You would think that the Canucks’ best regular season ever, which earned them their first President’s Trophy, might have entitled them to a relatively easy route to the Stanley Cup Final. But think again.
Yes, this season that has often times appeared blessed with good fortune, some might even say grand intervention (the miraculous recoveries from injury by Sami Salo and, now, Manny Maholtra, and overtime winning goals scored in playoff elimination games in the most bizarre circumstances - from the Alex Burrows rolling-puck seeing-eye shot on a shorthanded turnover to the recent Kevin Bieska point dribbler that managed to part the seas and suspend time for a brief moment).
But make no mistake the Canucks’ path to the final, despite their top seeding, has been about as difficult as one could imagine.
Consider for a moment, the teams the Canucks could have played on their journey through the Western Conference, but didn’t:
The Los Angeles Kings, whom the Canucks had defeated in the prior post-season, and whom were devastated this time around by a poorly timed run of injuries to key players would have been a nice opening round combatant.
The rough and tumble Anaheim Ducks, while featuring arguably the hottest line in hockey, had literally nothing else to offer and would have been little match for the Canucks’ depth and lethal power play.
And what about the Phoenix Coyotes? Well, try naming three players from this well coached, but supremely under-talented squad. And road games in Phoenix would have been like home games for the Canucks.
Of course, the Detroit Red Wings would have provided plenty of battle for the Canucks, but were a team that were ultimately too banged up and the Sharks had first crack at them.
When the playoffs began, we here at Critically Canuck feared a match-up with the defending champion Black Hawks, above all else. And in the end, it was the Hawks who gave the Canucks the biggest scare to date.
And the Canucks had their hands full with the supremely suffocating Nashville Predators and, perhaps, the best goalie in the world these days, Pekka Rinne.
And while the healthy Sharks were dispensed with in five games, they entered the series as the defending President’s Trophy winner and number two seed.
Suffice is to say, the Canucks have earned their spot in this championship final. And now they get to face the Boston Bruins who, despite not finishing the regular season as the top seed in the east, were noted as the consensus pick come playoff time due to a number of key late season acquisitions. Featuring the stingiest defense in their conference, the Canucks will have their hands full again with a bigger more physical foe.
But we will say this, a previous post clearly outlined that the team that gets to hoist Lord Stanley’s celebrated mug is the team that had the tougher path to blaze. Indeed, adversity breeds success. And on that simple yet well reasoned basis, we like our boys’ chances to finally bring it all home.
With the Canucks now just four wins away from Canada’s first Stanley Cup in 18 years, you’d think that the head talking head at the CBC might be just a little more complimentary of Canada’s team.
Despite predicting the Canucks’ game 5 victory against San Jose (dandy Don even got the score right), it’s hardly like he’s on the bandwagon.
And while we shouldn’t likely care what the always entertaining but often ignorant Cherry has to say, you can only imagine how things might be different if it was the Canucks in Leafs’ uniforms instead.
Not that we’d want to see Ryan Kesler in a Leafs’ jersey sitting on Don Cherry’s lap during a Coach’s Corner segment with Grapes proudly declaring “Kes” as the best all round player since Dougie Gilmour.
Think we’re being too hard on the nearly senile old fart? Then witness his segment during the Canucks’ Tuesday clincher.
In the first period intermission, after proclaiming that the Canucks were ripe for the picking since getting outshot by the desperate Sharks in the first period, he proceeded to dissect all four Vancouver goals from the previous game. And rather than celebrate the brilliant play-making skills of Henrik Sedin or the laser beam blasts from Sami Salo, he critiqued the Sharks’ defensive zone coverage instead.
But we suppose we should be happy that he actually showed some Canuck highlights at all during his segment. During this memorable run, he’s much more likely to celebrate the Canadian military, campaign for Paul Henderson’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction or run clips from the Bruins and whomever they might be playing.
A Tampa Bay versus Vancouver final pairing would force Cherry into a most awkward situation; one more reason to cheer for a Lightning victory tomorrow night.
In the end, we shouldn’t be surprised. Through the years, Cherry’s love for the Canucks has been forced at the best of times. And now is one of those times. But as the great Pavel Bure (a repeat target of Grapes’ slander) once said when asked to comment on Don Cherry, “why would I comment on the clown at the circus”?
The lexicon of sport is riddled with mantras that are so oft repeated, they sometimes sound hollow. And as the battles intensify, the calls of our “best players need to be our best players”, “we’ve got to leave it all out there”, and “you gotta be good to be lucky” can be heard everywhere.
And last night, the Canucks proved that every damn one of them is true.
On a night where they entered play with three chances to punch their ticket to a Stanley Cup Final, the Canucks could have been guilty of “counting their chickens before they hatch” as they had in their last two series’ game five encounters.
Indeed, Don Cherry, who rarely has more than a back-handed compliment for the Canucks (more on that in a future post), commented that the Canucks were “ripe for the picking” after the first period of last night’s game, despite holding a 1-0 lead.
But on this night, the Canucks’ best player was one Roberto Luongo, who began the series, despite a game one victory, in the doghouse of many once more for giftwrapping a Joe Thornton series’ opening marker.
And when your $10 million keeper (as he is typically, and inflammatorily, referred to in this market) is your best player, it might not matter how well the finally present-and-accounted-for Sharks play.
And the Canucks’ second best players on this night were the Sedins, who displayed their most dominant five on five performance of this playoff. And while that wasn’t enough on its own to guarantee victory, it was plenty to take some pressure off labouring leader Ryan Kesler.
Kesler, of course, “left nothing out there” despite seemingly suffering an early lower body injury - one that would have kept him (or perhaps Joe Thornton) off the ice in most instances. And, of course, it was Kesler who found his way to the front of the net in typical fashion to deflect in the late game-tying goal.
Which brings us to “Lady Luck”. Shark fans are lamenting another seemingly premature exit, this time wallowing in their collective misfortune as opposed to a final game no show by the usual suspects. After all, the face-off that set up the tying goal shouldn’t have happened. There should have been no icing since Dan Boyle’s clearing attempt hit Daniel Sedin on the way out.
But suffice is to say, blown icing calls don’t result in goals all by themselves. Joe Thornton lost a draw (or rather Henrik Sedin won it). The Canucks managed a quick point shot and Kesler, undefended in his offce, tipped home the tying goal. So the Canucks were indeed good to be lucky. Or at least, the Sharks weren’t good enough to avoid this misfortune.
Of course, the overtime winner was about the most bizarre goal you will ever see, with literally none of the 19,000 fans in the building nor the millions viewing at home having any idea how it found its way into the net. Yes, it seemed only Kevin Bieksa and possibly Patrick Marleau had any idea what was happening. So you can imagine how that little one-on-one battle might end.
In the case of Bieksa, who is playing at a level right now that is uncharted by any Canuck defenseman before him, we shall henceforth refer to him as “The Amazing Bieksa”. Yes, his powers now seem to extend to almost the supernatural - able to suspend the attention of both teams, and millions of viewers long enough to barely dribble a pathetic point shot past an unsuspecting goalie, whose run of good fortune has seemingly ended.
So yes, the Canucks were lucky last night. But the luck only means something because they were good enough to have rightfully earned a three games to one series lead to begin with.
And now you will likely hear lots of commentary about how this team is a “team of destiny”. After all, Bieksa’s double overtime winner came 17 years to the day that Greg Adams’ memorable gave 5 double OT winner had identically vaulted the Canucks to the final. And while it might work out that way, it is only because this team is good enough to determine its own destiny.
And no, it’s not because we want to have more to write about. And no, we are not part of the ownership group who stand to make even more millions if the Sharks can extend this series to seven games. And yes, we are really being facetious. Or somewhat. Please play along - there is method to this madness.
With the Canucks on the verge of their third ever appearance in a Stanley Cup Final, everyone is saying all the right things about finishing off the Sharks in five games so our heroes can rest up and watch the Eastern Conference combatants beat themselves up.
And certainly the logic of perfecting their killer instinct and finishing off the Sharks makes perfect sense, but you would be surprised to know that, for whatever reason, history shows that when it comes to the Stanley Cup Final, the path of least resistance can often be dangerous.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are unparalled in the history of team sport. Lord Stanley’s celebrated mug is, by all accounts, the toughest trophy to win - requiring sixteen post season victories at a time when players have been playing for nearly nine months straight. So again it would only stand to reason that by the time the two finalists get to square off, the team that has had the easier path to the final should be more likely to win.
But it’s simply not true. Not really even close to being true. In fact, the opposite has been decisively true.
It has been 23 years since the league expanded its playoff format to feature four best-of-seven series to decide its champion. And in that time, of the two teams battling in the final round, the team having played the least amount of games entering the final has won the Cup only seven times. Even more striking, in the seventeen years since the Canucks last appeared in the final, the team that got there in less games has only won the Cup three times.
Granted we’re not dealing with the biggest sample size here and the difference in games played by the finals’ combatants is rarely more than a couple of games, but the results are remarkable and indicative that the benefits of being battle tested outweigh the risks of being battle weary.
And while this flies completely in the face of the logic that a rested team is a more dangerous team, it does confirm that the Stanley Cup journey is about mental fortitude more than anything else.
So we don’t really want the Canucks to lose tomorrow, nor do we expect them to. But if they do, the adversity of having to play another game or two (while still prevailing) is likely to help them more than it will hurt them.
With the home San Jose Sharks refusing to feed upon the ample first period power play offerings this time out, the Canucks proved yet again that they will feed at every opportunity.
In a first period that had Canucks’ fans thinking they were simply watching game three all over again, the Sharks seemed somewhat disinterested in taking advantage of ample power play chances. Perhaps they felt guilty that the opportunities this time around weren’t deserved. Seriously, if Ron MacLean (never to be confused with Canuck homer John Garrett) thinks the Canucks were getting shafted, they really must have been.
At any rate, the Canucks, when faced with dominant 5-on-3 power play chances on what mostly amounted to dumb luck (a San Jose too-many-men on the ice call and a delay of game infraction for an accidental out of play clear), felt no shame in burying the Sharks and the helpless Antti Niemi with wicked slappers that would have had anyone flinching.
And while the shots on goal tally for the night might imply that the Canucks stole this game, it’s not true. The Canucks offense was stunted in the first period by the latest penalty parade and after making quick work of their second period chances, they reverted into lead protection mode.
The Conference Final Canucks have reverted to the determination and resilience that predicated their dominant regular season success. That combined with solid goaltending provided by Roberto Luongo has provided them with the deserved 3-1 series lead. And even when the Canucks, after some discipline issues, twice trailed in game three by three goals, their comeback attempts were only negated by a timeclock that ran out.
While we hesitate to offer up any game 5 predictions, one thing is clear. This game means everything to the San Jose franchise. Another loss will amount to another Conference Final exit (with only one win combined in two successive trips) for a team that is running out of excuses and with the obvious remedy being a roster gutting of the core skill players. The likes of Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau are down to final chances you would think.
So on this basis, the Canucks’ killer instinct in full effect will be required if they are to dispense with the Sharks and obtain a most valuable break before the Final series.
Fresh from their turn-the-other-cheek successes against neaderthalic Ben Eager and with judgment day clearly on the horizon (today, if you believe it), you’d have expected the Canucks to be the men without sin on Friday night.
But the rollercoaster ride of this post-season reached another free fall instead as the suddenly undisciplined Canucks wound up taking ten minor penalties. Yes, it’s tough to compete when you spend the equivalent of a full period of play one man down.
After Eager’s reckless hit on Daniel Sedin went unpunished by the spinning wheel of the NHL discipline department, you’d have thought that it would have been the Sharks, instead, on a short leash with the officiating crew. Think again. And we’re sure that the lopsided distribution of penalties in the wake of Eager’s undisciplined game two performance has many Canucks’ faithful walking down the conspiracy theory road again. We won’t. At least, not yet.
Despite the lost opportunity of a series stranglehold (though with these two teams, we use that term loosely), you did have to like the Canucks late game jam. Whether buoyed by their knowledge of the Sharks’ recent third period struggles or the Canucks’ simple determination, they almost recovered from the 4-1 third period deficit.
In fact, if the game had lasted just a few more minutes, it seemed inevitable that they would claw their way back to even.
And it’s the Sharks who will get to do exactly that in the pivotal game four encounter tomorrow at the ungodly noon hour (that’s assuming judgment day is deferred for at least another day). This has been a fantastic series thus far and we expect nothing less tomorrow. Enjoy.
On a night where Ben Eager ran around trying to settle scores, the Canucks again showed that, for now, they are the more determined team.
Clearly, Eager hasn’t been paying attention to how the Canucks operate this season. If you take liberties and wind up in the box, they will make you pay. Again. And again.
And while Patrick Marleau might get to lose the “gutless” label for the time being for daring to scrap with Kevin Bieksa, he gets to swap it for “punch drunk” instead.
San Jose coach Todd McLellan is faced with an interesting dilemma heading back to the Bay Area. Does he dare dress Ben Eager again, who after handing the game to the Canucks, seemed to think that making the score 7-3 was cause for celebration.
In the end, the likes of Ben Eager are bad for business for the NHL. His retaliatory charge on Daniel Sedin was completely predatory with only the Sedins’ durable genes saving the league from having another high profile discipline matter to deal with.
As for Bieksa’s pummeling of punch drunk Patrick, Marleau obliged and Bieksa delivered. Hard to see the harm nor foul in that encounter.
In the Canucks’ playoff history, this game has to rank as one of the most complete performances. All lines are contributing - with twelve players getting their names on the scoresheet tonight. The struggles of the supposedly injured Sedins are now forgotten. And Roberto Luongo? Well, he passed to the guys in blue tonight.
We expected more from the Sharks this evening, who are having trouble simply keeping up with Vancouver and with games 3 and 4 less than 48 hours apart, they will hardly have time to catch their breath. But as fans of both of these teams know, series’ leads can evaporate in a moment.
Poor Roberto Luongo, the guy can’t catch a break. One day after winning his first ever Conference Final game, he was the front page sports story in the Vancouver Province under the headline “Winner Takes Fall”.
As we all know, the Vancouver media and fan base are a manic lot. And Luongo, as the highest paid player and presumed leader of this team, is the lightning rod for that collective neurosis, built solidly around 40 years of mostly mediocrity.
If you’ve ever witnessed a Vancouver home game, you’ll appreciate the dynamics of this love-hate relationship. Roberto gets “Lou’ed” for every routine stop he makes all season long. Can you imagine at your work place having your boss in your face with a high five every time you successfully made it back from the water cooler? That’s one end of the spectrum that Luongo has to endure every day.
Then, of course, after Luongo wins Olympic gold in his home rink, he is passed off on any recognition on the basis that he was just a passenger on a world class team.
And here we are, seven wins away from the ultimate prize, and Bobby Lou is getting grief for setting up a Joe Thornton game opening goal, despite bouncing back to successfully protect a Canucks’ late game 3-2 lead.
Let’s be clear about a few things here. This team is not the 2007 Canucks. Their only chance to advance in the playoffs is not predicated on the other worldly play of their net minder. These are the 2011 Canucks, who are defensively deep and the highest scoring team in the league. Not only do the Canucks not need Roberto Luongo to be Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur, he likely won’t even get the chance. The team in front of him is that good.
Instead, he only need be Grant Fuhr or Gerry Cheevers or even Antti Niemi, who were known for letting in some soft goals, but more reknowned for shutting things down when it really matttered. And parading around with Lord Stanley’s celebrated mug.
And on that basis, Roberto is doing exactly what he should. The games where he got torched against Chicago were team collapses and arguably not salvageable by any keeper.
Put this another way, if Roberto Luongo wins a Conn Smythe trophy, something bad has happened. There have been significant injuries to players like Ryan Kesler or the Sedins. Or the defensive depth has magically disappeared.
And, yes, we are all scarred from the Dan Cloutier era. But this isn’t it. Not even close. A little statistical reminder for you - Dan Cloutier career playoff stats in 25 playoff games - 3.31 GAA and .872 save percentage. The near equally maligned Roberto Luongo in 48 playoff games - 2.40 GAA and .919 save percentage.
Ultimately, Roberto deserves a more balanced and measured take from both fans and the media. But in this market, he’s likely to not get it. At least not yet.
In a game where the Canucks outshot, outchanced and outhit their opposition, the final 3-2 result was a just one.
And while Sharks’ fans will be bitterly complaining about a phantom Dany Heatley elbowing penalty that gave the Canucks the chance for the game-winning tally, the biggest factor in the Sharks having the lead for most of the night was another gift, this one not provided by the officials, but Roberto Luongo.
For perhaps the first time all play-offs, the Canucks displayed the type of game that made them the best regular season team.
Often rolling four lines and having their defense engaged in the attack (even when protecting a late game lead), the Canucks combined a resilient performance from Roberto Luongo (after said first period gaffe) with a most opportunistic power play to give the weary Sharks just what they should have expected.
Game One showed the Canucks with little rust after a lengthy layoff and established clearly (like there was any doubt) that this will not be another round of paint drying, instead providing the faithful plenty of edge of your seat excitement.
Perhaps the biggest story in the game was the dominant performance from the Sedins, whom coach Alain Vigneault rode harder as the game progressed, putting aside any notions, for today anyway, that certain brother(s) may be playing hurt.
When Luongo’s first period tape-to-tape pass wound up on Joe Thornton’s stick and in the net, you could feel the life being sucked out of the building. But Lou was able to park that brain fart, as were his mates.
What pleased us most about this game was how the Canucks played after finally getting the lead mid-way through the third period. Against Chicago and Nashville, they were often guilty of attempting to baby their leads, collapsing into rope-a-dope fashion, with an often predictable result. Not this time. Whether consciously attempting to bury the more tired Sharks or now being more relaxed and confident in their approach, the result was what we’d all become accustomed to throughout the season.
This is the edge that the Canucks must maintain througout to eke out the final seven wins to complete the job. And while we expect the Sharks to put up more resistance next game, these repeated third period collapses (three in the last four games) can’t be good for their collective psyche.
While we would have preferred to see the Canucks play the Wings, a battle with the Sharks has no shortage of interesting story lines. In fact, over the course of the last ten seasons, after Detroit, the Sharks and Canucks are the winningest teams in the Western Conference (and the third and fourth winningest teams in the entire NHL).
And with Detroit slipping in the regular season standings the last couple of seasons and being eliminated by the Sharks in the playoffs in each of those years, a showdown between Vancouver and San Jose will justly determine who is the now dominant Western Conference representative.
As we’ve outlined in a recent entry, if there is a team with more recent playoff underachieving to their credit than our Canucks, it is most certainly the Sharks. In short, despite making the playoffs nine of the last ten seasons and playing at a .622 average regular season clip, last year marked their first appearance in a Conference Final (one they lost easily to the Hawks). Vancouver has had eight playoff trips in the last ten, while posting an average .606 regular season winning percentage without a single trip to the Conference Final until this year.
So this series match-up could be called the battle of the underachievers. The maligned, easy going tandem of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau getting one more chance to prove they’ve got it in them. Amazingly, entering Thursday’s game seven match with Detroit, Marleau had played in 16 game six or seven playoff encounters, managing a measly single assist in that span - a remarkable span of crunch time ineffectiveness for a player who cannot impact a game in any other way than the scoresheet. He did get the tap-in game winner that night though.
Of course, this year’s Sharks aren’t yesteryear’s Sharks. Yes, the improved playoff play from Thornton has helped matters. But they are getting serious production from young players who aren’t carrying the emotional baggage of past failures. And then there is Dan Boyle, who provides tremendous leadership. And, every team needs a good luck charm - in this case, the unflappable, bendable, but not breakable Antti Niemi.
If the incentive of ending Antti Niemi’s ridiculously lucky six series winning streak isn’t enough ammunition for the Canucks, they might want to consider the opportunity to stick it to one more yappy ex-teammate (first Ryan Johnson, then Shane O’Brien and now Kyle Wellwood) - thanks to “Sandlak” for bringing this side story to our attention.
We won’t bother to belabour the Canucks’ playoff dramatics. Like the Sharks, despite some close calls this playoff run, they have earned their spot in the Conference Final. Ryan Kesler is cresting and Roberto Luongo has proven more resilient than many would have given him credit for. And the Sedins? Well, history shows that every time you think you’ve got them pegged, they simply prove you wrong one more time again. On that simple premise alone, we expect you will see more contribution from them this round.
We will stand by our initial observation that the Black Hawks represented the biggest challenge for this team, one they have overcome. The Canucks, collectively, have yet to play their best hockey and when they do, as in the regular season, will be too much for the Sharks, no matter how amped up Joe Thornton and company might be able to get. With this era’s Canucks, healthy as they seemingly are, the only possible thing in their way is their own determination.
Tonight, the Canucks’ Conference Final opponent will be determined as the veteran Detroit Red Wings look to crush the eternally nascent playoff dreams of the San Jose Sharks. We’re not looking for predictions here, but simply your vote. Who would you rather see the Canucks match-up against?
We’ll take the Wings. Despite the adrenalin shot that a comeback from a 3-0 deficit will provide, they are aging and banged up. They also play a style that the Canucks generally have an easier time with. By contrast, the Sharks, when on their game, are bigger and more physical. And while this version of the Canucks is as adaptable as any we’ve seen, we’d prefer their chances against Detroit - the franchise they are trying to emulate.
Vancouver’s panicky faithful often drag our 40 years of mediocrity around like some cross to bear. But in a post-season that has featured more than enough Canuck dizzying heights and close calls for the eager fan-base, we should be thankful we’re not backing the San Jose Sharks.
Though only 19 years old, the Sharks have experienced tremendous regular season success, having made the playoffs in 12 of the last 13 seasons, including 6 division titles in that span. The Canucks, by contrast, had a single division title in their first 19 years. It wasn’t until recently that we’ve become accustomed to playoff disappointment.
But the ulitimate measure of success has eluded San Jose in even more shocking fashion. Indeed, the impending collapse to the Detroit Red Wings is, for Shark fans, here we go again.
The Sharks have now blown successive third period leads with a trip to the Conference Finals hanging in the balance. And after an early dominant playoff performance by Surfer Joe Thornton, mister nonchalance seems about to preside over another failure, with his partner in indifference, the “gutless” Patrick Marleau riding shotgun yet again.
And here we were thinking that another brilliant Kyle Wellwood playoff performance might be enough to lift his new underachieving mates.
Like the Canucks in round one against the Hawks, the Sharks have the opportunity to quell that familiar queasy feeling in the guts of their collective fan base. And with game seven on home ice against an aging and banged up Detroit team, you have to like their chances on paper.
But on paper, their remarkable playoff legacy looks almost unshakable:
in 2001, the 95 point Sharks lost in the first round to the underdog Blues (who have set the modern day standard for playoff franchise futility).
in 2002, the division winning edition led the Stanley Cup defending champion Avalanche, three games to two, before losing two straight (the 6th in overtime and 7th, 1-0).
in 2004, another division winning version, this time coached by Ron Wilson, fell to the underdog Calgary Flames in six, managing to score only one goal in the final two playoff games.
in 2006, the 99 point regular season Sharks led the Oilers in the second round two games to nothing, losing game three in overtime and then rolled over to upstart Edmonton, getting outscored 14-6 in the final 3 games of the series.
in 2007, the Sharks won another division crown (racking up 51 wins in the process), and led Detroit two games to one in the second round, before an overtime loss triggered another collapse.
in 2008, another division title later, the Sharks adopted a slightly different playoff modus operandi, falling behind to Dallas, zero games to three, before rallying to win twice settling for an overtime game six second round exit again.
2009 featured a coaching change (hello Todd McLellan) and the Sharks upped the regular season ante to a franchise record 117 points only to be bounced in the first round by the 8th seeded Anaheim Ducks.
in 2010, it looked like things were finally about to change, winning seven of eight playoff games to dust off Colorado and Detroit in robust fashion, San Jose got swept by the ultimate champion Hawks in round three.
and 2011 has provided no shortage of drama for the Shark fans, five overtime games, a four goal comeback victory in round one, and a three goal comeback overtime loss in round two followed by two straight blown third period leads.
At any rate, Canuck fans get to rest easy for a few more days, though with a soft spot in their hearts for the suffering Shark faithful…
Indeed, it is time to cue up the Bon Jovi; the Canucks are half way there. But forget about “Livin’ On a Prayer”, for this team it’s clearly “Livin’ On a Kesler”.
And if our name dropping some lame big hair 80’s hit has you a little squeamish, we apologize. It’s been almost as long since the Canucks have seen Conference Final action as it’s been since that chart topper.
Yes, if the post-season were to end right now, Ryan Kesler’s name would be all over the Conn Smythe Trophy. And no matter where the road of this season finally ends, Kesler will have cemented himself a place along esteemed Canuck playoff heroes like Richard Brodeur, Kirk McLean and Trevor Linden.
And it looks good on him. In the last series, when Kesler’s commitment to successfully shutting down the Hawks’ top players had him noticeably absent from the scoresheet, critics (ashamedly, ourselves included) were quick to point out that he seemed capable of only scoring against the crappy teams.
Certainly, unbridled from having to shadow the likes of Jonathan Toews, Kesler proved again that he’s got the skill to match his determination, lighting up the defensively obsessed Predators almost at will.
Though if we’d known the secret to beating the Predators was spending the entire game in the penalty box, we’d have had an easier time. In the series, the Preds scored 11 times, but only once with the man advantage. And when you roll in the 4 regular season contests between these teams, Nashville had the equivalent power play time of more than one complete game scoring only once. Yep, they can’t even put the pop in “pop gun”.
But they do put plenty of rope in “rope-a-dope”. And while from a Canucks’ perspective game 6 wasn’t pretty, it was effective. And aside from the Sedins’ offensive struggles at even strength, the Canucks move on to the next round in reasonably good health with time to rest, something that seemed unlikely just two nights ago with the Canucks losing and San Jose holding a 3-1 lead over Detroit.
Which brings us to the next opposition. The Canucks have always fared well against Detroit, who play a style that is more suited to the local heroes. And the Wings are banged up. Meanwhile, San Jose would represent a more physically formidable foe though they have even bigger post season mental baggage than Vancouver. Expect a poll question soon.
On a night where Ryan Kesler continued his remarkable play (has there ever been a Canuck playoff performer post a three game run of this dominance?), the Sedins were again noticeable for all the wrong reasons.
Daniel, the Art Ross Trophy winner, was on the ice for every Nashville score and was kept of the scoresheet, again. Henrik, defending Art Ross trophy winner, fared marginally better finding himself on the bench for one of the Predator scores.
And while it’s tough to find the Sedins responsible for the mix of bad breaks and blown defensive zone coverages that resulted in the unprecedented four Nashville scores (they had scored a combined six goals in the series’ first four games), there is a very disturbing trend afoot.
There has been speculation that Henrik is playing hurt, and that would certainly fit with the remarkable fall off in their play. But there were a number of consecutive shifts last night where the twins appeared to be working their old magic again. Which causes us to think that their lack of contribution stems simply from struggling to find their game in an amped up playoff atmosphere.
While there is the good chance that the Canucks can dispatch with Nashville without a contribution on the scoresheet from their two best players, it is impossible that they will advance beyond the next round without them.
Since game three of the Chicago series, Henrik has amassed one goal (an empty netter) and 3 assists in 9 games and a -10 rating. In the same span, Daniel, the brother, has been credited with 2 goals, 2 assists and a -11 rating.
Perhaps even more remarkably, during this 9 game Sedin “slump”, they have been held pointless in 5 home games so the simple argument that they are being shutdown by the opposing teams’ top checkers does not apply - unless, of course, Coach Vigneault and crew are asleep at the switch.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Sedins’ disappearance come playoff time is the simple fact that the referees have generally put their whistles in the their pockets. During the regular season, the Canucks drew, on average, nearly 4 power plays per game. During the post-season, they’ve drawn less than 3 per game. Stay tuned for another Mike Gillis press conference.
When your top power unit scores at rate in excess of 24%, over the 12 games of the playoffs that equates to 3 goals missing from the Canucks’ attack during this post-season. An extra goal or two in this series would have ended it already. And instead of the plethora of Sedin search parties, we’d have the brothers safely home resting up for the next series.
Of course, if Ryan Kesler can carry the team for one more game against the suddenly puck lucky Predators, they’ll still get their chance for that…
Canucks v. Predators - We've seen this before, so far...
At the outset of this series, we warned that it would be like watching the 2007 seven game paint drying championship versus the Dallas Stars. And while this series might be marginally more entertaining, on paper, it is shaping up in almost identical fashion.
After four games in that snoozefest, the Canucks also led three games to one (with two games having gone to extra time) and had outscored the Stars, 9-8. This time around, it’s the Canucks up three games to one again (with two overtime outings), outscoring the Predators 9-6 (with the benefit of last night’s empty netter).
As is often the case in Canuckland, things got interesting before they got finished with the Stars suffocating the Canucks in consecutive shutouts forcing a decisive game 7, where the locals were saved by another legendary Trevor Linden game 7 performance and the early playoff brilliance of Roberto Luongo.
So back to the present again, it wouldn’t surprise some if the rope-a-doping Predators manage to force a game 7 and given their lame offense, it would likely need to be accomplished with perfection from Pekka Rinne just like in ‘07 when Marty Turco stonewalled the Canucks.
And with the Sedins struggling and the Canucks fresh from a mid-series collapse agasint the Hawks, it could happen.
But we’re going to stop it right there. This time will be different. In 2007, you will recall the Canucks lost Ryan Kesler after game one. This time, Kesler is the hottest player in hockey. Yep, for the second consecutive game they were led by his single purpose determination.
Every championship team needs brilliant leadership and the Canucks are getting it in spades right now from the man Don Cherry is referring to as the MVP of the playoffs.
So on that basis, we’re expecting an unprecedented Canuck killer instinct to appear on Saturday dispatching the Predators in orderly fashion…
Entering last night’s pivotal game 3 match-up with the Predators, the Canucks had a grand total of zero goals from their top two centres in a combined 18 playoff games. And despite this, the Canucks found themselves in decent enough shape.
His scoring woes aside, Ryan Kesler has found many other ways to contribute, whether shutting down the Hawks’ snipers in the first round or leading his squad with heart and soul determination in the deciding game of that series.
But last night’s performance was beyond hard work and grit. On Tuesday night, Kesler loaded his teammates on his back and willed them to victory. His battle with Shea Weber (arguably the finest defender in the game today) in overtime drew a penalty; one that the Canucks’ quickly capitalized on with Kesler in his office out front for a nifty tip.
In the end, Kesler’s two goal and one assist night might very well become one of lore in team history. It is playoff performances like this that have been few and far between in Vancouver history, but if the Canucks are to continue this ride, they will need more from their best players.
The weight off of his shoulders was evident in a quick post game interview with the relieved, but typically pensive Kesler managing an easy chuckle. And while the baggage on Henrik Sedin’s back isn’t getting any lighter, the Canucks’ march to the glory continues…
In his early days in Vancouver, Coach Alain Vigneault was known to juggle his lines at the slightest adversity. Though as the Canucks have morphed into an elite team, his juggling act has reduced greatly.
However, it was the decision to remove Alex Burrows from his typical slot on the Sedin line to reunion with partner-in-crime Ryan Kesler (a move that was suggested here first) that turned the Canucks’ fortunes around last series.
Now with the Canucks continuing to struggle mightily at what they are typically most proficient, it seems more fixes could be in the offing. Based on the most recent practice, it appears Burrows may be back with the sagging Sedins for tomorrow’s match.
And who knows, maybe that will be the right tweak to get them going again. But we think another fix may be in order. We say leave Kesler and Burrows together for the time being - that reunion has brought out the best in each of them despite Kesler remaining goalless in nine playoff games.
If there is something ailing Mikael Samuelsson (and you have to believe there is), he should be moved to the press box or at least further down the depth chart so on that basis we agree a change is in order on the supposed top line.
One of the Canucks’ most consistent performers all season has been speedy grinder Jannik Hansen. And while his questionable hands may not be the remedy to getting the Sedins back on the scoresheet, his ever present hustle and determination should at least get them back to doing what they do best.
The last time we offered up some roster changes, they were surprisingly adopted (the reunion of Kesler/Burrows and the game 6 start for Cory Schneider). Let’s hope Coach Vigneault tunes in here one more time…
Let’s see. The best player in the series thus far? Pekka Rinne. The second best player? Roberto Luongo. Combined goals scored in nearly three games of playoff hockey - four.
And depending on your persepctive, this is a repeat of the 2007 seven game series victory over Dallas where Luongo outlasted Marty Turco’s three shut-out performance or the 2003 loss (also in seven) to the Minnesota Wild where Dan Cloutier proved that his 2002 whiffing on a Nicklas Lidstrom slapper was not simply bad luck, but a precursor to a significant character flaw.
And ultimately, this series could play out in either fashion, but will more likely carve out its own place in Canuck history.
The Sedins, who were on hand for both the 2003 and 2007 mind numbingly boring yet somehow nail biting displays of playoff hockey, are missing in action right now and that is what must be most troubling to Canuck fans.
Nashville’s biggest weakness is their pop gun offense, but when Vancouver’s top three players aren’t scoring (which they are not), the Canucks’ relative advantage in this series is gone and that explains why we’re looking at a series that is knotted at one.
So as much as this series has been a goal-tending duel to date, if the Canucks are to prevail, their scorers must make an appearance soon.