My oh my, how things turn on a dime. Momentum. Energy. Confidence. A 31-save shutout for Roberto Luongo has put the Vancouver Canucks back in the driver’s seat.
Bobby Lou's Game 5 shutout is his fourth of the playoffs, after he posted goose eggs in Game 1 of the Chicago series, Game 1 of the Nashville series, and Game 1 of the Boston series.
But this is a big one. It comes on the heels of two less-than-stellar games. While the lovable yoga master, Tim Thomas, has been getting all the love for his charismatic excellence, Roberto Luongo hasn’t received much credit for Vancouver’s Stanley Cup run.
Sure, Luongo has looked fragile at times under pressure. But over the last year and a half, Luongo has handled the pressure of a nation by winning Olympic Gold on his home rink in an overtime thriller; he has conquered his nemesis, the Chicago Blackhawks, by winning Game 7 in an overtime classic; and last night, in Game 5 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, he conquered the media demon once again.
Now that he’s won Game 5 in such flawless fashion, it reminds me that it’s a good thing he’s no longer the captain of the Canucks. Unlike last year, he now has his teammates to defend his greatness and reassure the media skeptics that they trust in Lou.
And Luongo was razor sharp last night. A little early work gave him some confidence, and the Canucks were hungry. Unlike Games 3 and 4, Vancouver played very few complacent shifts. They were never rattled, Luongo was calm in net, and they won the physical battle.
Although the first period shots were 12-6 Boston, Vancouver outhit the Bruins 23-13. It set the pace for a hard-hitting, fast-paced affair.
The Canucks killed off three first-period power plays behind some clutch saves from Luongo, and by winning most of the puck battles in traffic along the boards, in front of the net, in the corners.
The move to put Alex Edler alongside Kevin Bieksa was a key adjustment, and along with a steady diet of the Sedins and Burrows in the first 10 minutes, Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault made it clear he was going to ride his best players.
To Boston’s credit, they didn’t give an inch. A few aggressive pinches by Canuck defensemen in the early going gave the Bruins several odd-man rushes. Perhaps their best scoring chance came on a Chris Kelly wrist shot from the slot, which beat Luongo over his left shoulder, only to ring off the crossbar and out of play.
After two games mired by bad breaks, Vancouver had gotten one in their favour. It kept the game scoreless, which is a much better place to be than having to come back against the Bruins. And in the aftermath of giving up 12 goals in two games, Vancouver desperately needed not to fall behind early.
Once again, the Sedins and Ryan Kesler didn’t score on the power play. And once again, Maxim Lapierre’s line produced a third-period game-winning goal. In Game 1, it was Hansen finding Torres as he slid through the slot for the re-direct.
In Game 5, it was Maxim Lapierre who was far and away the best player in the final frame. Not only did he score the lone goal by sending a knuckle ball in off Thomas, but he was skating with the puck and creating chances the way Kesler did against Nashville.
If Lapierre had Kesler’s hands, he might have had a hat trick. On consecutive shifts after his goal at the 4:35 mark, Lapierre cruised around the offensive zone, hanging on to the puck and using his speed to threaten the defense. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to finish any of his rushes.
In the end, though, Boston didn’t generate many golden scoring chances once they fell behind. Their most dangerous stretch came on a series of icing calls against Vancouver with around five minutes to go.
Manny Malhotra, Vancouver's faceoff specialist, who usually thrives in the clutch, lost four straight draws cleanly. Four straight draws against Patrick Bergeron, David Krejci and Rich Peverley were pulled back to the right point.
They gave Boston some puck possession time, but coming from behind isn’t their strong suit. And for the most part, the Canucks kept them to the outside, blocked shots, and boxed out beautifully.
Up next, “The Bingo Bango Bongo Man” and his Vancouver Canucks face an even stiffer test in Beantown. To this point in the series, the home team has won every contest. Both teams have been decent on the road, while lacking the urgent purpose it takes to win away from home.
Being down in the series helps manufacture that urgency, so Vancouver’s challenge is to treat Game 6 “like a Game 7″. It is a Canuck soundbite we heard prior to Game 5 of the San Jose series, and we’re bound to hear it again. If they enter The Garden with that mentality, they will once again win the physical battle.
There’s a two-day break to prepare for Game 6 and one of the mental hurdles for the Canucks will be keeping their eyes off the prize. “Enjoy the moment,” as Luongo religiously puts it. And “play the right way,” as Coach Vigneault likes to say.
The Canucks faced an avalanche of Bruin momentum in the wake of two blowouts in Beantown, and nobody in this series has been able to hold off the adversary’s desperation. In Boston, the Bruins have been the hungrier team. Now their backs are against the wall, and Vancouver needs to find the killer instinct they had in finishing off San Jose. Either way, Game 6 should be dandy!
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