Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo regained his confidence with a shutout as the Canucks beat the Boston Bruins 1-0 on Friday and moved within one game of winning the team’s first NHL championship.
Vancouver’s third-line center Maxim Lapierre scored the only goal of a tight contest 4 minutes, 35 seconds into the third period, ending Boston goalkeeper Tim Thomas’ blemish-free run that lasted since Game 3 of the series.
The teams meet again in Boston tomorrow with Vancouver holding a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Luongo, who conceded 12 goals to a rampant Bruins attack in the past two games, turned away all 31 shots, including several tough saves in the final minutes as Boston tried to claw their way back in.
“It’s never been easy for me in my career, it’s always been a battle,” said Luongo, who was in goal for Canada when it won gold last year at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Luongo said he did not let the heavy Boston losses get to him, but says he did take a walk along Vancouver’s seawall after the team returned to the city on Canada’s Pacific coast to “clear his head” before Friday’s battle.
There had been questions whether Luongo would start, but he showed top form from the outset, robbing Boston’s Patrice Bergeron in the first period after he grabbed a rebound and fired away at point-blank range.
Luongo’s teammates also appeared to regain their footing. After being outmuscled in Boston, they outhit the Bruins 47-27 and showed the form that had given them narrow wins in the first two games of the series in Vancouver.
Vancouver got into penalty trouble in the first period, but stopped Boston from taking advantage of it and coach Alain Vigneault said they were then able to overcome the second period let-downs they had suffered in both games in Boston.
Thomas stopped 24 shots until Lapierre took advantage of his aggressive style and knocked one in from the side off the sprawling netminder.
Boston coach Claude Julien gave credit to Luongo’s performance, but said his team did not test him hard enough.
“Tonight they were the better team,” Julien told reporters.
Julien downplayed the pressure of facing potential elimination in Game 6, saying he was confident that his team could take the series to seven games and win just as they did against Montreal and Tampa Bay earlier in the playoffs.
Despite the win, Vancouver still has aspects of their game they need to improve. The power play, among the league’s best during the regular season, has fallen flat in this series and it failed to score in four chances it had on Friday.
Boston’s power-play unit has also struggled and captain Zdeno Chara said they were going to work harder to get shots on Luongo and put traffic in front of his net to block his view and grab any rebounds he surrenders.
While Vancouver are eying the first Stanley Cup in the team’s 40 years in the NHL, the Bruins are trying to end a championship drought that has lasted since 1972.