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Home ice advantage remained as potent as ever in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Friday night, as the Vancouver Canucks edged out the Boston Bruins 1-0 to reclaim the series lead at 3-2. Fortunately for the B’s, they have one more chance to tie up the series and force a Game 7 when they head back home to the TD Garden for Game 6 on Monday night.
The Canucks have the chance to earn their first Stanley Cup ever against the B’s in Beantown, but it remains to be seen whether their shaky defense and hot-and-cold goaltending can match the pressure and intensity of the Bruins with home ice advantage.
Friday night’s game was reminiscent of the first two in the Rogers Arena: low scoring and decided by one goal. Just as in Game 1, the first two periods were scoreless and the game was incredibly defensive. But, the Canucks seemed to have their legs back and were skating faster and creating better opportunities for themselves in the opposing zone. Tim Thomas was again required to make one incredible save after another as his defense began to crack a little bit, while Roberto Luongo on the other end of the ice never really saw a tough shot come his way. The game was scrappy and physical, while the Bruins fought back every bit of the way, the Canucks clearly fed off of the support of their home crowd and pushed and shoved and checked hard and often. They set the tone for the physical play of the game, and pressured the Bruins offense all night to prevent them from getting any really good looks at Luongo. Instead of trying to defend the B’s in a zone, the depleted Vancouver defense went back to boxing them out and forcing turnovers in the neutral zone, which proved much more effective than whatever strategy, if any, they used in Boston.
Then, 4:35 into the third period, Maxim LaPierre scored on a 10-foot wrist shot. The play was perfectly executed by Kevin Bieksa and Rafi Torres, who got Thomas off balance with a quick redirection of the puck to LaPierre waiting close to the net on Thomas’ weak side, leading him to fumble the puck as it rebounded off his chest and into the net.
The Bruins were left with plenty of time at that point to make something happen, but it seems that when they go scoreless into the third, their lack of offensive rhythm plagues them and they lose focus. Passes were not accurate or clean, and guys couldn’t seem to find themselves anywhere near the crease to even create opportunity. The closest thing to a goal came on a Chris Kelly wristshot over Luongo’s glove side shoulder, a spot that has been his Achilles heel throughout the series. But Kelly went a little too high and the cross bar did the work for Luongo.
Vancouver may have the series lead and a chance to seal the deal, but the Boston Bruins have the mental edge at home, having outscored their opposition 12-1 in 2 games at the TD Garden – compared to the Canucks outscoring the Bruins just 5-2 in three games in Vancouver. It is obviously critical that the Bruins exert their will in Game 6 the way they did in the first two at home, and pepper Luongo with tough shots in the first and second periods. When they score on him early, he loses concentration and becomes agitated in net. Boston can do its biggest damage by capitalizing on that mental weakness .
Of course, Roberto Luongo has created in his mind a different version of the way the goaltending matchup has played out so far in this series. After a tightly contested one- goal win in Game 5, Luongo spoke in the postgame press conference about the degree of difficulty for Tim Thomas trying to save the LaPierre game-winning shot.
“It’s not hard if you’re playing in the paint,” he said. “It’s an easy save for me, but if you’re wandering out and aggressive like he does, that’s going to happen. He might make some saves that I won’t, but in a case like that, we want to take advantage of a bounce like that and make sure we’re in a good position to bury those.”
These are certainly interesting words from a man who has let in 14 goals in five games, while the counterpart whom he’s criticizing has allowed less than half of that. (6 goals in 5 games). The irony of this situation has not been lost on Thomas or his coach, who responded in his off-day press conference by pointing to the number of goals Luongo allowed in Games 3 and 4. The verbal jousting between the two Vezina finalists was furthered when Timmy was asked for his reaction to Luongo’s accusation that Thomas has not said anything nice about him.
“I guess I didn’t realize it was my job to pump his tires (laughter). I guess I have to apologize for that. I still think I’m the goaltender on the union side and I stick with all the other goalies. In being one and knowing what it takes to perform at this level and with this amount of pressure, I understand to a certain extent what every other goaltender is going through. I guess that’s that.”
The Bruins may find further motivation to respond on the ice to the Canucks trash-talk after hearing what Aaron Rome had to say about his hit on Nathan Horton that left the Bruins leading goal scorer in the playoffs with a severe concussion and out for the series in Game 3. Rome spoke to a small circle of Canadian media members on Sunday in Vancouver, and made it clear that while he does feel bad that Horton was hurt so badly, it happened on what he considered a clean play. He also went so far as to insinuate blame on Horton himself, saying:
“There has to be some accountability on the part of the player skating up the middle of the ice maybe with his head down, not looking.”
Horton’s injury has been a rallying point for the Bruins since they demolished the Canucks 8-1 in that game, so it’s hard to imagine that Rome’s words will not be added to the growing list of reasons why Bruins players and fans are developing a healthy hatred of the Vancouver Canucks. Already on the list?
And that’s only through five games…
The name Alexandre Burrows is becoming synonymous with other villainous figures in the minds of Boston sports fans. A-Rod, Rex, Kobe…Burrows. But he is just the tip of a very unlikeable iceberg, and I do not believe that the Bruins will allow that team to skate around their arena hoisting the Stanley Cup. They may not win it, but the B’s owe it to the fans and to themselves to make the Canucks take in back home to Vancouver. I can’t think of anything worse for Bruins fans than having to watch this unsportsmanlike, hot and cold, whiny, often under-performing team win in their city.
My prediction: Bruins win Game 6, 3-1.