VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Last night’s game appeared destined for overtime. Less than 20 seconds remained in regulation. Neither team had scored a goal. The power plays had gone a total of 0 for 12. The goalies were putting on a puck-stopping clinic.
The hockey gods said otherwise.
The Bruins and Canucks had played each other evenly, albeit raggedly, for 40 minutes. But in the third period, the Canucks brought their best stuff.
Alexander Edler rattled a shot off the crossbar. Jannik Hansen had a breakaway that Tim Thomas stopped, then made sure to cover with his glove as he was sliding back toward the goal line. The Canucks whistled 14 pucks on the Bruins goalie in the period, with a third of them being Grade A scoring chances.
So after playing their most legless period of the three, the Bruins probably deserved to lose Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.
With 18.5 seconds left in regulation, Raffi Torres cashed in a two-on-one rush to give the Canucks a 1-0 win before 18,860 at Rogers Arena.
“Nice goal by them,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I thought for the first two periods, we played a pretty even game. Obviously in the third, we seemed to lack some energy and lost our legs.
“They just seemed to come at us hard. They kind of took the game over in the third period. Found a way to win with a late goal.’’
The Canucks were the highest-scoring team in the league during the regular season. Thomas was the main reason they managed only one goal last night. Early in the first, the shell-shocked Bruins were under siege. But Thomas (33 saves for the night) was brilliant, using his pads to kick out the in-tight chances that came his way.
Later in the game, Thomas got some help from his penalty kill. During the playoffs, Vancouver had scored on 28.3 percent of its power plays. The Canucks had six chances last night. But the Bruins limited them to seven shots over 9:31 of man-advantage time.
But the masked man at the other end was just as sharp. Roberto Luongo stopped 36 shots, including 17 in the first. During a four-minute power play (Daniel Sedin was called for a high-sticking double minor on Zdeno Chara), the Bruins peppered Luongo with eight pucks. The netminder, with help from his teammates, stopped all of them.
“We need to reward [Thomas] for his efforts,’’ said Milan Lucic. “That’s the bottom line.’’
The winning goal showcased Ryan Kesler at his best. Kesler played 24:23, most of any forward, and won the pivotal puck battle. From deep in his zone, Kevin Bieksa started the breakout with a diagonal pass that glanced off the left-side wall. Johnny Boychuk, the right-side defenseman on the play, read the carom and stepped up, hoping to go the other way.
“Long pass up,’’ Boychuk recalled. “I just tried to stop the pass. I don’t know where the puck went after that.’’
As Boychuk sprinted for the puck, Kesler joined the race and beat the defenseman to it. Kesler was very close to being offside.
But with Boychuk up the ice and out of the picture, Kesler settled the puck along the wall. Rich Peverley closed on Kesler. But the center spotted Hansen, who had just rolled over the boards, streaking toward the slot.
Kesler connected with Hansen. Torres, who had circled back in the neutral zone, now dashed over the blue line with speed. Hansen and Torres had a two-on-one against Chara.
“Some kind of a broken play on the blue line,’’ said Chara. “I don’t know if it was a turnover. Obviously [Kesler] made a nice play hitting the late guy, the guy coming to the net. Very unfortunate.’’
Chara hit the deck to block Hansen’s pass, but the dish was already underneath him and headed for Torres’s blade.
Thomas, brilliant throughout the night, had been tracking Hansen. The puck carrier was far too close to the net for Thomas not to respect his shot. So when Hansen passed instead, Thomas was somewhat surprised. When Thomas saw Torres, it was too late.
“I thought we played a real good road game,’’ Julien said. “The situation we were in after two periods, I didn’t mind it, especially against this hockey club.
“I thought our PK did a great job against their power play. Timmy made the big saves when we had to. For two periods, I was pretty pleased.
“But obviously in the third period, they were the better team. They ended up scoring that goal. It got away from us. But we’ve still got an opportunity in the next game to hopefully get that one and get the home-ice advantage.’’