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TRUE GRIT TO THE END IN BOSTON
Brian Cazeneuve
June 20, 2011
The inspired, pugnacious Bruins fought their way back from two games down to force a winner-take-all finale against the erratic Canucks in a rowdy and rude championship series
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June 20, 2011

True Grit To The End In Boston

The inspired, pugnacious Bruins fought their way back from two games down to force a winner-take-all finale against the erratic Canucks in a rowdy and rude championship series

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But the win took on totemic significance for the Bruins. In keeping with the lunch-pail image of their Cup-winning teams, they have a locker-room tradition in which the MVP of the preceding victory presents a faded and tattered black-and-gold team windbreaker (purchased by Ference on eBay in March) to the MVP of each subsequent victory—sort of like the Masters' green jacket if you had bought it at Wal-Mart, then dragged it behind your car for several days. But in honor of Horton, who had earned the prize after scoring the winning goal in Boston's seventh-game victory over the Lightning in the conference finals, the Bruins left the jacket hanging in his locker after Game 3. "It wasn't right to give it to someone else," Ference said.

Minutes before the puck dropped in Game 4 on June 8, the arena lights dimmed at TD Garden and a single spotlight focused on a corner of the lower bowl, revealing Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr, the Bruin whose flying Cup winner in 1970 is the defining image of the franchise. Orr began waving a flag with Horton's name and uniform number. A Rockne-like call to action might be too gimmicky for a veteran team steeled by years of late playoff runs, but for a Boston team playing in its first finals in 21 years, it was a galvanizing moment.

Fittingly, Horton appeared in the dressing room after Boston's 4--0 shutout to present the jacket to Rich Peverley, an unheralded 28-year-old forward who replaced him on the top line with Lucic and David Krejci and scored a pair of goals. Without Rome and Dan Hamhuis—the Canucks' top defenseman hadn't played since getting injured in Game 1—Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault subbed in veteran Keith Ballard, who was outskated and outthumped by Boston's forwards throughout the chippy contest.

No Bruin showed more fight than goalie Tim Thomas (see sidebar, left), who allowed one goal on 79 shots over the two games in Boston and got ornery on both nights. He floored Henrik Sedin with an unpenalized body check in Game 3 and chopped Burrows's right leg after he had slashed at Thomas's stick in Game 4.

Roberto Luongo was neither as pugnacious nor as resilient as his counterpart. During Game 3, Luongo declined Vigneault's invitation to come out after he had surrendered five goals. In the Canucks' 4--0 loss in Game 4, Vigneault finally replaced Luongo with backup Cory Schneider after the last Bruins goal. In the dressing room an hour later, a reporter asked Luongo if he had been aware that fans watching on a video screen at Rogers Arena in Vancouver had cheered when Vigneault pulled him. Luongo turned and walked into a players-only hallway, where he whacked an equipment bag. It was one of the Canucks' more effective hits of the night.

About five hours before the start of Game 5 in Vancouver last Friday, Burrows was sitting with Luongo at lunch when the goalie announced he was going for a walk around the city's scenic seawall, where the swarm of bodies in hockey jerseys is typically as cluttered as the traffic outside his crease. Just a man with a hoodie, some headphones and the collective dream of an entire city on his shoulders. Often vexed by the fickle impulses of his own self-confidence, Luongo had used the same head-clearing tactic before beating the Blackhawks 2--1 in Game 7 of the opening round. But Burrows was shocked. "There might be a few people out there," he warned. "And Roberto says [to me], 'I know, but I just want to relax.' Right, relax. Relax now? O.K., if he can relax now with the heat on him like that, I'm thinking he's gonna get a shutout."

In Game 5, Vancouver's reeling defense— fortified by the play of Andrew Alberts and Chris Tanev, both healthy scratches in the series opener who had been forced into duty after the losses of Hamhuis and Rome—did a superb job of keeping rebounds away from Luongo for most of the first four power plays, all of which went to Boston. When the Bruins got second chances, Luongo responded with sparkling stops. In the first period he slapped away a goalmouth tip by Bergeron with his left arm, then quickly reset before knocking away Bergeron's rebound try with his blocker. "We'll live and die with Roberto any day," says Kesler.

With Luongo standing tall, the Canucks' forwards set about breaking through on Thomas. During Games 1 and 2 they had been able to exploit the goalie's fearlessly aggressive style, scoring goals when Thomas's first move left him out of position. Early in the third period, Bieksa snapped a wrist shot several feet past a lunging Thomas's left shoulder, hitting the endboards and leaving the net wide open to the goaltender's right. The puck took a fortuitous hard bounce behind the goal, caroming too quickly for Thomas to play it or set himself to block it. As Vancouver's Manny Malhotra tied up defenseman Dennis Seidenberg in the low slot, center Maxim Lapierre parked unguarded on the left side and took the rebound. Diving desperately toward the goal, Thomas got his blocker on Lapierre's quick shot, but the puck dribbled across the line to put the Canucks up 1--0, an advantage that held to the end of the game. Boston was supposed to be the team with extra grit, but a pair of Vancouver's third-line scrappers, Raffi Torres in Game 1 and now Lapierre, had the lone goals in a pair of 1--0 victories.

Of course this was a finals in which both teams have been consistently feisty on and off the ice, and even up 3--2 in the series Luongo couldn't resist taking a jab at Thomas's missed save after the game. "It's not hard if you're playing in the paint," he said. "It's an easy save for me, but if you're wandering out and [playing] aggressive like he does, that's going to happen." Asked later if he could say something good about Luongo, Thomas replied, "I didn't realize it was my job to pump his tires." The words were further fodder for the sixth-game dramatics that followed.

Before the halfway point of the first period in Game 6 on Monday, Luongo had already been demoted to the bench, having given up three goals in 3:04. One defeat from losing the Cup, Boston responded by thoroughly dominating Vancouver.

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