Vancouver left winger Raffi Torres celebrates after scoring in the closing… (Darryl Dyck / Associated…)
From Vancouver, Canada — The Vancouver Canucks took a bite out of the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, winning the opener of the Stanley Cup finals in the dying seconds of the third period on a fine passing play among players better known for their grit.
Vancouver clawed out a 1-0 victory after Jannik Hansen set up Raffi Torres with a cross-ice pass after Ryan Kesler barely kept the play onside with his left foot on the blue line. Torres barged in on the left side to beat a splendid Tim Thomas to the stick side with 18.5 seconds on the clock, triggering roars from the sellout crowd of 18,860 at Rogers Arena.
"At one point I thought we might be playing all night here," said Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who stopped 36 shots for his postseason-high third shutout — all in the first game of a series.
The first 1-0 Cup finals opener since Grant Fuhr and the Edmonton Oilers stunned the defending champion New York Islanders in 1984 was also the Canucks' fourth straight Game 1 victory this spring. Another good omen for the home side: Teams that have won the first game of the Cup finals have gone on to win the championship in 55 of 71 instances (77%) since the NHL adopted a best-of-seven format in 1939.
Thomas stopped 33 shots, including a game-high eight by Daniel Sedin, but he was helpless on the decisive play.
Torres, who often crosses the line separating aggressiveness and recklessness, said he saw Kesler hold onto the puck and pass to Hansen to create a two-on-one.
"Just got to get open," Torres said of his thoughts. "Made a great play there to get it over. I was fortunate enough to get it in the back of the net."
Hansen knew persistence would be the key against Thomas. "If we keep coming at him and don't get down on ourselves we feel we're in the game and we just need that one chance to get it by him," the Danish forward said.
The game was entertaining but chippy. Each team wasted a five-on-three advantage and squandered six power plays, and the parade to the penalty box made the going choppy.
And there was an unsavory incident at the end of the first period when Vancouver's Alexandre Burrows bit the gloved fingers of Boston's Patrice Bergeron as the two tussled. Burrows might be suspended for Game 2, which will be played Saturday in Vancouver.
Bruins Coach Claude Julien said he hadn't seen the play and knew only what Bergeron had told him.
"If that's the case, it's a classless move, not something players should be doing at this level, anyway," Julien said.
Replays showed Burrows had Bergeron's fingers in his mouth and seemed to bite them. Burrows got a double-minor for roughing and Bergeron got two minutes.
"We were battling. Obviously we had a little exchange there," Burrows said. "I'm not going to say too much about it. I got four minutes on the play and we killed it off. Our guys did a good job killing it off."
But did he bite Bergeron? "I don't think so. He had his finger in my mouth but I don't think I bit him," Burrows said.
Au contraire, according to Bergeron.
"Oh yeah, he did. He cut me open on my finger," the standout center said. "He said I put my fingers in his mouth. I don't mind rough play and pushing and shoving but he didn't have to bite me."
Even if Burrows is banned for a game it will hurt the Canucks more that they lost defenseman Dan Hamhuis to an apparent knee injury early in the second period. Hamhuis delivered a hip check that flipped Boston winger Milan Lucic but got the worst of it himself. Coach Alain Vigneault, sticking to the playoff tradition of hiding injuries, said only that the steady defenseman is day to day.
That was the only blot on Game 1 for the Canucks, who have come to realize that winning leaves a better taste in their mouths than glove leather.