VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Every other scoring tactic had failed over the last three games, so Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa made something up.
He deliberately put a shot wide of the net in Game 5 – won by the Canucks 1-0 – knowing Boston goalie Tim Thomas couldn’t stop himself from reacting to it.
The next moment was a study in hockey geometry. The puck caromed off the boards behind Thomas’ net to the far side, where Maxim Lapierre gratefully banged it into the only sliver of net Thomas couldn’t cover.
That’s how goals are scored against two goalies who look unbeatable.
That’s why the resourceful Canucks are one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time.
Lapierre scored the only goal with 15:25 to play, Roberto Luongo stopped 31 shots in a stirring shutout after getting pulled from his last game, and the Canucks took a 3-2 series lead with the 1-0 victory over the Bruins in Game 5 on Friday night.
The Canucks have scored just six goals in five Stanley Cup finals games against the brilliant Thomas, yet they’re one victory away from their first NHL championship. Thomas was almost perfect in Game 5 after shutting out the Canucks in Game 4, but Luongo was thrilled after Bieksa and Lapierre used the Boston star’s aggressive style against him to manufacture a historic goal.
“It’s not hard (to stop) if you’re playing in the paint,” said Luongo, who rebounded after allowing 12 goals in just over four periods in Boston. “It’s an easy save for me, but if you’re wandering out that’s going to happen.”
Ouch. With just a few days to go, even the goalies are getting chippy in these fantastic finals.
Game 6 is Monday night in Boston, and the Stanley Cup will be there.
Luongo posted his fourth shutout of the playoffs and second of the Stanley Cup finals after a pregame walk on Vancouver’s picturesque seawall to clear his mind.
Luongo was pulled from Game 4, but coach Alain Vigneault stuck with him for Game 5. The Olympic champion was only occasionally spectacular, but he still narrowly outplayed Thomas, who has received just two goals of support from his teammates in three games in Vancouver.
“There was something about him before the game,” Bieksa said. “He just seemed so comfortable, so confident. He was vocal, and usually he’s not a vocal guy. We thought it would be something special.”
Neither team found an offensive flow in a Game 5 nail-biter, but Luongo kept Vancouver in it until Lapierre’s goal set off a crazy celebration among tens of thousands of fans gathered in downtown Vancouver. After Vancouver’s Tanner Glass missed a backhand on an open net one period earlier, Lapierre was more than ready to put it behind Thomas for just his second goal of the postseason, pumping both fists frenetically in celebration.
A few Bruins – and even Vancouver’s Alex Burrows – wondered whether Bieksa meant to miss.
“I hope I was trying to miss the net, because I missed it by about 8 feet,” Bieksa said. “I didn’t have a real good angle to the net, so I just put it up there and got a good bounce.”
Lapierre was a late-season acquisition who largely serves as an agitator for the Canucks, not a scorer. He’s never managed more than 15 goals in a season, and he had just six this season while playing for Montreal, Anaheim and Vancouver.
“It’s been six months I’m thinking about a goal,” Lapierre said. “We got lucky. Good bounce. It was challenging there for us, right spot at the right time.”
Thomas made 24 saves in Game 5, but lost his shutout streak of 110 minutes, 42 seconds dating to Game 3. With injured forward Nathan Horton’s jersey hanging in the visitors’ locker room, the Bruins’ power play regressed to its previous postseason struggles, going 0 for 4.
Thomas made only one mistake, but it was enough.
“Those are usually the kind of goals that go in when no one is scoring,” Thomas said. “A lot of times it’s going to be that fluke one off the boards, and Lapierre didn’t even get the shot off clean. If he got the shot off clean, I would have been able to read it better and would have had a better chance at it.”
The Canucks hung on for their sixth straight home playoff victory. The home team has won every game in the series.
If Vancouver can’t improve on its last trip to Boston, the finals will go to Game 7 in Vancouver on Wednesday night.