For the second time in their history, the Vancouver Canucks are one win away from the Stanley Cup. And unlike 1994, when they lost Game 7 to the New York Rangers, the Canucks have some margin for error.
The Canucks beat the Bruins 1-0 in Game 5 at Rogers Arena Friday, and have a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6 Monday at Boston's TD Garden.
"It feels better than being two wins away -- that's for sure," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. "It's going to be good now to get two days in between games here, fly to Boston, and prepare to play the best games of our lives."
Maxim Lapierre snapped a goal-less streak of more than five periods for the NHL's highest-scoring team early in the third period in a goaltender's duel between Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and Boston's Tim Thomas. Lapierre, who gained more notoriety this series for his antics rather than his stick, beat Thomas from the right side of the net after defenceman Kevin Bieksa sent him a bounce pass off the end boards.
"It's been six months that I've been thinking about a goal," said Lapierre, whose last goal actually came on May 15. "I didn't know what to do so I just started jumping."
That was a tactic the Canucks were using all night, in an attempt to take advantage of Thomas's tendency to play well out of his net and challenge shooters. The Bruins goalie had one hand on the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player in the postseason, after a sensational series, but he is vulnerable to back-door plays and the home team tested that weakness.
"We tried a few times in Boston," Bieksa said. "We've got a pretty scouting crew that did a good job of giving us some tips on Thomas. He's a good goalie, so you have to find little ways to cheat and get little advantages, and that was one of them."
Thomas was unaware that it was a set play, and said he entered the third period knowing that one goal would win the game.
"In my mind, I was going to hold them off the scoreboard for as long as it took," he said. "It didn't work out that way."
Asked about defending the bounce pass off the end boards, Luongo couldn't resist taking a shot at his counterpart.
"It's not hard if you're playing in the paint," Luongo quipped. "It's an easy save for me, but if you are wandering out and aggressive like he does, that's going to happen."
Luongo, however, was equal to the challenge. After allowing 12 goals in less than six periods during the two games in Boston, the Canucks goaltender was terrific before an anxious but supportive home crowd, and made 31 saves to Thomas's 24 for his fourth shutout of the postseason.
"Both goalies were amazing," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "It was a great hockey game."
Luongo prepared for the game by taking a stroll on Vancouver's seawall, something he occasionally does wearing headphones and hooded sweatshirt to block out the rest of the world and remain alone with his thoughts.
"Sometimes, I need to clear my head," he said. "I don't know if there are any seawalls in Boston."
Lapierre's goal came after he was stopped by Thomas on a nifty three-on-two, and was well-deserved given how well his line played. Much like early in the series, Vancouver's third trio of Lapierre, Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres posed all sorts of problems for Boston, both in chances and in physical play.
The Canucks needed it, too.
Because while Ryan Kesler's line, which includes wingers Mason Raymond and Chris Higgins, is generating tons of opportunities, its conversion rate has been nil. The Sedin twins and Alex Burrows, meanwhile, have only scored in Game 2 and continue to struggle.
The Canucks are once again playing from the lead, something they squander in Beantown after winning the first two games on home ice last week. The home team has won every contest in the series, which suggests that a Game 7 in the Cup final is possible for the third time since the 2004-05 lockout.
"A lot of things you saw tonight were a lot of the things you saw in the first two games," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Good effort, but not good enough."
Vancouver would be the first Canadian team to win the Cup since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens, and would earn their first championship since the franchise was founded in 1970. Boston, likewise, is trying to snap a 39-year Cup drought.
Forty minutes came and went without a goal, but only by the grace of Tanner Glass. Vancouver's fourth-line winger was staring at a yawning net and fanned on his shot, squandering the best chance for the Canucks in the last three games.
The middle period also marked a boiling point for Canuck fans, who began lustily booing the officials and chanting "ref you suck," after Boston received the first four power plays of the game. Vancouver got the next two power plays, but did nothing with them other than unload a whack of point shots into the bodies of Bruins.
The first period was played at a fantastic pace, and the Canucks dodged a bullet by killing three minor penalties. Vancouver also laid 23 hits on the Bruins, led by Alexander Edler's five. Edler finished with 10 hits.
The sellout crowd was louder than usual, and Luongo got his confidence back with two excellent saves on a Milan Lucic redirect and a Patrice Bergeron rebound.