BOSTON - Just 3 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 last 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 brutal games in Boston.
"It's always easier to be at home," Marchand said. "We feed off the energy, off our fans. They just bring out the best in us . . . Just seems everyone is so focused right now."
The finals are now a best-of-three, with Game 5 in Vancouver tomorrow 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.
"It's not for lack of effort, not for lack of trying to win," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Give the other team credit. They're playing a smart game, and right now they've been able to shut us down offensively the last two games."
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 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.
"That's indicative of the way he's had to battle to get here," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of his 37-year-old goalie, who didn't earn a regular job in Boston until he was past 30. "He's taken a real bumpy road to get to the NHL. He's had so many obstacles in front of him that he's had to overcome. That makes him the perfect goaltender for our organization."
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 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, went 0-for-6 in Game 4 to drop to 1-for-22 in the series.