Thomas’ play going to waste in Stanley Cup finals
Sunday, June 12, 2011
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Tim Thomas is giving a masterful performance in his net during the Stanley Cup finals. He’s also doing an excellent job masking the frustration that must be coursing through him.
The Bruins’ star goalie has allowed just six goals by the Vancouver Canucks in five games, yet Boston is heading home facing elimination in Game 6 on Monday.
Vancouver moved to the brink of its first NHL title with a 1-0 victory Friday — the Canucks’ second 1-0 home win in a series dominated by the home teams. Unless they hold off the Canucks at TD Garden, they won’t get one last chance to figure it out.
“The plan was for us to score more than them, which I guess we have, but ...” Thomas said, his voice trailing off.
Indeed, the Bruins have outscored Vancouver 14-6 in the series, but 12 of those goals were in two blowout wins in Boston. The West Coast hasn’t been nearly as kind to the Bruins in a series in a series that’s been colored by dangerous hits, diving and taunting — but dominated by stellar goaltending from Thomas and Roberto Luongo.
“It’s very close,” Luongo said Saturday before boarding a plane to Boston. “It’s at our fingertips right now. The next two days are going to be very important to stay focused, and come Monday night, we have the game of our lives. We’re ready to do whatever it takes to win.”
While Luongo has been alternately brilliant and hopeless, Thomas is Boston’s only constant in the series, scrambling around his crease in a textbook performance of a goaltending style that won’t be found in any instruction manual.
The Bruins won two blowout games at home, but they haven’t caught a break in Vancouver.
Thomas stopped 24 shots in Game 5, but he failed to get to Maxim Lapierre’s thirdperiod winner, scored off a canny rebound of Kevin Bieksa’s shot behind his net. An estimated 100,000 fans in downtown Vancouver’s streets erupted in a sea of celebration when Lapierre scored.
Hundreds of those fans turned out at Vancouver’s airport Saturday, standing eight deep behind a barrier. They screamed and waved signs in the terminal while sending off their team.
“This is our chance,” captain Henrik Sedin said. “You don’t get too many opportunities to finish off a Stanley Cup final, and we have to make the most of it.”
Vancouver had won four of its previous five road playoff games before the back-to-back routs in Boston. In a tense Game 5, the Canucks acknowledged they had to resort to trickery and luck just to get one goal against Thomas, who might be the next on a small list of players to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP from the losing team.
Thomas would prefer to win the big silver prize, and he remains confident the Bruins can do it. He hopes Boston can gather momentum back home, where the Bruins embarrassed the Canucks on energy drawn partially from Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome’s dangerous late hit in Game 3 on Boston forward Nathan Horton, who’s out for the series.
“It seems like so far this series, the home crowds have helped the teams,” said Thomas, who has a jaw-dropping .971 save percentage in the finals, stopping 165 of Vancouver’s 171 shots. “It’s not always the case, but going home for Game 6, we hope it’s the case one more time.”
The Canucks would love to wrap up their franchise’s first title without going through the tension of a Game 7, although they emerged from Game 5 feeling more relief than elation.
Vancouver had the NHL’s highest-scoring offense and best power play during the regular season, but the Canucks have been forced to play a different game just to survive in the finals.
So far, they’re just getting away with their meager offensive output because Luongo has been sharp at the biggest moments. Luongo was pulled from Game 4 after giving up 12 goals in just over four periods, but the veteran Olympic gold medal-winner’s shutout in Game 5 proved he has a knack for big games, no matter what his critical fans in Vancouver might think.
Luongo, the Canucks’ former captain, took on a vocal leadership role in the Canucks’ dressing room before Game 5.
“It wasn’t time to put your head down,” Luongo said. “Best of 2-out-of-3, and that’s the way I looked at it. We’ve got a great opportunity here coming Monday night.”
If the Canucks get one more win without help from the NHL’s last two scoring champions, this might rank among the most improbable methods of victory in finals history.
Henrik Sedin, last season’s MVP and NHL points leader, hasn’t scored in the finals, while his brother, Daniel — this season’s scoring champ and favorite for MVP — has one goal and one assist. Ryan Kesler, the second-line center who was arguably Vancouver’s best player in the Western Conference playoff race, has just one assist, clearly struggling with an injury that was apparently exacerbated by a hit from Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk in Game 2.
“It’s going to be tight, but if we play the right way, we have a chance,” said Daniel Sedin, who hasn’t scored since Game 2. “We can’t play the way we did in the last two games in Boston. That has to end.”
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