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Home-ice holding up again in Stanley Cup finals

NHL.com @NHL

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - Home has been sweet in the Stanley Cup finals. Again.

When the Bruins swept Games 3 and 4 in Boston after losing the first two in Vancouver, it marked the third straight playoff the home team won the first four games of the NHL championship series.

In 2009, the visitor lost the first six games before Pittsburgh broke through to win the decisive Game 7 at Detroit. Last year, the home team won the first five before Chicago took the tile in overtime in Game 6 at Philadelphia.

In the 20 years prior, home teams won the first four games just once - in 2003 between Anaheim and New Jersey - but the hosts are 15-2 the last three years, including a pair of late one-goal victories by the Canucks in Games 1 and 2.

"I don't think it's necessarily bringing a home game, it's just bringing our game," Boston coach Claude Julien said after arriving back in Vancouver late Thursday, adding his team just wasn't good enough in the first two games. "We need to play with a lot of emotion, intensity and play on our toes."

It's a level they discovered in Boston, and forward Brad Marchand said it came in part from a boisterous home atmosphere. But for all the momentum they seized by winning those home games by a combined 12-1 score, it won't mean much if they can't win at least one game in Vancouver.

"We have a very tough road ahead," Marchand said. "When you play in front of your crowd you seem to have more emotion and build off their energy, and it can intimidate their team."

Home-ice advantage also means getting the last line change, and while Julien said matchups aren't a concern, getting the ones he wanted was easier at home. That in turn helped Boston re-establish the hard-hitting forecheck it prides itself on.

"It's part of what we want to do in this series and slow down a team that is extremely skilled," Julien said. "They are a highly skilled team and we're probably more of a physical team."

The Canucks believe home ice may help avoid some of those hits because the ice should be better than it was in Boston, where soaring temperatures and humidity made for bouncing pucks.

"We're a more skilled team and we want to be a puck possession team," defenseman Andrew Alberts said. "I think there is better ice here and we can control the play more. ... We've got to get back to the way we played the first two games. We had a good transition game, every time they dumped it in we were right back up to the forwards, got the puck up the ice. We moved it crisp and clean."

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DEJA VU: Canucks coach Alain Vigneault wasted no time declaring beleaguered goaltender Roberto Luongo his Game 5 starter after pulling him from Game 4 after giving up 12 goals in just over five periods in Boston. There was no thought, he said, of repeating his first-round shocker of benching his No. 1 in favor of rookie Cory Schneider, though Luongo says he can now benefit from that.

Pulled twice as the Canucks lost Games 4 and 5 in that series by a 12-2 score, and left on the bench to start Game 6 against rival Chicago, Luongo only had two days to prepare for Game 7, which he won in overtime with 31 saves.

"Pretty much the same situation," Luongo said. "It's the Stanley Cup finals, you have to think about the goals. You can't dwell on what's happened the last couple of games because that will affect you. If you're able to put it behind you and start fresh (Friday) night, you'll be fine."

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BAD MEMORIES: When Boston goalie Tim Thomas left Vancouver after getting caught out of his net and losing Game 2 in overtime to fall behind 2-0 in the series, he almost took a piece of the building with him.

"That stone pillar looked pretty appealing for a punch," Thomas said, looking around the visitors' locker room Thursday. "It took a few minutes to calm myself down and reset."

Counted out despite a pair of close, late losses, Thomas was questioned for his sometimes over-aggressive style, which the Canucks targeted for both winning goals. He returns to Vancouver two wins from a Stanley Cup, and 60 saves shy of Kirk McLean's NHL record of 761 for a single playoff year, set in 1994 during the Canucks' seven-game loss in the finals to the New York Rangers.

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DEPTH DISAPPEARS: When top-line twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin's offense dried up in the second round against Nashville, second-line center Ryan Kesler made up for it. Kesler, a Selke Trophy finalist as the NHL's top defensive forward for a third straight season, was in on 11 of 14 goals against the Predators.

Kesler hasn't been nearly as dominant since pulling up lame during Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against San Jose, and has only has one assist in the finals so far. And Daniel has both of the Sedins' points so far.

"They're elite players, and if we've gotten to where we are today it's because our top players have been, on most nights, the best players on the ice," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "We're no different than anybody else. Obviously we need those guys to play up to their standards, and they will."

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