BOSTON – History is on hold for at least 48 more hours.
The Vancouver Canucks were not ready for their first opportunity to close out the Boston Bruins and win the Stanley Cup, not even close. Now the hockey world will find out once and for all what they’re made of during a Game 7 played in front of the towel-waving, white-knuckled fans at Rogers Arena.
They barely bothered showing up for the road games at TD Garden.
Roberto Luongo took most of the blame for an ugly 5-2 loss in Game 6 that came directly on the heels of a shutout at home. He played less than nine minutes on Monday and surrendered three goals before being replaced by hometown boy Cory Schneider for the second time in the series.
Alain Vigneault was quick to end any speculation about his goaltending and named Luongo as his man for the biggest game in Canucks history on Wednesday night.
It’s difficult to anticipate what to expect, especially in one of the strangest Stanley Cups ever played. Luongo was terrible at TD Garden—he allowed 15 goals here in roughly six periods of play—but has been virtually unbeatable in Vancouver, where’s he taken to clearing his head with pre-game walks along the seawall.
Perhaps one more stroll will wipe away any bad thoughts that might be lingering.
“I don’t have to say anything to him,” Vigneault said. “He’s a professional. His preparation is beyond reproach and he’s going to be ready for Game 7.”
Vancouver should also have concerns with the man in the other goal.
Tim Thomas is writing a Hollywood script almost as unlikely as his long winding route to the NHL, allowing just eight goals so far in the six-game series to essentially end the debate about who should take home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
“He’s been outstanding for us and we all know the teams that normally win the Stanley Cup usually have unbelievable goaltending,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We feel like we’ve got that.”
The 37-year-old Thomas was forced to be sharp again in Game 6, especially once Boston stopped pressing the attack after building a 4-0 lead.
All of those goals came during a stunning first period. Vancouver actually carried the play early—even shaking off a scary-looking injury to forward Mason Raymond just 20 seconds in—until Brad Marchand got the home crowd back into it by beating Luongo with a long wrist shot at 5:31.
The Canucks goaltender appeared to be off his angle on the play and looked no better when Milan Lucic squeezed a shot through his legs at 6:06 and Andrew Ference beat him from the point at 8:35.
In came Schneider and out went virtually any chance of seeing captain Henrik Sedin accept the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. At least on this night.
“Four bad minutes and the game was gone,” said Canucks defenceman Christian Ehrhoff.
The Jekyll and Hyde Canucks are down to their last chance to finally deliver a championship to their long-suffering fanbase.
Despite the dispiriting nature of Monday’s loss, there were some signs of hope for Vancouver. Henrik Sedin’s goal early in the third period was his first point of the series and it came on a power play badly in need of any boost.
“We’ll take whatever we can get,” Schneider said. “Scoring goals, getting the twins on the board, a power-play goal—it’s all stuff you can build off of.”
There is also the comfort of playing in front of the home fans at Rogers Arena, where the Canucks are 10-3 this spring and will be more than 5,000 kilometres away from the jeering throng in Boston that continued to chant “Luuuuuongo!” long after Vancouver’s No. 1 man had taken a spot at the end of the bench.
This has been a homer series right from the beginning. Even though Vancouver only scored three times while getting running over in three straight games at TD Garden, Boston had just two goals of their own in the first three games at Rogers Arena.
The Bruins are also looking to become the first NHL team to win three Game 7s in one playoff year. How much energy will they have after one more cross-continent flight?
Even at this late stage of the season, there are more questions than answers: Which Luongo will show up? What impact will Raymond’s expected absence have on the Canucks lineup? Can the Bruins find a way to produce some offence away from home?
The only guarantee that comes with Game 7 is that a long and winding season will come to an end for both teams on Wednesday night.
Beyond that, all bets are off.