Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler (17) falls over Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas (30) in the second period during Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals.
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The Boston Bruins put Roberto Luongo and the Stanley Cup back on the shelf.
After another home scoring spree against Vancouver’s wildly inconsistent goalie Monday night, the Bruins are making one last trip west for the big finish to these dramatic Stanley Cup finals.
Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and Andrew Ference scored in the first 8:35 to chase Luongo from his second straight game in Boston, and the Bruins emphatically evened the finals with a 5-2 victory in Game 6, sending the series to a decisive Game 7 in Vancouver on Wednesday night.
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.
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 their 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 their maddening team can come through.
Tim Thomas made 36 saves for the Bruins, giving up two third-period goals while burnishing his credentials for the Conn Smythe Trophy as Boston moved one win away from its first championship since 1972. Thomas has given up just eight goals in six games 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 that Garden party with yet another stunning barrage of goals against Luongo, who was ventilated for 15 goals in just over 4½ periods in Boston.
Boston even set a finals record with four goals in 4:14 while chasing Luongo and welcoming his backup, Cory Schneider, with a goal from Michael Ryder. Mark Recchi had two assists during the flurry.
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 and the franchise’s best chance at a championship. 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.
Luongo immediately appeared shaky when Marchand whistled a shot over his left shoulder just 5½ minutes in. Lucic scored 35 seconds later when his innocent shot trickled through Luongo, and Ference finished the goalie with a power-play score 2:29 after that.
After Henrik Sedin finally scored in the opening minute of the third period, playoffs scoring leader David Krejci scored 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 “pump(ing) his tires” all series long.