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The suddenness of the moment surprised even Brad Marchand, the feisty Bruins forward whose bad-angle goal touched off a first-period deluge that ended in a wild 5--2 rout of the Canucks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in Boston. It was a strange game that fit the chaotic nature of a series that was frequently ridiculous but rarely sublime. Gone was the bloodless efficiency with which Vancouver had bowled over opponents to win the Presidents' Trophy during the regular season. The Bruins outscored the Canucks, the NHL's highest-scoring team in 2010--11 as well as its stingiest, 19--8 in the first six games of the series. Meanwhile, Vancouver's top three scorers during the regular season—twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler—combined for just two goals. Boston goalie Tim Thomas and the Canucks' Roberto Luongo traded frantic saves and verbal salvos with equal vigor. And the resilient Bruins forced a deciding Game 7 in Vancouver on Wednesday despite suffering three bitter one-goal losses in the series.
"We never run out of battle," said Marchand after the game. "[Luongo] is not an easy goalie to beat off the rush. I think I caught him off-guard. Myself too. Crazy."
The NHL had invited an aura of mayhem into the series by choosing not to suspend Vancouver forward Alexandre Burrows for biting Bruins center Patrice Bergeron in the midst of a Game 1 scrum. The 2011 finals featured a surprisingly high ratio of menace to panache for an interconference clash between two teams that face each other just once a season and are separated by more than 2,500 miles. Not since the Canucks dumped a young forward named Cam Neely—soon to be a 50-goal scorer—on the Bruins in return for injury-plagued center Barry Pederson in 1986, a deal that still rankles in Vancouver, has there been any sort of resonant history linking these clubs.
But the non-suspension was the spark that set the finals ablaze. Both teams were desperate for a championship, and stocked with enough prickly personalities, including in net, that their enmity quickly rose to a fever pitch. "It's not like either team needs to be told what's at stake," says Boston defenseman Andrew Ference, "but a little stir of the pot kind of turns things up." Or down.
It took just five minutes for the ugliness to escalate in Game 3 on June 6, when defenseman Aaron Rome caught Boston forward Nathan Horton unaware a stride after he had made a pass at the Canucks' blue line. Rome's check was high, and Horton hit the ice headfirst. The result was frightening, as Horton's eyes rolled back in his head and doctors placed a collar around his neck before carefully transferring him to a gurney. Both teams tapped their sticks on the ice and against the sideboards in support—once as Horton, who had suffered a severe concussion, was wheeled off the ice, and again after a scoreboard message announced that he was at the hospital and was able to move his extremities—united in their concern. But they got over it.
While the Canucks' strikingly uneven play swung from overzealous to indifferent—their defense allowed goals on three straight Bruins shots in the third period—the Bruins, down 2--0 in the series, played with single-minded ferocity after the first intermission, during which coach Claude Julien told them to "win it for Horty." "Any nerves we had ... kind of disappeared," says Ference. "From that point on, we played for Nathan." The Bruins stopped overthinking their jittery offensive entries and giving away pucks at Vancouver's blue line and began to gain the zone with alarming ease. The once formidable Canucks defense suddenly looked more like a loose turnstile.
Though the Canucks killed the five-minute major assessed to Rome—who was kicked out of the game and suspended the next day by the NHL for four games, essentially the rest of the series—Boston scored four times in both the second and third periods, getting goals from all four lines in an 8--1 romp. It was only the third Stanley Cup finals game ever to be settled by seven or more goals. Vancouver, still holding a 2--1 series lead, tried to downplay the lopsided score. "This isn't the Champions League [soccer tournament], where they take the aggregate score," said defenseman Kevin Bieksa. "It's only one game."