Goaltender puts woes behind him as finals head back to Boston, writes Greg Beacham
Roberto Luongo went for a walk on the picturesque Vancouver seawall before Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, clearing his mind of criticism and failure while soaking in the anxious city's soothing beauty.
With a peaceful mind, Luongo achieved a small slice of perfection: a shutout in the biggest game of his career.
And when Maxim Lapierre finally scored for Vancouver, Luongo carried the Canucks to the verge of their first championship, taking a 3-2 series lead with a 1-0 victory over the Boston Bruins on Friday night.
The last step will be no stroll in the park, but Luongo thinks the Canucks have the right mindset to do it — hopefully tomorrow in Game 6 in Boston.
"We do whatever it takes, and that's what we need to do if we want to win the last one here," said Luongo, who stopped 31 shots in his fourth shutout of the post-season. "I play the game because I love it and I want to win the Stanley Cup, so that's the only motivation I need right now.
"I try to block everything else out. Sometimes it's hard to do in a city like this. You can't let those things affect you, because then they will affect your game."
Luongo gave up eight goals in Game 3 and was pulled from Game 4, but nothing fazed him in Game 5 - not even the meagre production of his struggling teammates, who have managed to move within one win of their franchise's first championship despite scoring just six goals against Boston goaltender Tim Thomas in five games.
"He [Luongo] is unreal," Vancouver forward Alex Burrows said. "We have so much confidence in him, and he doesn't listen to people outside this locker room. We know he's the best goalie in the league."
Early in the third period, Vancouver ended Thomas's shutout streak at 110 minutes, 42 seconds dating to Game 3 with an improvisational gem of a goal.
With every other scoring tactic failing over the last three games, Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa deliberately put a shot wide of the net, counting on the aggressive Thomas to react to it. The next moment was a study in hockey geometry: The puck caromed off the boards behind Thomas's net and popped out on the far side, where Lapierre banged it into the only sliver of net Thomas could not cover.
Lapierre was a late-season acquisition who largely serves as an agitator for the Canucks, not a scorer. He has never managed more than 15 goals in a season, and he had just six this season with 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."
Luongo posted his second 1-0 shutout of the Stanley Cup finals just one game after hitting a terrible low. He was pulled in Boston after allowing 12 goals in just over four periods of two terrible games, but coach Alain Vigneault stuck with him for Game 5.
"There was something about him before the game," Bieksa said of Luongo. "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."
Thomas, who made 24 saves, must empathise with Luongo's mental turmoil at this point. He is having a remarkable series against the NHL's highest-scoring team and the league's last two scoring champions, yet the Bruins have given him just two goals of support in three games in Vancouver, both of them in Game 2.
Thomas made only one mistake in Game 5, but it was enough.
"Those are usually the kind of goals that go in when no one is scoring," Thomas said. "Lapierre didn't even get the shot off clean. If he got it clean, I would have been able to read it better and would have had a better chance at it."
* Associated Press