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Cup Final opener produced rarity with 1-0 finish

by John Kreiser / NHL.com
If you thought you were watching something special in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, you were right.

Vancouver’s last-minute victory over Boston was just the 11th 1-0 game played in the Stanley Cup Final in the last 50 years. Before Wednesday night, the last Final game to end 1-0 was Anaheim’s Game 2 victory against Ottawa in 2007. The last road team to win a 1-0 game was the Tampa Bay Lightning, who beat the Flames in Calgary to win Game 4 in 2004.

The Canucks and Bruins also played the first 1-0 game in a Final opener in 27 years. The last one came in 1984, when Edmonton’s Kevin McClelland scored in the third period to give the Oilers a 1-0 win against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum. Grant Fuhr made 33 saves in that game, three fewer than Roberto Luongo made for the Canucks. The only other Game 1 to end 1-0 came in 1945, when Toronto beat Detroit in the first of a record three 1-0 games in the Final.

It was the first 1-0 game Vancouver has played in their three trips to the Stanley Cup Final -- in fact, it was the first shutout ever by a Canucks goaltender in the Final. Boston had not played a 1-0 game in the Final since Game 6 in 1974, when the Bruins lost at Philadelphia as the Flyers became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup. In all, the Bruins are 0-3 in 1-0 games in the Final.

But there is some optimism for the Bruins entering Game 2: The last four teams to lose a game 1-0 won the next game. However, the signs are even better for the Canucks: Of the last 10 teams to win a Final game 1-0, eight have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. The only misses were Dallas in 2000 and Anaheim in 2003 -- both beat New Jersey 1-0 but lost the Final.

And don’t expect Game 2 to end in the same score as Game 1: The only time teams have played back-to-back 1-0 games came in 1937, when the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings exchanged victories.

History is made -- Torres, a late signing by the Canucks before the season, also made some history -- his goal with 18.5 seconds remaining was the latest goal ever scored in regulation to break up a scoreless tie. It’s also the latest game-winner scored in regulation in a Final game since Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux scored with 13 seconds left to give the Penguins a 5-4 victory against Chicago in Game 1 of the 1992 Final.

Luongo also made some individual history by becoming the first goaltender in 27 years to put up a shutout in his Stanley Cup Final debut. Fuhr and Toronto’s Frank McCool (1945) are the only ones to do so in the last 80 years. McCool is the only goaltender to have multiple 1-0 wins in a Final -- he also won Game 3 while leading the Leafs to the Cup in his only trip to the championship round.

Good spring for shooters -- There’s no disputing that checking gets tighter and open ice harder to come by in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Yet for the second year in a row, the average goals per game may actually wind up higher in the postseason than it was during the regular season.

Wednesday’s 1-0 victory by the Vancouver Canucks was the 83rd game in this year’s playoffs, with Raffi Torres’ game-winner marking the 469th goal scored so far. That’s an average of 5.65 goals per game -- up about 3 percent from the regular-season average of 5.46.

Last spring’s playoffs produced an average of 6.09 goals per game, a jump of almost 10 percent from the regular-season average of 5.54. Prior to that, the last time there were more goals per game in the playoffs than the regular season was 1995, when the postseason average of 6.18 was above the regular-season figure of 5.97. That was also the last time prior to 2010 that teams averaged more than six goals a game in a playoff year.

One thing that’s all but certain is that this year’s Final will have a lot fewer goals than last year’s. The Flyers and Blackhawks combined for 47 goals in Chicago’s six-game victory -- an average of 7.83 goals that was the highest since the Islanders and North Stars averaged 8.40 in New York’s five-game victory in 1981. Roberto Luongo’s shutout in Game 1 was the first in the Stanley Cup Final since Detroit’s 5-0 victory against Pittsburgh in Game 5 in 2009 -- last year’s Final was the first without a shutout since 1998.

Home cooking -- Remember how road teams were doing so well in the early stages of the Stanley Cup Playoffs? That’s not the case anymore.

Visiting teams won 26 of the 49 games played in the opening round, with San Jose going 3-0 at Los Angeles and Tampa Bay winning its last three games in Pittsburgh. The visitors also went 11-10 in the second round, with the Canucks winning all three of their games at Nashville and the Predators taking two of three in Vancouver.

But home teams have dominated since then, winning nine of the 12 games in the conference finals as well as the opener in the Stanley Cup Final. That has put home teams back over .500, with 43 wins in this year’s 83 playoff games.

Last season’s winning percentage of .517 was the lowest since 2001, when home teams split the 86 games. The last time visiting teams won more than home teams was 1999, when the road teams won 44 of 86 games.

This year’s pattern is much the same as last season, when home teams were 35-39 after the conference semifinals but won 11 of 15 games in the last two rounds to end up 46-43. The two finalists, Chicago (8-3) and Philadelphia (9-2) both dominated at home --just as this year’s final two have done. Vancouver, despite the two losses to Nashville, is 8-3 at Rogers Arena; Boston is 7-3 at TD Garden but has gone 7-1 since dropping the first two games of the opening round to Montreal.
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