BOSTON (AP) — When Brad Marchand whistled a shot over Roberto Luongo’s shoulder early in Game 6, Vancouver’s enigmatic goalie looked a bit surprised, a little shaky.
When Milan Lucic trickled another goal through Luongo’s legs 35 seconds later, the Boston Bruins could tell Luongo was off – and they were on.
The tension of an elimination game eroded right along with Luongo’s poise. With another goal by Andrew Ference moments later, Luongo was history and the Bruins were headed back to Vancouver for the Stanley Cup finals’ grand finale.
The Canucks could have raised the Stanley Cup on Monday night, but the Bruins refused to allow a Garden party for the visitors. They even chased Luongo off their home ice in the first period, evening the series with a 5-2 victory.
“We wanted to make sure if we went down, we went down fighting,” Marchand said.
Only Luongo went down. The Bruins put the Canucks’ goalie and the Stanley Cup back on the shelf – and back on a plane to the West Coast for Game 7 on Wednesday night.
“I’m proud of the guys,” said Mark Recchi, who had three assists. “We had our backs to the wall, we’ve been resilient all year, and we came out and had a great first period and did what we had to do tonight, and it comes down to Game 7. It’s one game now.”
For the sixth time in the last 10 seasons, the finals have been stretched to their limit. The home team hasn’t lost in this series, with Vancouver winning three one-goal games and Boston posting three blowout victories, but the Bruins are riding a wave of momentum toward their first title since 1972 with three wins in the last four games.
Tim Thomas made 36 saves for the Bruins, giving up two third-period goals while burnishing his credentials for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
“Not too many people counted on us being at this point right now,” said Thomas, who has allowed just eight goals in six finals games. “It’s a great feeling. We battled hard tonight. We came to play, and it’s coming down to one game. This is what we dream of, when you’re little kids playing street hockey, you know, you’re in Game 7.”
League MVP Henrik Sedin scored his first point of the finals with a late power-play goal for the Canucks, who flopped in their first attempt to win the franchise’s first championship. Maxim Lapierre also scored in the third period for the Canucks, who will get one last try at a Rogers Arena filled with worried Vancouverites hoping Luongo and their maddening team can come through.
Thomas has turned in a virtuoso performance in the finals – but the spotlight in Game 6 was trained squarely on the other net.
After Luongo led Vancouver to the brink of a title with a stellar performance in a 1-0 victory Friday, the Canucks hoped to celebrate in Boston. The Bruins canceled the festivities with yet another stunning barrage of goals against Luongo, who was ventilated for 15 goals in just over 4 1/2 periods in Boston.
“You can’t hang your head and feel sorry for yourself,” Luongo said. “That’s the worst thing I could do. … I had a good feeling all day. Before the series started, I said I enjoyed playing in this building. Just got to move on right now. Got to believe in myself, right?”
Boston even set a finals record with four goals in 4:14 while chasing Luongo and welcoming his backup, Cory Schneider, with a quick goal from Michael Ryder.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault wasted no time confirming Luongo will start Game 7 in Vancouver, where he already has two shutouts in the series.
“I don’t have to say anything to him,” Vigneault said. “He’s a professional. His preparation is beyond reproach, and he’s going to be ready for Game 7. … It happened. There’s nothing we can do about it. We’ve already turned the page on that, and we’re going back home.”
The Bruins are one win away from their Original Six franchise’s first championship since 1972. Boston has lost its last five trips to the finals since, never even reaching a seventh game – but the Bruins can hang another banner in the Garden rafters with one road win.
And the Bruins have ample experience in Game 7. They’ve already played two in these playoffs, beating Montreal in the first round and Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals – but both of those games were at home, where Boston finished the postseason with 10 wins in its last 11 games.
If Vancouver can’t regroup in the next 48 hours after another East Coast collapse, the Canucks will waste the best regular season in franchise history. Vancouver lost Game 7 of the 1994 finals to Mark Messier’s New York Rangers, and hadn’t been back to the finals since.
Vancouver probably could tell Game 6 was trouble from the opening shift: Second-line forward Mason Raymond was taken to a hospital with an undisclosed injury after he ran into the boards backward and bent at the waist in a collision with Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk. The Canucks gave no immediate details on his injury or condition.
After Henrik Sedin finally scored in the opening minute of the third period, playoffs scoring leader David Krejci got his 12th goal during a two-man advantage for Boston, with the 43-year-old Recchi picking up his third assist.
Luongo’s career-long inconsistency has been pronounced in this series, with the Canadian Olympic champion alternating brilliance and borderline incompetence. He also didn’t help himself after Game 5 by indirectly criticizing Thomas’ technique on the Canucks’ winning goal and then claiming Thomas never returns Luongo’s compliments, saying he had been “pumping his tires” all series long.
The Boston crowd would have liked to slash Luongo’s tires, key his driver’s side door and pour sugar in his gas tank. They booed Luongo lustily and chanted his name derisively before Game 6 even began.
Luongo also was pulled from Game 4 in Boston early in the third period after falling behind 4-0 on the heels of the Bruins’ 8-1 victory in Game 3. Luongo has been a sieve in Boston, yet he has given up just two goals in three games in Vancouver.
Boston also will be without Nathan Horton for this Game 7. The power forward had the winning goal in the decisive games against Montreal and Tampa Bay, but is out for the series after getting a concussion in Game 3.
Horton attended Game 6, getting a standing ovation from the Boston crowd when he appeared on the overhead scoreboard in the first period. Boston hardly needed the motivation in a series filled with cheap shots and insults.
While Luongo’s struggles have been limited to the East Coast, the Sedin twins finally showed life for perhaps the first time in the series. The NHL’s last two scoring champions have done a monumental disappearing act in the finals, although they doubled their point total for the entire series when Daniel Sedin assisted on Henrik Sedin’s backhand in the slot for just the second goal of the series by Vancouver’s league-best power play, which dropped to 2 for 31.
Daniel Sedin, the NHL scoring champion, added an assist on Lapierre’s goal, giving him four points in the series.
Thomas has turned in one of the stingiest performances by a goalie in finals history, yet his teammates couldn’t beat Luongo at any important moment in Vancouver. The Canucks won the opener on a final-minute goal and finished Game 2 just 11 seconds into overtime.
“He’s been in his zone through the whole playoffs,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “You can barely count on one hand the bad goals he’s given up in the whole playoffs. We all know that teams that have won the Stanley Cup have had unbelievable goaltending. We feel like we’ve got that.”
The series has been bad-tempered from Game 1, when Vancouver’s Alex Burrows escaped suspension for apparently biting the finger of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron. The teams taunted each other about the incident – but the series got serious when Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome leveled Horton with a late hit.
NOTES: Henrik Sedin hadn’t played five games without a point since the end of the 2006-07 regular season. … Boston D Dennis Seidenberg left the bench for several minutes in the third period, but returned. … The Bruins won for just third time in 20 games when facing playoff elimination in a Game 6 while improving to 4-10 in finals elimination games. … Boston extended a franchise record with its 24th playoff game of the spring. Vancouver matched its 1994 franchise record in its 24th postseason game. … Home teams are 17-2 in the Stanley Cup finals since 2009.
(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)