Commentary

Goalies steal the show

With Thomas and Luongo on fire, expect a low-scoring B's-Canucks finals series

Updated: June 2, 2011, 10:04 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- When there are two Vezina Trophy finalists in opposing nets in the Stanley Cup finals, it's a strong possibility the red lamp behind them won't shine too often.

That was the case here in Game 1 of the finals between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night at Rogers Arena.

It was a goaltending firefight.

Both the Bruins' Tim Thomas and the Canucks' Roberto Luongo were outstanding between the pipes, and if their respective performances were any indication of what is to come, goals will be at a premium and fans are going to see some exciting hockey.

[+] EnlargeTim Thomas
Rich Lam/Getty ImagesTim Thomas made 33 saves and was nearly flawless in Game 1, giving up only one goal with 18.5 seconds remaining in the game.

In the end, however, Vancouver won as the Canucks scored with 18.5 seconds remaining in the third period en route to a 1-0 victory. Luongo made 36 saves, and Thomas pushed away 33 shots.

"Timmy's great. Luongo is great. I expect it not to be high-scoring games in this series," Bruins forward David Krejci said. "I like our game. We played well defensively, and that's how you want to play on the road. It was just a tough break at the end. We'll move on."

By the way Thomas was smiling and joking after the game, one never would have guessed he was the losing goalie, which is a good sign for the Bruins. He also was very serious and did not want to focus solely on his performance after the game.

"At the end of regulation, they had more goals than us, so the game was over," he said. "A loss is a loss. It really doesn't matter what the score was at the end of the day. By the time Saturday comes around, it's not going to matter that it was 1-0."

Boston certainly had its chances, too, but couldn't capitalize on them because Luongo was playing just as calmly and confidently at the other end of the ice. The Bruins would not be playing for the Cup if it wasn't for Thomas' play this season, especially in the playoffs, and when he plays the way he did in Game 1 against the Canucks, his teammates need to take advantage of it.

"We need to reward him for his efforts, and that's the bottom line," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said.

On the defensive side, Boston's blueliners did a solid job in front of Thomas, blocking shots and moving the bodies out from in front of him in order to give him a clear view of the six ounces of vulcanized rubber that was coming at him.

When there were defensive breakdowns and Vancouver created quality scoring chances, Thomas came up with timely saves.

There were three in particular.

With 14:59 remaining in the third period, the Canucks' Jannik Hansen had a breakaway and attempted to go five-hole on Thomas. But the Boston netminder locked up his pads and didn't allow the puck to sneak through.

Later in that period, Vancouver created a 2-on-1, but Thomas once again denied the opportunity, stoning Maxim Lapierre.

Thomas also got some help from his best friend -- the post. With 5:35 remaining, the Canucks' Alexander Edler rang a shot from the slot off the post.

"Tim, like the entire playoffs, saved us a couple of times," Seidenberg said. "He was sharp. He saw a lot of pucks pretty well, and we did a decent job cleaning up in front of him."

[+] EnlargeRoberto Luongo
Brian Babineau/Getty ImagesRoberto Luongo made 36 saves in Game 1, indicating to the Bruins that goals will be at a premium this series.

Even though he nearly made a stick save, Thomas could not be blamed for the game-winning goal by the Canucks' Raffi Torres with 18.5 seconds remaining in regulation. Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk was beat on the Bruins' blue line on the play that resulted in the winning tally. He said after the game that he hesitated a bit because he thought Vancouver's Ryan Kesler was offsides on the play, but Boychuk also admitted he needed to get back into the play.

"I was trying to stop the pass and push [the play] back the other way," Boychuk said. "[Thomas] played unbelievable. You can't say much more about Tim. He's playing unbelievable, and we need him to play like that."

Thomas said he had a clear view of the play developing at the blue line.

"I saw the guy with the puck get into an area where I had to respect the shot, so I went out on him to take the shot," Thomas said.

With his 36-save performance, Luongo recorded the first 1-0 shutout in the opening game of a Stanley Cup finals series since 1984 -- when Grant Fuhr made 33 saves for the Edmonton Oilers against the New York Islanders.

It was Luongo's league-leading third shutout of the 2011 postseason, each of which has come in Game 1 of a series. He also wiped out the Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 (32 saves) and the Nashville Predators 1-0 (20 saves)

When asked whether he thought it was going to be a duel of the masked men, Luongo responded by saying: "Right away Timmy made a few big saves in the first few minutes. Then they got their power play and I was feeling good. As the game was moving along, obviously there wasn't a lot of room. But when saves needed to be made, we were both making them. I had a feeling we were going to go to overtime and play for a little while here."

If both goaltenders continue to play the way they did in Game 1, this series will no doubt be a low-scoring affair.

"Well, we got two of the best goaltenders in the league battling it out. So obviously scoring is going to be a challenge for both teams," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "Obviously two totally different styles of goaltending. Our goaltender always plays in the blue, stays in his ice. Their goaltender is always out of the blue and comes into other people's ice. We're going to need a little bit of clarification there, especially when he's initiating contact with our team. I'm sure we'll be able to figure it out."

When a game is scoreless, especially with these types of world-class goaltenders between the pipes at this point of the season, teams will attempt to throw everything possible at the net and see what happens. What happened in Game 1 was that both goaltenders stopped just about everything.

Because the Bruins have played all different styles of games this postseason, Boston coach Claude Julien expects much of the same the rest of the way. He said he doesn't get the sense that it will continue to be a goaltending duel.

"It's the way it happened tonight," Julien said. "I think it's pretty hard to predict what's going to happen because throughout the playoffs there's been different situations that happen. Some games you get those scoreless games for most of it, and then other games everything seems to go in. We'll take it one game at a time."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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