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THN at the Stanley Cup: Luongo comes up large for lucky Canucks

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)

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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 – During the 1988 U.S. presidential campaign, Saturday Night Live did a hilarious spoof on a debate between candidates George H.W. Bush (played by Dana Carvey) and Michael Dukakis (played by John Lovitz). After listening to Carvey’s character answer every question by saying, “stay the course,” and “thousand points of light,” Lovitz’s character turns to the camera and says, “I can’t believe I’m losin’ to this guy!”

Now you get a pretty good idea of how the Boston Bruins feel right about now. Despite playing well enough to win in Games 1 and 2, dominating in 3 and 4 and pushing the pace for much of Game 5, the Bruins find themselves one win away from being vanquished in the Stanley Cup final. The reality is the Vancouver Canucks should feel extremely lucky to be in this position and thanking their lucky stars that the Stanley Cup stopped being awarding on aggregate goal totals back in 1914. The Canucks have been outscored by a whopping 13-5 margin in the series.

But that matters not. What matters is Vancouver is up 3-2 in the series after a 1-0 win in Game 5 that was due in large part to Roberto Luongo, who displayed a remarkable ability to bounce back and an even more impressive ability to block out perhaps the most criticism and scrutiny in Stanley Cup final history. Maxim Lapierre, who until the third period had only distinguished himself with some pretty silly diving antics, provided all the offense the Canucks needed when Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, taking a page from the Nicklas Lidstrom playbook, missed the net on purpose and had the puck come back out to Lapierre, who put it past Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.

“(Thomas) is coming out far, so the only way to make him pay is to put pucks hard off the boards and hope they bounce back in the slot and that’s what happened,” Bieksa said. “Obviously I’m not a geometry whiz, so I didn’t know exactly where (it would go), but I was hoping it would bounce somewhere near the front of the net.”

Thomas was outstanding and whether the Bruins win or lose, it’s difficult to imagine he won’t win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, unless of course Luongo pitches another shutout in Game 6 or 7. The story of the night was Luongo, who continues to forge a career out of coming up with otherworldly performances when people doubt and criticize him the most. (Big assist to the rabid crowd at Rogers Arena, by the way. From the beginning of the game, they wildly cheered Luongo for even the most routine saves, which had to give him a pretty good feeling.)

Prior to Game 5, the Canucks to a man were saying they had to find a way to figure Thomas out. They didn’t exactly do that, but they managed to get one by him by capitalizing on his penchant for coming out to challenge shooters. Now it’s the Bruins who must come up with a formula for getting to a goalie who has relocated his game.

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Hours before the game, Luongo went for a walk along what is known as The Seawall, a 14-mile stretch of path along the Pacific Ocean that goes through Stanley Park and is one of the most scenic places in the world. He had to go incognito in this hockey mad town and the walk allowed him to clear his head.

“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.”

The Canucks are a funny group. They seem to have a swagger about them that makes them easy targets for criticism and leads them to say things that certainly give the impression they’re baiting their opponents.

For example, after the morning skate, Bieksa was asked about the Bruins tradition of awarding a jacket to the player of the game and was asked whether the Canucks had any such ritual.

“Peewee teams do that sort of thing, don’t they?” Bieksa said.

And when asked after the game how difficult it is for a goaltender to play bounces off the back boards such as the one that victimized Thomas in Game 5, Luongo responded by saying, “It’s not hard if you’re playing in the paint. It’s an easy save for me, but if you’re wandering out and (being) aggressive like he does, that’s going to happen.”

It remains to be seen whether that kind of bravado is going to play in the Bruins room and what effect it will have on their effort in Game 6. Likely not much, since the Stanley Cup is on the line and that should provide all the motivation both teams need to put forth their most determined effort of the series.

And if the Canucks can find a way to win on the road in Game 6, they’ll have those bragging rights for at least a year.

THN’s 3 Stars
1. Roberto Luongo
2. Tim Thomas
3. Kevin Bieksa

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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