BOSTON — When Brad Marchand whistled a shot over Roberto Luongo’s shoulder early in Game 6, Vancouver’s enigmatic goalie looked a bit surprised, a little shaky.
When Milan Lucic trickled another goal through Luongo’s legs 35 seconds later, the Boston Bruins could tell Luongo was off — and they were on.
The tension of an elimination game eroded right along with Luongo’s poise. With another goal by Andrew Ference moments later, Luongo was history, and the Bruins were headed back to Vancouver for the Stanley Cup Finals’ grand finale.
The Canucks could have raised the Stanley Cup on Monday night, but the Bruins refused to allow a Garden party for the visitors. They even chased Luongo off their home ice in the first period, evening the series with a 5-2 victory.
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“We wanted to make sure if we went down, we went down fighting,” Marchand said.
Only Luongo went down. The Bruins put the Canucks’ goalie and the Stanley Cup back on the shelf — and back on a plane to the West Coast.
“I’m proud of the guys,” said Mark Recchi, who had three assists. “We had our backs to the wall, we’ve been resilient all year, and we came out and had a great first period and did what we had to do tonight, and it comes down to Game 7. It’s one game now.”
For the sixth time in the past 10 seasons, the Finals have been stretched to their limit. The home team hasn’t lost in this series, with Vancouver winning three one-goal games and Boston posting three blowout victories, but the Bruins are riding a wave of momentum toward their first title since 1972 with three wins in the past four games.
Tim Thomas made 36 saves for the Bruins, giving up two third-period goals while burnishing his credentials for the Conn Smythe Trophy as Boston moved one win away from its first championship since 1972.
League MVP Henrik Sedin scored his first point of the Finals with a late power-play goal for the Canucks, who flopped in their first attempt to win the franchise’s first championship. Maxim Lapierre also scored in the third period for the Canucks, who will get one last try at a Rogers Arena filled with worried Vancouverites hoping their maddening team can come through.
Thomas has given up eight goals in a virtuoso performance in the finals — but the spotlight in Game 6 was trained squarely on the other net.
After Luongo led Vancouver to the brink of a title with a stellar performance in a 1-0 victory Friday, the Canucks hoped to celebrate in Boston. The Bruins canceled the festivities with yet another stunning barrage of goals against Luongo, who was ventilated for 15 goals in just over 4 1⁄2 periods in Boston.
“You can’t hang your head and feel sorry for yourself,” Luongo said. “That’s the worst thing I could do. ... I had a good feeling all day. Before the series started, I said I enjoyed playing in this building. Just got to move on right now. Got to believe in myself, right?”
Boston even set a Finals record with four goals in 4:14 while chasing Luongo and welcoming his backup, Cory Schneider, with a quick goal from Michael Ryder.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault wasted no time confirming Luongo will start Game 7 in Vancouver, where he already has two shutouts in the series.
“I don’t have to say anything to him,” Vigneault said. “He’s a professional. His preparation is beyond reproach, and he’s going to be ready for Game 7. ... It happened. There’s nothing we can do about it. We’ve already turned the page on that, and we’re going back home.”
The Bruins are one win away from their Original Six franchise’s first championship since 1972. Boston has lost its last five trips to the Finals since, never even reaching a seventh game — but the Bruins can hang another banner in the Garden rafters with one road win.
And the Bruins have ample experience in Game 7. They’ve already played two in these playoffs, beating Montreal in the first round and Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals — but both of those games were at home, where Boston finished the postseason with 10 wins in its past 11 games.
If Vancouver can’t regroup in the next 48 hours after another East Coast collapse, the Canucks will waste the best regular season in franchise history. Vancouver lost Game 7 of the 1994 finals to Mark Messier’s New York Rangers, and hadn’t been back to the finals since.
Vancouver probably could tell Game 6 was trouble from the opening shift: Second-line forward Mason Raymond was taken to a hospital with an undisclosed injury after he ran into the boards backward and bent at the waist in a collision with Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk. The Canucks gave no immediate details on his injury or condition.