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It was a classic goalie battle Wednesday night as the Stanley Cup finals began at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. No Canuck could get past Tim Thomas, but neither could any Bruin get past Robert Luongo. Both were impenetrable walls, denying any and every shot. Sticks, skates, helmets, gloves, whatever it took to block the puck. For 59 minutes and 41.5 seconds, Thomas and Luongo matched each other shot for shot, save for save. Overtime seemed certain.
Then suddenly Thomas was frozen on a 2-on-1, and the game was over. Canucks left winger Raffi Torres beat Thomas off a crossing pass from right winger Jannik Hansen with less than 20 seconds left in the third period, and Luongo stopped 36 shots to give the Canucks a 1-0 victory in Game One of the Stanley Cup finals. Game 2 will be played Saturday.
If the Canucks really are the indomitable hockey gods they were built up as prior to the series, they didn’t show it Wednesday night. The Bruins skated with the Canucks. They shot as often as the Canucks. They hit as hard as the Canucks. They won more faceoffs than the Canucks. They even executed their power play offense and defense better than the Canucks. Boston was every bit the team Vancouver was in Game One.
If there was one area in which the Bruins looked weaker, though, it was their puck handling. It was always just slightly sloppier than Vancouver’s. They only gave away seven pucks (the Canucks gave away nine), but the passing was always slightly off: a little ahead or behind; at the skates instead of at the blade; bouncing on the ice or slightly elevated instead of flat on the ice. Clearing shots would get past the blue line but then go right back to the Canucks.
It looked as if the Bruins were going to get away with this tiny deficiency, until Johnny Boychuk misplayed a clearing passing near the Bruins’ blue line. Center Ryan Kesler took the puck away from Boychuk and immediately dished it to Hansen. Thomas had already faced Hansen in a breakaway situation earlier in the third and stonewalled him, so he came out to face Hansen again. Instead of shooting, Hansen hit Torres with a bullet crossing pass that Thomas was too far out of position to defend. Torres tipped it in easily for the only goal of the game.
The Bruins had no problem shooting the puck at Luongo. They out-shot the Canucks 26-20 through two periods, including double-digit power play shots. Nathan Horton and David Krejci each got off five shots on goal, and Brad Marchand chipped in four. The Bruins got off 36 shots, and Luongo stopped them all, never once making the desperation saves that Thomas had to occasionally resort to on the other end. Luongo never looked panicked or out of position, always smoothly grabbing shots or stopping rebounds.
The Bruins’ best scoring chance came at the start of the second period. The first ended with a fight between Patrice Bergeron and left winger Alex Burrows in which Burrows bit Bergeron on the hand. Burrows was given four minutes for roughing and will likely face a suspension by the NHL. In a separate fight after the buzzer, Zdeno Chara took on defensemen Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis at the same time. Although no penalty was called for the fight, Bieksa was penalized for high-sticking Chara 30 seconds into the second period.
Bieksa’s penalty gave Boston a five-on-three, but the Bruins managed just four shots with a double-man advantage. Boston oddly settled for tight-angle shots, attacking from near the goalposts instead of feeding it back to the center and letting Chara use his 6-foot-9, 255-pound body to screen Luongo and disrupt the defense.
A series of penalties against both sides stalled the offense in the second period, with five-on-five play the rarity. The Bruins and Canucks combined for 17 shots, 12 fewer than in the first.
The Canucks turned on the intensity in the third period, out-shooting the Bruins 14-10 and keeping the puck in Boston’s zone for extended periods. Faced with the constant Vancouver attack, Boston could only mount sporadic offensive surges. Milan Lucic missed from inside the crease early in the period. Michael Ryder fired off a shot with 4:02 elapsed, then grabbed the rebound and shot again two seconds later. Krejci took it into the crease with 6:36 gone and was turned aside. After that, the Bruins managed just one shot from within 30 feet of the goal.
The Canucks kicked their offense into another gear late in the third period, the Bruins’ tiny crack became a gaping hole, and the Canucks put the puck through it to win Game One.
Tags: Alex Burrows, Boston Bruins, Brad Marchand, Dan Hamhuis, David Krejci, Jannik Hansen, Johnny Boychuk, Kevin Bieksa, Michael Ryder, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, NHL, Patrice Bergeron, Raffi Torress, Robert Luongo, Ryan Kesler, stanley cup finals, Tim Thomas, Vancouver Canucks, Zdeno Chara