By Steve Keating
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Raffi Torres scored with 19 seconds to play in regulation and Roberto Luongo earned the shutout as the Vancouver Canucks stopped the Boston Bruins 1-0 to draw first blood in the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday.
With overtime looming, Torres was the unlikely hero, redirecting a perfect feed from Jannik Hansen past Tim Thomas to trigger a thunderous celebration not heard in Vancouver since Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal to give Canada a victory over the United States in the 2010 Olympic men's final.
"It (Torres goal) was huge," Luongo told reporters. "At one point I thought we might be playing all night here.
"It's just real exciting, especially for a guy like Torres to get a goal like that. He does a lot of stuff that goes unnoticed. But it's nice to see a guy like that get rewarded.
With Vezina Trophy finalists manning both nets, the series opener turned in a goaltending duel between Thomas and Luongo.
Luongo stopped all 36 shots he faced for his fourth career post-season shutout while Thomas was almost as brilliant, handling 34 shots.
Game Two of the best-of-seven series is in Vancouver on Saturday.
"We got two of the best goaltenders in the league battling it out, so obviously scoring is going to be a challenge for both teams," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault told reporters. "Obviously two totally different styles of goaltending.
"Our goaltender always plays in the blue (the goal crease), stays in his ice. Their goaltender is always out of the blue and comes into other people's ice."
It was thought Thomas would have to steal a game or two for Boston to have a chance of claiming their first Cup in 39 years and the Bruins netminder almost delivered, falling 19 seconds short of his second consecutive post-season shutout.
Both Thomas and Luongo were razor sharp in a free-wheeling and at times ill-tempered opening period that saw the Bruins outshoot the Canucks 17-12.
Boston had a chance to seize the early initiative when Daniel Sedin was assessed a double minor for high-sticking but the Bruins powerplay, which has produced just five goals this post-season continued to misfire and failed to convert.
Luongo and Thomas remained in the spotlight during a scoreless second period has both team failed to capitalize on powerplay opportunities.
Thomas stole the show in the third period, denying Hansen on a breakaway, then stood his ground on a two-on-one robbing Maxim Lapierre.
While the Boston netminder was in spectacular form, he also received a little help, Canucks Alexander Edler ringing the puck off the crossbar to draw groans from the capacity crowd.
But those moans turned to cheers a few minutes later when Torres notched his third goal of the post-season sending the crowd out onto the street to join a citywide party.
Back in the finals for the first time in 17 years, Stanley Cup fever was gripping Vancouver as the city got revved up for Game One.
The Vancouver-wide dress code on Wednesday was Canucks sweaters while many of city's businesses shutdown early to allow employees to go home to watch the game.
The atmosphere surrounding the opener was as electric as the 2010 Olympic final medal final played on the same ice as fans packed bars and public squares, where giant screens had been setup.
Ticket brokers were also asking Olympic gold medal game prices with rinkside seats going for as much as $5,000.
(Editing by John O'Brien)