BOSTON – The Boston Bruins got their swagger back in time to save their season.
Tim Thomas defiantly defended his team after two close one-goal losses to open the Stanley Cup final and backed it up with 40 saves Monday as the Bruins handed the Vancouver Canucks a humbling 8-1 loss in Game 3.
It was the most complete effort of the series for a Bruins team that was clearly energized by a return to the rocking TD Garden. A four-goal outburst in the second period was made possible by the solid play of Thomas and helped Boston narrow the gap in the series to 2-1.
Game 4 goes Wednesday night before the final shifts back to Vancouver for Game 5 on Friday.
The Bruins victory was even more impressive because it came without Nathan Horton, the team’s second-leading playoff scorer who was knocked out of the game at 5:07 of the first period by a devastating late hit from Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome. Horton laid motionless on the ice for several minutes before being carted off on a stretcher and taken to hospital.
Rome was given a five-minute major for interference and could find himself facing a suspension after Mike Murphy reviews the play.
Mark Recchi scored twice, Michael Ryder had a goal and two assists while Andrew Ference, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Dan Paille and Chris Kelly also scored for Boston.
Jannik Hansen replied for Vancouver.
It was a tough night for Canucks starter Roberto Luongo, who was beaten four times on 14 shots in the middle period after allowing just two goals in the opening two games.
Boston’s first two goals were the result of fortunate breaks. Canucks defenceman Alex Edler had his stick inexplicably shatter right after the opening faceoff in the second period and he was standing helplessly in front when Ference’s shot through traffic floated past Luongo at 11 seconds.
Recchi made it 2-0 with his second power-pay goal of the series at 4:22 when an attempted pass deflected off Ryan Kesler’s stick and through Luongo’s legs.
The Bruins had all kinds of life at that point and Thomas ensured they kept the momentum, stopping a tough tip from Raffi Torres and denying Manny Malhotra on a partial breakaway.
Marchand soon followed with one of the nicest goals of the entire playoffs. The little sparkplug took control of a neutral zone turnover, chipped the puck past Edler and fought off Kesler before outwaiting Luongo to score short-handed at 11:30.
A huge rebound by Luongo off a long shot ensured the final period would be played without suspense. The puck came right out to Krejci, who roofed a shot to make it 4-0 at 15:47.
The first Stanley Cup final game played in Boston since 1990 was arguably the biggest the team had faced since last winning a championship in 1972. The Bruins knew falling behind 3-0 in the series would virtually ensure a quick end to their title aspirations.
Fans inside TD Garden waved yellow towels with the word “Believe” printed across them and welcomed the Bruins home with an ear-splitting ovation that lasted throughout the pre-game introductions, national anthem and opening faceoff. A number of fans from Vancouver made the 5,000-kilometre trip to Boston _ including The Green Men, who sat about 15 rows behind the visiting goal _ while a full house watched on the scoreboard back at Rogers Arena.
Shawn Thornton was inserted in Boston’s lineup in place of rookie Tyler Seguin and made his presence felt with an early hit on Alex Burrows, the Canucks agitator who is considered Public Enemy No. 1 here after biting Patrice Bergeron’s finger in Game 1.
The Bruins were intent on upping their physicality but Vancouver didn’t back down. The teams went toe-to-toe with one another and the Canucks ended up having the most dangerous scoring chances in the first period after weathering an early storm that included killing off Rome’s five-minute major for the hit on Horton.
Mason Raymond made a lovely move to beat Dennis Seidenberg but had two glorious opportunities stopped by Thomas, who looked poised and confident all night long.
The biggest ovation of the night came in the third period when Thomas charged out of his net and knocked over Henrik Sedin. The goaltender was even credited with a hit on the play.
Referees Stephen Walkom and Dan O’Rourke tried to keep the bad blood from boiling over by handing out multiple misconducts in the third period, but had minimal success. Milan Lucic waved his finger in the face of Burrows after one late scrum _ Bruins coach Claude Julien said earlier in the day he wouldn’t look kindly on such behaviour from his players _ before Paille put an exclamation mark on the victory with a goal Luongo should have stopped at 11:38.
Hansen ended Thomas’s shutout bid at 13:53 before Recchi and Kelly added two more late ones as Vancouver suffered its worst loss since Chicago beat them 5-0 in Game 5 of the opening round.
The Canucks remain two wins away from the first Stanley Cup win in franchise history, but the complexion of the series has changed.
Notes: It was the 25th anniversary of the trade that brought Cam Neely to Boston from Vancouver … Neely also celebrated his 46th birthday … Counting playoffs and regular season, it was the 1,000th career NHL game for Bruins defenceman Tomas Kaberle … Michael J. Fox was among the celebrities in attendance.