doesn’t listen to what people outside this locker room say. We know he’s the best goalie in the league.”
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.
After two scoreless periods of stellar goaltending in which Boston went scoreless on four power plays, the Canucks finally connected with a supremely heady play by the veteran Bieksa, who used Thomas’ aggressive style against him.
Bieksa deliberately put a long shot wide of the goal, and when Thomas instinctively moved to his glove side to play it, the puck ricocheted off the back boards straight to Lapierre, who put it behind Thomas for just his second goal of the postseason.
“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.
“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 from there, winning their sixth straight home playoff game since May 7.
If Vancouver can’t improve on its last trip to Boston, the finals will go to Game 7 in Vancouver on Wednesday night. The home team has won every game in this series, and the Bruins have won their last five at home.
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.
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 Alex 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. But Canucks forward Tanner Glass fanned on an uncontested 15-foot backhand at Thomas’ open net moments later, and the NHL’s best power play failed to score on its first two chances.
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. … UFC president Dana White — a Massachusetts native — attended the game, as did heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and contender Junior Dos Santos. Dos Santos fights Shane Carwin in the main event of UFC 131 in Rogers Arena on Saturday night. … NBA star Steve Nash sat in the stands, leading cheers for his hometown team with a white rally towel.