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On home ice, can Bruins extend series?
The outcome of Game 6 between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins on Monday night either will determine this year's Stanley Cup champion or force a seventh and deciding game back in Vancouver on Wednesday.
Both teams face similar factors which could prove decisive in determining the game's outcome.
Of the two, Luongo will face the most pressure, for although he has had two shutouts in this series, he also had arguably his worst performances of this year's playoffs in Games 3 and 4 in Boston, where he was lit up for a dozen goals.
Thomas, on the other hand, has been consistently the better goalie in this series, and is very comfortable in his home rink, with nine of his 14 victories in this year's postseason coming at home.
Both teams also must cash in on the power play. Boston's performance with the man advantage throughout the postseason has been abysmal, but in this series, Vancouver's power play has been worse. The Bruins have scored twice on the power play (both times in Game 3); the Canucks' sole PP goal came in Game 2.
Given how tempers have flared at times in this series, resulting in childish taunts and questionable antics, it's probably a good thing for both clubs they have been ineffective with the man advantage.
In Game 5, however, there was much less of the trash talk and scrums after the whistle, likely because both clubs recognized the seriousness of the situation at this point in the series.
Now, both teams must continue to maintain their poise and remain disciplined in Game 6. Although their respective power plays may be poor, it is still possible a bad penalty resulting from a loss of composure could result in a potential series-deciding goal.
That means such Canucks as Alex Burrows and Maxim Lapierre, and Bruins such as Brad Marchand and Shawn Thornton need to tone down their chirping and chippy antics during game action and stoppages in play.
The two teams must maintain their punishing, physical defensive play. This series has seen its share of crushing body checks, and it has clearly taken its toll on a number of players on both clubs.
It also has made quality scoring chances difficult to come by, especially in the three games in Vancouver. Both goaltenders played well in those games, but they also had a lot of help from their defensemen.
Both clubs also have unique factors they must exploit to achieve victory in Game 6.
The Bruins must again capitalize on home-ice advantage, as they did in Games 3 and 4. In the three games in Vancouver, the Bruins managed only two goals. But in the two games in the TD Garden, they outscored the Canucks 12-1.
Being down 3-2 in the Cup Finals should also inspire the Bruins, for they don't want to suffer the indignity of losing this game in front of their fans and watching the Canucks parade the Stanley Cup on Boston ice.
To repeat their home-ice success over Vancouver, the Bruins must open the scoring, preferably with a first-period goal. If they can get to Luongo early, they could rattle him, as they did in the previous games in Boston, resulting in yet another lopsided win.
For the Canucks to win Game 6 and clinch their first-ever Stanley Cup championship, they need more production from their best offensive players.
The top line — the Sedin twins and Burrows — was a factor in Game 2 of this series but has since gone quiet. Ryan Kesler continues to play well defensively, but his offensive production has dried up.
It's believed Kesler and Henrik Sedin are hampered by injuries, but the Bruins have also done a fine job of shutting them down.
Although the Canucks lead this series, they have been outscored 14-6. They're living dangerously if they continue to get the bulk of their scoring from their third and fourth lines. The Sedins, Kesler and Burrows must step it up in Game 6.
Even if their best forwards can regain their scoring touch, it will be for nothing if the Canucks cannot carry over their strong shut-down, home-ice performances in this series into Boston for Game 6.
In Games 3 and 4, the Canucks played as though they either expected the Bruins to roll over, or perhaps they were simply unprepared for how much the Bruins would elevate their game in front of their hometown fans.
Whatever the reason, those were embarrassing, crushing defeats for the Canucks, and they cannot let the Bruins do that to them again. Yes, Luongo needs to be on top of his game between the pipes, but his teammates need to play with the same consistent defensive effort as they did in the three games in Vancouver.
To do that, they must score the game-opening goal and force the Bruins to play catch-up. In every game in this series, the team that scored first ultimately went on to win. The Canucks have proved they can be very stingy with a one-goal lead, but in Game 6 they must do something they've yet to do in this series: open up a lead of more than a goal.
This year's Cup Finals are similar to last year's, as the first five games were all won by the home team. That trend could continue, as the Bruins certainly played better in this series on home ice than they did in Vancouver, but the Canucks are now one win away from winning their first championship in franchise history and want to finish this off now.
While the Bruins will be fighting to stay alive, the Canucks' determination to win it all in Game 6 should be enough to cancel out the Bruins home-ice advantage.
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