VANCOUVER -- All eyes were going to be on Roberto Luongo. Whether he liked it or not, the Vancouver goalie would be the fulcrum of the series. After two substantial losses in Boston, he returned home, needing to prove, yet again, that his psyche isn't made of porcelain. It's not the first time the goalie shouldered that pressure; it wasn't even the first time he felt it this spring.
After two subpar performances against Chicago in the first round, allowing the Blackhawks to bounce back after being down 3-0 in the series, Luongo needed a way to clear his head from the noise and the playoff demons that seemed to plagued him. On the afternoon before Game 7, perhaps the most famous man in this hockey-crazed city had his hand in anonymity, taking a walk along the sea wall in Vancouver's Stanley Park -- just him, a pair of headphones, his thoughts and the splendid view. That night, he buried the Blackhawks and expunged the memories of collapse, of failure, with a 2-1 overtime win.
Nearly two months later, it all seemed a little too familiar. After allowing 12 goals in five-plus periods in Boston, he needed to reboot once again. And on Friday afternoon, just hours before Game 5, the Vancouver goalie took another hike before bringing his team one win away from the Stanley Cup, shutting out the Bruins 1-0 at Rogers Arena.
Shaking off two bad games is literally a walk in the park for Luongo.
"I don't know if they have a sea wall in Boston," he said through a smile after the game, "but I'm going to look for that. ... Sometimes I need to clear my head and put things in perspective. ... I just focus on the journey and everything I need to do to be ready for the game. That's what gets me prepared."
Through the early-going, when the Bruins came out riding the momentum they had generated from two wins at home, Luongo alone kept the Canucks in the game. As his teammates took four penalties in the first period, the netminder made five saves with his team short-handed early, stoning Bruins center Patrice Bergeron twice from the low slot on Boston's third power play. With his team grasping a one-goal lead in the third period, he made the tough and timely saves, the ones that seemed to elude him just days ago. And under the blinding spotlight, Luongo found a way to shine, finishing with 31 saves.
He and the Canucks would need all of them, given that Boston goalie Tim Thomas continued to show his wares against the league's best offense. But Vancouver, almost completely silenced by the Vezina Trophy finalist in Boston, had a few ideas on how to solve him. Thomas, often an aggressive goalie who isn't afraid of white ice, was caught high twice, giving Vancouver open looks into his net. The first, with about seven minutes left in the second period, went to fourth-line grinder Tanner Glass, who amazingly whiffed on the shot.
But in the third period, just five minutes in, Vancouver center Maxim Lapierre did what Glass couldn't do. Stationed on the goal line to the right of Thomas's cage, the agitating winger became the beneficiary of an odd carom off the end boards. Kevin Bieksa's shot from the opposite point found its way right onto Lapierre's stick. He flipped the puck in for his second goal of the postseason, closing Thomas's shutout streak at 110:42.
"[Thomas] does play out, and their Ds do block shots," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Sometimes all you have is a short-side shot. I think that's what Kevin had right there. [But] it took a bounce the right way, right to the other side."
A little bit of luck, and a long walk, will now give Vancouver the chance to lift a Cup.
1. Roberto Luongo, G, Canucks: After getting fleeced in Boston, all those tired -- though timeless -- questions about his ability to handle pressure came roaring back. And as he has done more often than not this season, Luongo found a way to answer them emphatically. With the shutout win, his fourth of the postseason, the netminder lived up to the expectations of the raucous and massive crowds gathered in the city. He may not be able to be so anonymous on those walks on the sea wall anymore.
2. Tim Thomas, G, Bruins: The goalie wasn't perfect, as he was in Game 4, but he again came close. With 24 saves, Thomas is now 36 saves from tying Kirk McLean's record for most in a single playoff year. He gave his usual acrobatic performances and didn't seem to be quite so distracted by the extracurricular antics that came to the surface in Boston's wins. The Bruins may have lost the game, but it was no fault of Thomas's, who has been superb in these finals.
3. Maxim Lapierre, C, Canucks: If stars were awarded for acting, the game-winning goal scorer might've vaulted to the top, what with his slight embellishment of the spear it took from Zdeno Chara. The grinding center is known to sell a call or two like he's Billy Mays, but he can bring great energy to his team with his play. Both the third and fourth lines on Vancouver were great at sustaining time in Boston's zone and giving the Canucks the energy spurts they needed, especially in the second and third periods. Lapierre gets the nod because his stick did the job.