VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - Roberto Luongo went for another walk on the picturesque Vancouver seawall before Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, clearing his mind of criticism and failure while soaking in an anxious city's soothing beauty.
With a peaceful mind, Luongo achieved a small slice of perfection: a shutout in the biggest game of his NHL career.
And when Maxim Lapierre finally managed one goal against Tim Thomas, Luongo's brilliant Boston counterpart, Luongo carried Vancouver to the verge of its first championship Friday night, taking a 3-2 series lead with a 1-0 victory over the Boston Bruins.
The last step will be no stroll in the park, but Luongo thinks the Canucks have the right mindset to do it - hopefully in Game 6 in Boston on Monday.
``We do whatever it takes, and that's what we need to do if we want to win the last one here,' said Luongo, who stopped 31 shots in his fourth shutout of the postseason. ``I play the game because I love it and I want to win the Stanley Cup, so that's the only motivation I need right now. I try to block everything else out. Sometimes it's hard to do in a city like this. You can't let those things affect you, because then they will affect your game.'
Luongo gave up eight goals in Game 3 and was pulled from Game 4, but nothing fazed him in Game 5 - not even the meager production of his struggling teammates, who have managed to move within one win of their franchise's first championship despite scoring just six goals against Thomas in five finals games.
``He's unreal,' Vancouver forward Alex Burrows said. ``We have so much confidence in him, and he doesn't listen to people outside this locker room. We know he's the best goalie in the league.'
Early in the third period, Vancouver finally ended Thomas' shutout streak at 110 minutes, 42 seconds dating to Game 3 with an improvisational gem of a goal.
With every other scoring tactic failing over the last three games, Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa deliberately put a shot wide of the net, counting on the aggressive Thomas to react to it. The next moment was a study in hockey geometry: The puck caromed off the boards behind Thomas' net and popped out on the far side, where Lapierre banged it into the only sliver of net Thomas couldn't cover.
Lapierre was a late-season acquisition who largely serves as an agitator for the Canucks, not a scorer. He's never managed more than 15 goals in a season, and he had just six this season while playing for Montreal, Anaheim and Vancouver.
``It's been six months I'm thinking about a goal,' Lapierre said. ``We got lucky. Good bounce. It was challenging there for us, right spot at the right time.'
Luongo posted his second 1-0 shutout of the Stanley Cup finals just one game after hitting a terrible low. He was pulled in Boston after allowing 12 goals in just over four periods of two terrible games, but coach Alain Vigneault stuck with him for Game 5.
``There was something about him before the game,' Bieksa said of Luongo. ``He just seemed so comfortable, so confident. He was vocal, and usually he's not a vocal guy. We thought it would be something special.'
Thomas, who made 24 saves, must empathize with Luongo's mental turmoil at this point. He's having a remarkable series against the NHL's highest-scoring team and the league's last two scoring champions, yet the Bruins have given him just two goals of support in three games in Vancouver, both of them in a 2:35 span of Game 2.
Thomas made only one mistake in Game 5, but it was enough.
``Those are usually the kind of goals that go in when no one is scoring,' Thomas said. ``A lot of times it's going to be that fluke one off the boards, and Lapierre didn't even get the shot off clean. If he got the shot off clean, I would have been able to read it better and would have had a better chance at it.'
Neither team found an offensive flow in a Game 5 nail-biter, but Luongo kept Vancouver in it until Lapierre's goal set off a crazy celebration among tens of thousands of fans thronging downtown Vancouver. After Vancouver's Tanner Glass missed a backhand on an open net one period earlier, Lapierre was more than ready to put it behind Thomas for just his second goal of the postseason, pumping both fists frenetically in celebration.
A few Bruins - and even Burrows - wondered whether Bieksa meant to miss. Bieksa assured them he did it on purpose.
``It's not hard (to stop) if you're playing in the paint,' Luongo said. ``It's an easy save for me, but if you're wandering out, that's going to happen. He might make some saves that I won't, but in a case like that, we want to take advantage of a bounce like that and make sure we're in a good position to bury those.'
Ouch. With just a few days to go, even the goalies are getting chippy in the finals.
With injured forward Nathan Horton's jersey hanging in the visitors' locker room, the Bruins' power play regressed to its previous postseason struggles, going 0 for 4. The Canucks hung on for their sixth straight home playoff victory since May 7. The home team has won every game in the series.
``I don't know how to explain it,' Boston forward Milan Lucic said. ``Especially in a series where you don't have home-ice advantage, you've got to find a way to win at least one game on the road if you want to come out on top, and for some reason we haven't been able to.'
Yet if Vancouver can't improve on its last trip to Boston, the finals will go to Game 7 in Vancouver on Wednesday night.
``We've been through this, I don't know how many times,' Boston coach Claude Julien said. ``We're not a team that's done anything the easy way, so in a way, it's not a surprise we're here.'
In the last 21 times the finals were even going to Game 5, the winner went on to claim the Cup 15 times - yet Colorado (2001), Tampa Bay (2004) and Pittsburgh (2009) all overcame Game 5 losses to win it in the past decade.
The Canucks were grateful to return to Rogers Arena, where they eked out two one-goal wins to open the series on late goals by Raffi Torres and Burrows. Vancouver seemed to be in control when the club left Canada last weekend - but then the Bruins seized charge of the series with two inspired performances after Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome's late hit knocked Horton out for the series with a concussion early in Game 3.
Boston is still having tremendous defensive success in the finals, holding 2010 league MVP Henrik Sedin without a point and limiting NHL scoring champion Daniel Sedin to one goal. Vancouver's power play is 1 for 25 in the finals - yet the Bruins just haven't scored timely road goals to back up Thomas.
Boston had three early power plays in Game 5 and controlled long stretches of play, but couldn't crack Luongo. Chris Kelly hit Luongo's crossbar with an early shot, and Luongo made a stunning point-blank save on Patrice Bergeron's rebound shot from the slot during Boston's third power play.
After Lapierre's goal, the Canucks weathered Boston's pressure impressively. Luongo was forced to make only a handful of tough saves on Boston's 10 shots in the third.
Luongo has shown resilience throughout the postseason: He came back from a one-game benching in the first round against Chicago with a 2-1 victory in Game 7 after another walk on the seawall. Vigneault unhesitatingly stuck by Luongo in the finals, ignoring widespread trashing of his $10 million goalie after Boston's 8-1 and 4-0 home wins.
``I don't know if they have any seawalls in Boston, but I'm going to look for that,' Luongo said. ``I put my hoody on and my headphones, and I don't know if somebody said anything. I can't hear. I just focus on the journey and everything I need to do to be ready for the game, and that's what gets me prepared.'
Notes: Canucks rookie D Chris Tanev played his first game of the series, replacing Keith Ballard after the veteran struggled in Game 4. Tanev's slick pass set up Glass for his missed chance. ... Tens of thousands of fans flooded downtown for Game 5, wearing their team's crisp blue-and-green jerseys and waving flags or carrying replica Stanley Cups around Granville and Robson streets. The sea of people erupted in raucous cheers when Lapierre scored. ... Boston D Tomas Kaberle played in his 100th postseason game in a career spent entirely with Toronto until this season.
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