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Luongo key to Canucks' success, or failure, in Game 7

Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks tend goal against the Boston Bruins during Game Six of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 13, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Elsa/2011 Getty Images

First goal wins?

Since the 1987 series between Edmonton and Philadelphia, six Stanley Cup final series have advanced to Game 7. In each case, the team that scored first won each time, and never trailed. And both the Bruins and Canucks are excellent front-runners.

Boston is 11-1 this postseason when scoring first, and Vancouver is 11-2. In the regular season, the Canucks were the NHL's best at holding early leads, going 41-2-6 when scoring the first goal, while Boston was 30-6-6 and ranked mid-pack.

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In this series, the team scoring first has won each game.

Logically, Vancouver loses Game 7 on Wednesday if netminder Roberto Luongo coughs up soft goals as he did in Game 6.

With his career-long, bewildering inconsistency being dramatized in the series, Luongo criticized Thomas's technique after Game 5 then gave up four goals in 4:14 at the outset of Game 6. He was pulled for the second time in three games in Boston, yet at Rogers Arena he's allowed only two goals in three games.

Meantime, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, the leading Conn Smythe trophy contender, has proven too stingy to let Game 7 turn into a shootout, allowing only eight goals during the entire series.

"He's been in his zone through the whole playoffs," Boston coach Claude Julien said, after Boston's 5-2 win in Game 6. "You can barely count on one hand the bad goals he's given up in the whole playoffs. We all know that teams that have won the Stanley Cup have had unbelievable goaltending. We feel like we've got that."

Aside from the goaltending, home advantage has been a difference maker in the series, with each team winning all three games in their home arenas. Beyond the crowd support, the right to the last player change during substitutions has been a difference maker. Consequently, as the visiting coach, Julien will be challenged to change on the fly to restore the matchup he wants, to counter Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault's strategies.

If Vancouver is to win the first NHL title in the franchise's 40-year history, the Sedin line has to contribute - captain Henrik Sedin scored his first point of the series in Game 6 with a late goal, and in 24 playoff games he has only three goals. Daniel Sedin was scoreless in three consecutive games against Boston before recording two assists on Monday. They lead a power play that's been remarkably ineffective, scoring just two goals in 31 chances while surrendering two shorthanded goals.

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The Sedins have been countered by Julien's ability to get his shutdown defence pair of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg on the ice against them. For his part, Vigneault tries to get the Sedins on the ice against the Bruins' fourth line of Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton. Defensively, he strives to put the defensive pairing of Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa against either of the Bruins' top two lines.

"The person who is best at handling those changes [on the fly]gets the advantage," said former NHL coach Craig Ramsay. "But in a Game 7, at some point you're not going to get the matchup you want so it becomes important to trust your players to get the job done.

"That's why sometimes the very best teams end up in the finals. Their fourth lines can play against the other teams' top line."

Julien has acknowledged during the series that changing on the fly can disrupt a team's rhythm.

"I think it's smoother when you have the last change," he said. "There is less changing on the fly and you get the better match-ups and that's for sure.

"I think we've been more or less content with what they want against us and what we want against them, except obviously the back end [defence]is something that's been a bit of a challenge for both teams to try and get away from or get as a match-up."

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The need for the Sedins and Burrows to score is especially true given what is transpiring on the second line. Ryan Kesler, playing hurt, has been ineffective. Regular winger Mason Raymond will miss the contest with a vertebrae compression fracture, which means a new linemate for Kesler. It also means that Vancouver's fastest player is out, and the Bruins have trouble with speed. Raymond had been generating chances with his wheels.

Against Thomas, smart, inventive plays can exploit his tendency to venture way out of his crease to challenge shooters. The Canucks have abandoned the oft-heard playoff mantra of getting shots on goal and converting second and third chances. They've tailored their attack to Thomas's weaknesses. That means bounce passes off the end boards, give-and-go passes, back-door passes, faking shots to freeze him, and misdirection.

"We weren't just forcing things to get the puck to the net," captain Sedin said. "We made plays, we faked shots, we moved the puck. That's the way, a lot of times, you have to beat this guy."

During the regular season, Vancouver struggled against defensively-oriented teams that were good at even strength, and those are Boston's chief characteristics. For the Bruins, a key will be to employ the unforgiving fore-checking game that they play at home. In becoming more aggressive on the road though, the Bruins do need to find a balance between tough and stupid.

In the third period of Monday's 5-2 win, for instance, Bruins winger Brad Marchand was fortunate that his mugging of Daniel Sedin occurred in front of a couple of paralyzed referees and not in a close game. He landed six punches with his gloved fist (Sedin counted) while referee Kelly Sutherland watched, transfixed.

The best rationale for the attack Marchand was able to offer? "Because I felt like it," he said.

(Editor's Note: An earlier online version of this story contained incomplete information on goals and chances for Vancouver's power play. This online version has been corrected.)

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About the Authors

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More

B.C. sports correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Matthew spearheads the Globe's sports coverage in B.C., and spends most of his time with the NHL Canucks and CFL Lions. He has worked for four dailies and TSN since graduating from Carleton University's School of Journalism a decade ago, and has covered the Olympic Games, Super Bowls, Grey Cups, the Stanley Cup playoffs and the NBA Finals. More

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