Stanley Cup Finals 2011: Vancouver Canucks push Boston Bruins to brink
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Tim Thomas is giving a masterful performance in his net during the Stanley Cup finals. He's also doing an excellent job of masking the frustration that must be coursing through him.
The Boston Bruins' star goalie has allowed just six goals by the Vancouver Canucks in five games, yet Boston is heading home facing elimination in Game 6 on Monday.
Vancouver moved to the brink of its first NHL title in Game 5 on Friday with a 1-0 victory — the Canucks' second 1-0 home win in a finals dominated by the home teams.
Thomas is Boston's only constant in the finals, scrambling around his crease in a textbook performance of a goaltending style that won't be found in any instruction manual. The Bruins won two blowout games at home, but they haven't caught a break in Vancouver.
Unless they hold off the Canucks at TD Garden in Game 6, they won't get one last chance to sort it out.
"The plan was for us to score more than them, which I guess we have, but ..." Thomas said, his voice trailing off.
Indeed, the Bruins have outscored Vancouver 14-6 in the finals, but 12 of those goals were in two blowout wins in Boston.
Thomas stopped 24 shots in Game 5, but he failed to get to Maxim Lapierre's third-period winner, scored off a canny rebound of Kevin Bieksa's shot behind his net.
The Canucks acknowledged they had to resort to trickery and luck just to get one goal against Thomas, who might be the next on a small list of players to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP from the losing team.
Thomas would prefer to win that trophy along with the bigger prize, and he remains confident the Bruins can do it. He hopes Boston can gather momentum back home, where the Bruins twice routed the Canucks on energy drawn partially from Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome's dangerous late hit on Boston forward Nathan Horton, who's out for the series.
"It seems like so far this series, the home crowds have helped the teams," said Thomas, who has a jaw-dropping .971 save percentage in the finals, stopping 165 of Vancouver's 171 shots. "It's not always the case, but going home for Game 6, we hope it's the case one more time."
The Canucks would love to wrap up their first title without going through the tension of a Game 7, although they emerged from Game 5 feeling more relief than elation.
Vancouver had the NHL's highest-scoring offense and best power play during the regular season, but the Canucks have been forced to play a different game just to survive in the finals.
So far, they're just getting away with their meager offensive output because goalie Roberto Luongo has been sharp at the biggest moments. Luongo was pulled from Game 4 after giving up 12 goals in just over four periods, but the veteran Olympic gold medal-winner's shutout in Game 5 proved he has a knack for big games, no matter what his critical fans in Vancouver might think.
Luongo, the Canucks' former captain, took on a vocal leadership role in the dressing room before Game 5.
"It wasn't time to put your head down," Luongo said. "Best of 2-out-of-3, and that's the way I looked at it. We've got a great opportunity here coming Monday night."
If the Canucks get one more win without help from the NHL's last two scoring champions, this might rank among the most improbable methods of victory in finals history.
Captain Henrik Sedin — last season's MVP and NHL points leader — hasn't scored in the finals, while his brother, Daniel — this season's scoring champ and favorite for MVP — has one goal and one assist. Ryan Kesler, the second-line center who was arguably Vancouver's best player in the Western Conference playoff race, has just one assist, clearly struggling with an injury that was apparently exacerbated by a hit from Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk in Game 2.
"It's going to be tight, but if we play the right way, we have a chance," said Daniel Sedin, who hasn't scored since Game 2. "We can't play the way we did in the last two games in Boston. That has to end."