Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler and the Vancouver Canucks celebrate after defeating the Boston Bruins by a score of 1-0 in Game 5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER - Their character had been questioned, their resolve challenged.
The Vancouver Canucks answered the only way they could.
The Canucks showed their confidence and ability to forget the past by winning a game they couldn't afford to lose Friday. That win moved them to within one victory of claiming the Stanley Cup.
Maxim Lapierre scored early in the third period and goaltender Roberto Luongo made 31 saves for the shutout as the Canucks defeated the Boston Bruins 1-0 to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Canucks have a chance to claim their first Stanley Cup in franchise history Monday in Boston. It's a huge turnaround for a team that looked like road kill after being outscored 12-1 during two losses in Boston that tied the series 2-2.
Some hard lessons from the past helped the Canucks deal with the present.
"We have been through this before,'' said defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who assisted on the winning goal. "We are a veteran team.
"We have been through these kind of games. The Chicago series prepared us for coming back in the playoffs and regrouping after being down. We can handle pretty much everything right now.''
A Game 7, if necessary, will be Wednesday in Vancouver.
Lapierre took a spear from huge Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara in the first period, but earned his revenge by breaking a 0-0 tie at 4:35 of the third.
Bieksa shot a puck wide of the goal that hit the back boards and bounced onto Lapierre's stick. He banked a shot off Bruins' goaltender Tim Thomas into the net for his second goal of the playoffs.
The crowd of 18,860 went wild while Lapierre danced on his skates.
"I had so many thoughts in my head, I just began jumping,'' chuckled Lapierre, a grinding centre the Canucks picked up at the trade deadline.
Lapierre is an example of the rejuvenated attitude the Canucks took into Game 5. They refused to let the Bruins intimidate them or draw them into retaliation penalties. Vancouver skated away from scrums and didn't yap at the referees.
"When you come out and have fun, it makes things way easier,'' said Lapierre. "This is what the whole team did tonight.
"We came out confident and played a really good game.''
Captain Henrik Sedin said the Canucks were willing to pay the price.
"We didn't get anything for free," he said. "We stayed focused throughout the game. We had to battle through penalty kills and a lot of different things. We stuck with it and I'm really proud of this team."
Coach Alain Vigneault said his team showed its resiliency.
"We're playing for the Stanley Cup here, the hardest thing each and every one of us has tried to do,'' said Vigneault.
"I know our guys were going to be focused. Our guys went out and played hard.''
After a couple of shaky games in Boston, Luongo was back to his old form.
"It's not the first time it's happened,'' said Luongo, who earned his second shutout of the finals and fourth of the playoffs. "I know what I need to do to get ready and have my A game.
"I thought we all played well and we all stepped up our level of play to take it to a new level we needed to win this game. We do what ever it takes. That's what we need to do to win.''
Luongo got some help from his defence. Plenty of shots were blocked and the Bruins didn't get many second chances.
"We didn't make Luongo work hard enough for the win," said Thomas. "I don't think we tested him enough. We didn't get the same type of chances that we were getting in Games 3 and 4."
The Bruins had a chance to take control of the game in the first period but failed to score on three power-play chances. Boston's power play is now 3-for-21 on the series.
"Tonight was certainly not a good night for our power play,'' sighed Boston coach Claude Julien. "It wasn't a good night for our whole team, as far as creating good, quality scoring chances.
"We need to be a little more aggressive in that area than we were tonight.''
A sense of excitement mixed with apprehension gripped the city prior to the game. There was the same anticipation as the gold medal match at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
A loud crowd let their emotions loose inside Rogers Arena while thousands watched outdoors on big screens.
One fan in the arena waved a teddy bear with the head ripped off. NBA superstar Steve Nash, who grew up in Victoria, got the crowd on its feet by waving a towel. Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo was in the stands while the Green Men were in their spot beside the Bruins' penalty box.
The Canucks have travelled a long road this season. The end is finally in sight, but no one expects the final few steps to come easily.
"We know it's going to be the biggest game of our life, the next one,'' said Lapierre. "Boston is going to come really hard. We are going to have to be ready for the challenge.''
CUP NOTES: In 21 finals tied 2-2, the team winning Game 5 has won the Stanley Cup 15 times. The last team to lose Game 5 but go on to win the championship was Pittsburgh in 2009. ...Home clubs are 4-0 in the final for the third consecutive season. ...Bruins forward Brad Marchand played half a season with former Canuck defenceman Luc Bourdon with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Junior Hockey League. Bourdon was killed in a May 29, 2008 motorcycle accident. ...The Canucks inserted rookie defenceman Chris Tanev into the lineup while Keith Ballard was a scratch.