Stanley Cup Finals Game 6 Preview
BOSTON (AP) - Even after all the taunts, bites and vicious hits that the Vancouver Canucks have thrown at the Boston Bruins over the past two weeks, skating the Stanley Cup around the Garden ice would be the biggest insult of all.
The Canucks could do it after Game 6 on Monday night, when they'll attempt to finish off the testiest Stanley Cup finals in recent memory. If the Bruins win again, the Cup will be claimed Wednesday in Vancouver.
According to NHL odds and oddsmakers from online sports book Bodog have made the Bruins -143 money line favorites for Monday's game against the Canucks. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 71% of more than 5,743 bets for this game have been placed on the Bruins -143.
After racking up the regular season's best record and then surviving several playoff scares, the Canucks don't want to wait another day for their franchise's first championship.
``We're in a great spot,'' captain Henrik Sedin said Sunday after the Canucks' last practice in Boston. ``We're one win away from winning it, so we're excited. But we know if we get out of our comfort zone and start getting overly excited, it's going to take away from our game. That's a key for us, to come in here tomorrow and play the way we have all year.''
Although New England has rallied behind the Bruins in their quest for their first Cup since 1972, the streets of downtown Boston are unlikely to be filled Monday night with more than 100,000 screaming hockey fans and revelers, as Vancouver was last Friday when the Canucks moved to the brink with a 1-0 victory in Game 5.
Vancouver might be ready for a party that will make last year's Olympic festivities look like a high school dance, but nothing in the series' first five games suggests anybody will be celebrating before Wednesday.
The home teams are unbeaten in the finals, and Boston has won nine of its last 10 at the Garden after losing its first two to Montreal in the first round.
``We don't want to see anybody raising the Cup on our home ice,'' Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. ``We can't focus on the future or on the past. We have to be in the moment in Game 6.''
The Canucks have been anticipating this moment all season long while moving to the brink of the first Stanley Cup title for a Canadian club since 1993. Vancouver has persevered despite key injuries, a brutal travel schedule and a fan base that's both adoring and hypercritical.
``When they say it's the hardest trophy to win, they're absolutely right,'' Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. ``It's so taxing physically on the players, so demanding with the travel, that it makes it a challenge. But our group, we said all along since Day One that we were ready for this, and we're trying to prove it.''
But can the Canucks prove it without going to Game 7? Boston outscored them 12-1 in the series' first two games at TD Garden - and nobody exemplifies Vancouver's road struggles better than goalie Roberto Luongo, who turned in three stellar performances at home and laid two eggs in Boston.
The Canadian Olympic star is just 5-5 in the postseason with a 3.49 goals-against average and an .885 save percentage away from Vancouver, compared to a 10-3 mark with a 1.70 GAA and a .943 save percentage at Rogers Arena. All four of Luongo's playoff shutouts were at home, too.
``I don't want to start making excuses for what happened here in the first two games,'' said Luongo, who gave up 12 goals in just over four periods before getting pulled from Game 4. ``Maybe they got the first goal, a couple of lucky bounces, whatever it was, and as a team we got away from the game plan, myself included.''
Boston goalie Tim Thomas has held the NHL's highest-scoring team to just six goals in five games, limiting the Sedin wins to two combined points. He sees ample reason to believe the Bruins can extend their season to its limit.
The Bruins have lost three one-goal games in Vancouver.
``You try to get the same focus that you had as a kid when you were out playing on the pond and you're just enjoying the game,'' Thomas said. ``Really, if you approach it like that, it can be really fun.''
Although the series has been a fascinating contrast of styles on the ice, it's also featured more than its share of bad sportsmanship, posturing and questionable behavior - from Alex Burrows' bite in Game 1 and the ensuing taunts to Aaron Rome's hit on Nathan Horton in Game 3.
Luongo sparked another minor fire after Game 5 while explaining that his goaltending style might have given him a better chance than Thomas to stop Maxim Lapierre's game-winning goal. The Bruins mostly brushed it off, and Luongo didn't apologize Saturday while noting he had praising Thomas throughout the series - ``pumping his tires,'' Luongo called it - while Thomas hadn't said anything complimentary about him.
``I know we're in the Stanley Cup final, and everything is under the microscope and going to get blown out of proportion,'' Luongo said. ``My whole comment, I don't think was a negative comment if you take the whole comment. But at the end of the day, you know what? I'm one win away from winning the Stanley Cup, and that's all I really care about right now. All the other stuff is noise to me.''
The 37-year-old Thomas chuckled Sunday about the entire brouhaha.
``I didn't realize it was my job to pump his tires,'' Thomas said. ``I guess I have to apologize for that.''
Thomas understands why fans and reporters become fascinated by verbal sparring, sometimes even creating it when none exists. The Boston goalie also knows enough to ignore it from his position.
``When I watched playoffs in the past, sometimes it's fun to listen to what is said,'' Thomas said. ``But when you're playing, I think the best course is to remain focused on what you can control, and that's on the ice.''
The Canucks blew three straight chances to close out the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, but they're 3-1 in closeout games since, finishing off San Jose on their first try in the Western Conference finals.
Boston had two chances to close out series in Game 6 during the postseason, but failed both times, putting them in three elimination games at the Garden.
The Bruins won Game 7 matchups with Montreal and Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but they can't rely this time on Horton, who scored the winning goals in both games.
Horton is out for the series with a concussion, but he showed up in the Bruins' locker room after Game 4 last Wednesday to give a boost to his teammates. Boston's first line looked good with Rich Peverley in Horton's place that night, but did relatively little in Game 5.``We've always believed in ourselves, or we never would have made it to this position,'' Peverley said. ``We still believe we can win.''
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