BOSTON – Just three days after the Bruins staggered back to Boston, they've barged right back into the Stanley Cup finals with two brilliant blowout wins.
Tim Thomas made 38 saves in his third shutout of the playoffs, Rich Peverley scored two goals after replacing injured Nathan Horton on Boston's top line, and the Bruins emphatically evened the finals at two games apiece with a 4-0 victory over the foundering Vancouver Canucks in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
Michael Ryder and Brad Marchand also had goals for the Bruins, who chased Roberto Luongo early in the third period after Vancouver's star goalie allowed his 12th goal in less than two games.
The finals are now a best-of-three, with Game 5 in Vancouver on Friday night.
Game 6 is Monday night back in Boston. After outscoring Vancouver 12-1 in the last two games, the Bruins are halfway to their first NHL title since 1972 -- but they'll have to win at least once on the West Coast.
Boston opened its first finals trip in 21 years with two deflating one-goal losses last week in Vancouver, but the Bruins have wrested all momentum from the suddenly shaky Canucks with two thoroughly dominant wins.
Luongo gave up four goals on 20 shots before Cory Schneider replaced him, ending yet another shaky defensive performance for the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks, who were inexplicably passionless in Boston.
Vancouver needed just one win in Boston to earn the chance to win the franchise's first championship on home ice. Instead, the Canucks headed home with huge questions about their mental toughness, defense and goaltending.
The Bruins rolled on an emotional high that began with a stirring pregame tribute to Horton. The right wing will miss the rest of the series after incurring a serious concussion early in Game 3 on a hit from Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome, who was suspended for four games.
Bobby Orr, the Hall of Fame defenseman and Boston icon, wore his own No. 4 jersey as he waved a flag bearing Horton's No. 18, drawing thunderous cheers while standing in the lower bowl under a spotlight. Hundreds of Canucks fans in blue jerseys joined in the cheers for Horton, who scored the winning goals in both of Boston's Game 7 victories during these playoffs.
With the victory secure in the final minutes, the entire building loudly chanted Horton's name.
Thomas was outstanding yet again. He has allowed just five goals in four games in his first Stanley Cup finals, with Vancouver's vaunted Sedin twins -- the NHL's last two scoring champions -- failing to beat him.
Despite the NHL's warning to these teams about keeping their competition between the whistles, the third period featured another handful of skirmishes. Thomas delighted Boston's fans when he slashed Vancouver agitator Alex Burrows with 1:51 to play, precipitating another brawl.
Peverley, a Bruins newcomer after a late-season trade from Atlanta, filled in for Horton on the Bruins' top line, lining up with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. The hardworking forward isn't known for his scoring touch, but came through twice in the new role.
Boston went ahead midway through the first period after Krejci alertly tapped a loose puck in the neutral zone ahead to Peverley, who blew past Raffi Torres and scored just his second goal in 19 games.
The Canucks are a mess on defense after losing top blueliner Dan Hamhuis to an injury in Game 1 before Rome's suspension. Keith Ballard struggled as Rome's replacement, making a brutal turnover on Boston's third goal, but Vancouver played generally shoddy team defense in front of Luongo, who hasn't shaken his reputation for struggling in big games -- even with an Olympic gold medal around his neck.
Vancouver's power play, the NHL's best in the regular season, also has lost its mojo, going 0 for 6 in Game 4 to drop to 1 for 22 in the series. The Sedin twins are the NHL's past two scoring champions, but they've barely made an impact on this series under Boston's steady defensive pressure.
Perhaps the top-seeded Canucks' only good news out of Boston is that the home team is dominating this series -- and they've got two more potential home games.
Vancouver narrowly won the first two games last week, moving halfway to the franchise's first championship and Canada's first Cup since 1993. Boston halted Vancouver's roll with an 8-1 victory Monday marred by Horton's injury and numerous scuffles in the third period.
Vancouver soundly outshot Boston over the first 30 minutes of Game 4, yet the Canucks had few solid scoring chances. Most of the shots went straight at Thomas, whose much-evaluated positional game was close to perfect, particularly on an early point-blank chance for Maxim Lapierre.
After Peverley's early goal, Ryder scored midway through the second period on an innocuous shot that somehow fluttered past Luongo. The puck might have deflected off the stick of defenseman Sami Salo, who played Ryder much too softly.
Boston took control 1:18 later during 4-on-4 play when Patrice Bergeron forced Ballard's turnover behind the Canucks' net and chipped it in front to Marchand, who easily scored over Luongo's left shoulder. The Boston crowd serenaded Vancouver with chants of "Luonnnngo! Luonnnngo!"
Luongo finally left after Peverley scored again early in the third period, with the Boston fans roaring as Cory Schneider replaced him.
The Bruins have never played this deep into June in franchise history, and summer temperatures in the 80s made the Canucks worry about the quality of the Boston ice. Vancouver has much bigger worries heading home.