Raffi Torres scored the biggest goal of his NHL career, one that could go down as one of the biggest goals in Vancouver Canucks history, with 18.5 seconds remaining in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night at Rogers Arena to give the Canucks a 1-0 win over the Boston Bruins and a 1-0 series lead.
With less than 30 seconds to play in the third period, Kevin Bieksa hit Ryan Kesler with a homerun pass that he deflected past Boston defender Johnny Boychuk along the boards as he entered the Boston zone. Kesler then collected the puck and spotted Jannik Hansen streaking over the blueline; the Great Dane, smooth as silk, tapped it to Torres as he flew down main street and the grinder one-timed it past Tim Thomas.
Torres’ second career playoff game-winner is the latest go-ahead goal of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the latest in a Stanley Cup Final since Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux scored with 13 seconds left in Game 1 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Final.
In the past 20 years, only four game-winners have been scored in the last two minutes of regulation in the Stanley Cup Final.
And to think, last summer Torres was out of a job until late August when the Canucks signed the unrestricted free agent to a one-year contract.
“Thanks for the reminder,” laughed Torres post-game when asked about his worrisome summer.
“Yeah, you know, it was a long summer. Obviously the phone wasn't ringing off the hook too much. But everything happens for a reason. I've tried everything in my power to put it behind me. Had some great support along the way. Just in a very fortunate situation right now.
“For a chance to reach our ultimate goal, which is winning the Stanley Cup, it's been quite a ride.”
Torres ended a wild ride in Game 1, one that saw a mind-blowing goaltending battle between Vezina candidates Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas.
Luongo and Thomas stopped 69 of 70 shots, with the Canucks keeper besting Boston’s netminder in the end to record his third Game 1 shutout of this post-season and the first opening game donut of the Final since his idol Grant Fuhr did it in 1984.
In 26 career games against the Bruins, Luongo now has five shutouts, the most versus any single team in his career.
Luongo said he knew he was in for a goaltending standoff right from puck drop.
“Right away Timmy made a few big saves in the first few minutes,” said Luongo, referencing saves on Daniel Sedin and Kesler in the first minute of play. “As the game was moving along, obviously there wasn't a lot of room, but when saves needed to be made, we were both making them.”
Too many of Luongo’s 36 saves came with Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara in his grill, something he will have to get accustomed to with the 6-foot-9, 233-pound hulk nearly impossible to move.
Maybe it was a good thing then Chicago Blackhawks forward Dustin Byfuglien gave Luongo all that trouble the last two playoffs.
“Obviously Zdeno is a bit bigger,” said Luongo, turning down the comparison. “On the first power play it was a bit tough to find the puck, but once they got another one, I was able to make a few adjustments and was able to see the puck better.
“I think he's a big body, but at the same time we decided that it's best if we just leave him alone and let me take care of him.”
What needs taking care of for the Canucks between now and Game 2 Saturday night is their power play, which finished 0-for-6 with seven shots.
On the flip side, Vancouver was flawless on the penalty kill eliminating all of Boston’s six power plays, including a 5-on-3 that lasted a minute and 32 seconds.
Dan Hamhuis delivered one of the meanest hip checks possible sending Boston’s Milan Lucic end over end in front of the benches five minutes into the second period.
On the play Hamhuis suffered an undisclosed injury. He was forced to leave the game, bumping the Canucks down to just five defencemen.
The prognosis seems optimistic with Canucks coach Alain Vigneault saying that Hamhuis is “day-to-day” before saying “he’s fine” when questioned about it later on.
Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler all picked up the slack playing over 22 minutes each; Ehrhoff led the charge at 26:26.
Following a Game 1 win by the Canucks, stats are Vancouver’s friend.
Since the NHL introduced the best-of-seven format in 1939, teams winning the opening game of the Stanley Cup Final have gone on to hoist the Holy Grail 77.5 per cent of the time with only 16 of 71 teams able to claw their way back from the deficit.
The stats are even better for teams that win Game 1 on home ice as 86.3 per cent of the time (44 of 51) they’ve gone on to win the series.
Winning Game 1 is old hat to the Canucks, who have won eight consecutive playoff openers and are now 9-1 in Game 1 under coach Alain Vigneault.
This was the first time Vancouver has hosted Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final and it’s also the first time the Canucks have walked away victorious.
Corey Hirsch was the last Canucks goaltender to blank the Bruins, he did it in a 6-0 win on January 15, 1996; the last Stanley Cup Final Game 1 shutout came in 2009 with Detroit beating Pittsburgh 5-0; Raffi Torres led the Canucks in hits with five, while Daniel Sedin had a game-high eight shots.