With their win tonight, the Canucks now have 103 points, a mere 2 points from their team record, set in 2006-07. In addition, they clinched the Northwest Division title, meaning they are the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff spot. Most remarkable, however, is that they have accomplished all of this with 10 games still remaining in their schedule. 10 games, people. If there was any lingering doubt that we are witnessing the greatest regular season in Canucks histroy, it should be completely wiped away. My only disappointment tonight was the the player number I got at the pub belonged to Alexandre Bolduc, so there was no chance for a free beer. Oh well. I watched this game.
This is the third time in the last five games that the Canucks have gone down by two goals in the first period and come back to win the game. That’s significant enough to be called a trend. Last season, the Canucks were the comeback kings, winning 10 games when trailing after one period and 11 games when trailing after two period. This season’s Canucks hadn’t come back after trailing after one period until this recent spate of 3 wins. The issue, of course, is that they’ve had so little practice: clearly, the Canucks are secretly allowing the opposition to build an early two-goal lead (the worst lead in hockey) in order to practice coming from behind.
The Canucks weren’t even really outplayed in the first period. They carried the play, particularly the Sedins, who created scoring chances like a Keys to the VIP winner. The difference came down to two hard luck shifts from Sami Salo, who took an interference penalty that led to the first Avalanche goal, then had the second bank in off his skate. The two-goal Colorado lead had little to do with how the Avalanche played, though they should be commended for their opportunism. Still, the Canucks were clearly unhappy with the results of the first period. They came out in the second like Kyle Wellwood men possessed, outshooting Colorado 15-5.
Manny Malhotra left the game after taking a deflected puck to the face early in the second period. He went to the hospital with blood in his eye and it’s feared that he may have a broken orbital bone. Here’s hoping that it isn’t anything that serious, as Malhotra is essential to the Canucks’ chances in the playoffs.
The fourth line was flying tonight, none moreso than Chris “Kiss Huggins” Higgins, who played 17:18 in the absence of Manny Malhotra, double-shifting with both the second and third lines throughout the game. Kiss Huggins just has a lot of love to spread around. The Canucks’ first goal of the game, shoved home by Maxim “The Pierre” Lapierre, was all Huggins. He recovered from mis-handling the initial outlet pass from Keith Ballard by kicking the puck into the corner, where he embarrassed Ryan Wilson, took the puck behind the net, and drew Matthew Hunwick away from Lapierre before neatly slipping the puck in front. Kiss Huggins then gave everyone a heartfelt embrace: no word on whether it included a peck on the cheek.
Higgins played on the second line in place of Mason Raymond, who was hog-tied to the bench after the 6:32 mark of the third period. Although Raymond had a game-high 5 shots, his overall play was lackadaisical, negating much of the fire that Ryan Kesler played with all game. Instead of feeding off Kesler’s fire, Raymond felt the need to stop, drop, and roll at every opportunity. Kesler, meanwhile, was held off the scoresheet despite his best efforts and went all Jason Voorhees on Shorty and Garrett to vent his frustrations.
Further evidence that Kesler played with a massive chip lurking just over his shoulder: he led the game with a whopping 6 hits. Considering he averages 1.57 hits/game, that’s fairly significant, which shouldn’t be confused with Puck, who is a significant fairy. Kesler also picked up the majority of the faceoffs in Malhotra’s absence, taking 31 draws. The rest of the team, Malhotra included, took 42. And if anyone needs more evidence that Kesler has a heavy shot, witness how he took Adam Foote out of the game with a wristshot. Foote isn’t exactly a shrinking violet (I consider him more of a Blok), so it takes a lot to send him to the locker room.
Mikael Samuelsson is back to his logo-sniping ways. He hates that logo! Stay away from the logo! Jeff Tambellini, meanwhile, seems intent on continually attempting to score from somewhere other than his Magic Shooty Spot. They need to go back to what works: shooting where the goalie is not and the net is.
Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis had yet another quietly effective game, posting a +3 rating in 23:55 of ice-time and making many excellent defensive plays. His loudest moment came when he picked up an assist on the game-tying goal with a wonderfully patient play after picking up his own rebound. It’s remarkable how Burrows manages to create space for himself in front of the net despite being surrounded by three Colorado players when he chipped in the Daniel Sedin rebound. As for Hamhuis, he desperately wanted to help man the phones for the Canucks for Kids Fund Telethon during the intermissions, but had a prior commitment serving soup to the homeless at a local soup kitchen. Dan is a man of his word.
Speaking of the Telethon, it has raised $1,695,000 already. Holy monkey, that’s a lot. It was cool seeing some of the people working the phones, including Stan Smyl, Francesco Aquilini, Victor de Bonis, and Filomena Nalewajek, who is the CEO of Canuck Place. Harrison and I got a chance to meet her at the Scrabble Battle and she is a delightful lady.
In the pre-game show on the Team 1040, Dave Pratt practically drooled all over his mic at the possibility of the Art-Ross-race-leading Sedins taking on the lottery-pick-bound Avalanche, while Ben Kuzma cautioned that such opportunities frequently don’t result in much. Up until the third period, it looked like Kuzma was right; the Sedins were dominating the offensive zone, but were unable to finish their chances. Then, Burrows tied up the game and the door was open for some classic Wizardous Sedinerie. Ehrhoff held the line, Burrows out-battled a defender to hack the puck to Daniel, and Daniel decided that his best course of action upon receiving the puck with room to shoot at the right faceoff circle was to, of course, pass the puck blindly between his legs to his brother. As seen above, Henrik made no mistake, demonstrating a quick release akin to a weaker Joe Sakic.
Finally, Henrik took a major chance at the end of the game, risking an icing call to ice the game with an empty-netter that was the icing on the cake of this victory. As pointed out by Justin Bourne last month, it’s generally considered selfish to take that risk, especially considering there was still over a minute left in the game. A faceoff in the defensive zone in a 6-on-5 situation is less than ideal. That said, it is Henrik Sedin, one of the most accurate passers in the NHL, and considering the force of the shot, it was really just a glorified saucer pass. The risk was a little less than if it had been, say, JaMarcus Russell. I’m guessing he just wanted to net the goal without an assist from Daniel. He needs to make up ground in the Art Ross race somehow.
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