VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks have staggered home for the last time this season, exhausted and battered after one last Boston beatdown.
Although they’ve lost three of their last four games to the surging Bruins at the close of a contentious two-week Stanley Cup finals, the Canucks are ready to reap their reward for grinding out the NHL’s best regular-season record.
They get to play Game 7 at home — and home-ice advantage means more than anybody expected in a series that’s otherwise been utterly unpredictable.
Vancouver hosts the Bruins on Wednesday night in both teams’ 107th and final game. The Canucks still hope to win their first NHL title after flopping in their first attempt Monday in Boston, while the Bruins are surging in confidence while closing within a game of ending a 39-year Stanley Cup drought.
“This is playoff hockey at its finest,” Vancouver center Manny Malhotra said. “No one wants to budge on home ice. This entire series has been a full playoff experience, filled with a lot of different types of games.”
The home team has won every game to date, but Boston has done it better than the favored Canucks. While the Bruins blew out Vancouver by a combined 17-3, the Canucks eked out three one-goal victories.
And nobody exemplifies this series’ strange duality better than Luongo. Vancouver’s enigmatic goalie has been outstanding at home, allowing just two goals in three games while posting two 1-0 shutouts, but the Canucks’ $10 million man was horrific in Boston, giving up 15 goals in slightly more than four periods while getting pulled twice, including from Game 6.
Perhaps after one final head-clearing walk on the Vancouver seawall, his meditation of choice before two key victories this postseason, he’ll get his last chance at redemption on the same ice where he backstopped Canada to Olympic gold last year.
“We’re going to put what happened (in Game 6) behind us as soon as possible, and get ready for obviously what is going to be a dream, playing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals,” Luongo said. “I’ve been in those situations before. I know how to handle it. I’ll be ready for it.”
Daniel Sedin even guaranteed a Game 7 victory to the Vancouver Sun on Monday night.
They’ll probably have to do it in another nail-biting game in Vancouver, where the Canucks won all three games with goals in the third period or overtime.
The Canucks’ superior talent has been obvious throughout the season, with Henrik and Daniel Sedin — the NHL’s last two scoring champions — leading an aggressive style that showed excitement can win in a league too often dominated by trap defenses.
Since the NHL’s first wave of expansion in 1968, no team has won the Stanley Cup while being outscored in the finals. The Canucks almost certainly will be the first to do it if they win Game 7 after Boston outscored them 19-8 in the first six games.