BOSTON (AP) - The Boston Bruins left their home ice for the final time in a jubilant line, waving and clapping back at the adoring Garden crowd. Tim Thomas returned for one last loop as the first star in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, triumphantly waving his stick above his head.
With three blowout victories at home in the Stanley Cup finals, the Bruins picked a wonderful way to leave town for the last time this season.
When they return from Vancouver in two days, they might even have the Cup with them.
Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and Andrew Ference scored in the first 8:35 to chase Roberto Luongo from another game in Boston, and the Bruins sent the Stanley Cup finals to a decisive seventh game with a 5-2 victory over the Canucks on Monday night.
The NHL's champion will be decided Wednesday night, and the Bruins believe they're ready to end their 39-year Stanley Cup drought.
"Not too many people counted on us being at this point right now," said Thomas, who has allowed just eight goals in six finals games. "It's a great feeling. We battled hard tonight. We came to play, and it's coming down to one game. This is what we dream of, when you're little kids playing street hockey, you know, you're in Game 7."
Thomas made 36 saves for the Bruins, giving up two third-period goals but still burnishing his credentials for the Conn Smythe Trophy. He played with little tension after the Bruins ventilated his Vancouver counterpart, sending Luongo to the bench early after he allowed 15 goals in roughly 4 1/2 periods in Boston.
Marchand whistled a shot over Luongo's shoulder for the first goal. Lucic then trickled another through his pads 35 seconds later, and Ference's power-play goal doomed Vancouver's $10 million goalie.
The Canucks could have raised the Stanley Cup, but the Bruins refused to allow a Garden party.
"We wanted to make sure if we went down, we went down fighting," Marchand said.
Only Luongo went down. The Bruins put the Canucks goalie and the Stanley Cup back on the shelf - and back on a plane to the West Coast for Game 7 on Wednesday night.
"I'm proud of the guys," said Bruins forward Mark Recchi, who had three assists. "We had our backs to the wall, we've been resilient all year, and we came out and had a great first period and did what we had to do, and it comes down to Game 7. It's one game now."
For the sixth time in 10 seasons, the finals have been stretched to the limit.
The home team hasn't lost in this series, with Vancouver winning three one-goal games, and Boston posting three blowout victories. But the Bruins are riding a wave of momentum toward their first title since 1972 with three wins in four games.
Last season's NHL MVP Henrik Sedin scored his first point of the finals with a late power-play goal for the Canucks, who flopped in their first attempt to win the franchise's first championship. Maxim Lapierre also scored in the third period for the Canucks, who will get one last try at Rogers Arena in front of fretful Vancouverites hoping Luongo and their maddening team can come through.
Thomas has turned in a virtuoso performance in the finals - but the spotlight in Game 6 was trained squarely on the other net. Luongo led Vancouver to the brink of a title with a stellar performance in a 1-0 victory Friday, but he had nothing on Monday.
"You can't hang your head and feel sorry for yourself," Luongo said. "That's the worst thing I could do. ... I had a good feeling all day. Before the series started, I said I enjoyed playing in this building. Just got to move on right now. Got to believe in myself, right?"
Boston even set a finals record with four goals in 4:14 while chasing Luongo and welcoming his backup, Cory Schneider, with a quick goal from Michael Ryder.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault wasted no time confirming Luongo will start Game 7 in Vancouver, where he already has two shutouts in the series.
"I don't have to say anything to him," Vigneault said. "He's a professional. His preparation is beyond reproach, and he's going to be ready for Game 7. ... It happened. There's nothing we can do about it. We've already turned the page on that, and we're going back home."
The Bruins are one win away from the Original Six franchise's first championship since 1972. Boston has lost its last five trips to the finals, never even reaching a seventh game - but the Bruins can hang another banner in the Garden rafters with one road win.
And the Bruins have ample experience in Game 7. They've already played two in these playoffs, beating Montreal in the first round and Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals - but both of those games were at home, where Boston finished the postseason with 10 wins in its last 11 games.
If Vancouver can't regroup in the next 48 hours after another East Coast collapse, the Canucks will waste the best regular season in franchise history. Vancouver lost Game 7 of the 1994 finals to Mark Messier's New York Rangers, and hadn't been back to the finals since.
Vancouver probably could tell Game 6 was trouble from the opening shift: Second-line forward Mason Raymond was taken to a hospital with an undisclosed injury after he ran into the boards backward and bent at the waist in a collision with Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk. The Canucks gave no immediate details on his injury or condition.
After Henrik Sedin finally scored in the opening minute of the third period, playoffs scoring leader David Krejci got his 12th goal during a two-man advantage for Boston, with the 43-year-old Recchi picking up his third assist.
Luongo's career-long inconsistency has been pronounced in this series, with the Canadian Olympic champion alternating brilliance and borderline incompetence. He also didn't help himself after Game 5 by indirectly criticizing Thomas' technique on the Canucks' winning goal and then claiming Thomas never returns Luongo's compliments, saying he had been "pumping his tires" all series long.
The Boston crowd would have liked to slash Luongo's tires, key his driver's side door and pour sugar in his gas tank. They booed Luongo lustily and chanted his name derisively before Game 6 even began.
Luongo also was pulled from Game 4 in Boston early in the third period after falling behind 4-0 on the heels of the Bruins' 8-1 victory in Game 3. Luongo has been a sieve in Boston, yet he has given up just two goals in three games in Vancouver.
Boston also will be without Nathan Horton for this Game 7. The power forward had the winning goal in the decisive games against Montreal and Tampa Bay, but is out for the series after getting a concussion in Game 3.Horton attended Game 6, getting a standing ovation from the Boston crowd when he appeared on the overhead scoreboard in the first period. The Bruins hardly needed the motivation in a series filled with cheap shots and insults.
While Luongo's struggles have been limited to the East Coast, the Sedin twins finally showed life for perhaps the first time in the series. The NHL's last two scoring champions have done a monumental disappearing act in the finals, although they doubled their point total for the entire series when Daniel Sedin assisted on Henrik Sedin's backhand in the slot for just the second goal of the series by Vancouver's league-best power play, which dropped to 2 for 31.
Daniel Sedin, the NHL scoring champion, added an assist on Lapierre's goal, giving him four points in the series.
NOTES: Vancouver D Alex Edler was in and out of the Canucks' locker room, apparently leaving for good early in the third period. ... Henrik Sedin hadn't played five games without a point since the end of the 2006-07 regular season. ... Boston D Dennis Seidenberg left the bench for several minutes in the third period, but returned. ... The Bruins won for the third time in 20 games when facing playoff elimination in a Game 6 while improving to 4-10 in finals elimination games. ... Boston extended a franchise record with its 24th playoff game of the spring. Vancouver matched its 1994 franchise record in its 24th postseason game. ... Home teams are 17-2 in the Stanley Cup finals since 2009.