The similarities between this game and last February’s Olympic gold medal game are uncanny. The remarkable performances by Ryan Kesler and Jonathan Toews; a star-making showing from the losing goaltender; Roberto Luongo losing the shutout on a goalmouth scramble in the final minutes; an overtime goal coming out of the corner less than ten minutes into the extra frame; the fact that it happened in the same freaking building; the fact that it will go down as of the finest games in the history of Vancouver hockey. This game had everything: it was intense, emotional, terrifying, heart-attack inducing, and then, in the end, immensely satisfying. And I watched this game.
I must say, am quite pleased with the outcome of this game, especially after Crawford stoned the Canucks on so many chances to bury it. When Toews sent it to overtime, I thought I was going to vomit myself inside out. When Burrows took the penalty, I did a full re-enactment of James Dean’s classic “You’re tearing me apart” outburst from Rebel Without a Cause. Okay, that’s not true, I’m not that outwardly emotional. It was more wooden, like the one from The Room.
Your overtime hero: Alexandre Burrows. The safe pick to score might have been Ryan Kesler or one of the Sedins, but this is Burrows’s second series winner. You’ll remember that he scored an overtime goal to complete a sweep of the St. Louis Blues back in 08-09. In short? He’s got The Knack. I do believe his second series-winning goal makes him the clutchest goal scorer in Vancouver history. Future generations will speak of how you could count on Alex Burrows, like some sort of French abacus.
It really is an incredible goal. Chris Campoli makes the right play, in theory, trying to flip the puck out over the forechecker, especially with Mason Raymond skulking around, waiting to intercept a D-to-D pass. However, Alex “Rodriguez” Burrows shows a quick glove and snatches the clearing attempt right out of the air. From there, he sprints to the slot and slaps it home. Not since Monty Python have I seen such an effective slap.
Burrows almost didn’t become the hero, though. He nearly became the goat. He whiffed on a few sure tap-ins, and was even granted a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway. But, he couldn’t close things out, choosing not to utilize his usual backhand deke on Corey Crawford. (Crawford later bragged that he knew Burrows would shoot. Good on Crawford if he did, but he was the only one.) It was his missed pass that let Brent Seabrook turn the play back on Jonathan Toews shorthanded goal. Then, a minute into overtime, he took a penalty that looked like it might be the end of everything. Instead, the Canucks killed it, Burrows got one more chance at greatness, and this time he nailed it. The line between hero and goat is razor thin. Sometimes, it’s blurred.
It’s hilarious watching Burrows dodge an exuberant Daniel Sedin in order to do his patented Luc Bourdon tribute, only to slip and fall because he’s too excited. Then he is summarily piled upon. Kevin Bieksa would later say that the dogpile was so aggressive that he chipped a couple teeth. Ironic, since there’s probably about twenty mouthguards in that pile of bodies.
Speaking of redemptive stories, is there a bigger one than the sordid tale of Roberto Luongo? After questions about his mental fortitude or his ability to block rubber discs with his body, he committed robbery at times tonight. They were calling him RoKlepto Luongo (okay, no they weren’t). Luongo’s biggest save of the game came during the overtime penalty kill, when he slid across the crease to get his body in front of a Patrick Sharp attempt, although a down and out kick save on Jonathan Toews was also pretty spiffy. Like at the Olympics, Luongo fought the puck at times, but he made saves when it counted (except for that one he didn’t, but that doesn’t count). The Canucks’ goalie is now 4-0 in playoff first rounds, and he’s 2-0 in game sevens, with a 0.96 goals against average and a .961 save percentage. These are, of course, classic choker statistics.
That said, anybody who watched Roberto Luongo this season had to be feeling a lingering sense of dread as we waded into the final ten minutes. That’s snack goal territory, and Luongo wasn’t about to let some silly most important game of his career prevent him from doing what he does best: surrendering a goal within the final 10 minutes. For the 10th time this season, Luongo couldn’t hold the goose egg. I would have preferred if he hadn’t done that, but as great American preacher Jonathan Edwards said, wicked men are inconsistent with themselves.
A lot of people are going to be talking about the incredible effort by Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, and they’re right to. His shorthanded goal was the stuff of sheer will, as he outmuscled Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, and Alex Burrows to tie the game in the late stages. That said, Ryan Kesler was just as good tonight and throughout this series. Ignore the people complaining he didn’t score. He singlehandedly generated the game’s first goal by completely undressing Duncan Keith to set up Burrows. Kesler also played 25:02, game-high among forwards. He finished a game-high plus-2. He registered a game-high six hits (including this bit of thwackiness on Niklas Hjalmarsson). You’ll hear a lot about Jonathan Toews all-heart performance; Kesler’s may have been better. At worst, he battled one of the game’s best forwards to a stalemate, which I think makes him one of the game’s best forwards.
After failing to win a spot on the third line towards the end of the regular season, Maxim Lapierre’s game really came together in the playoffs. He hade five hits tonight, giving him 33 in the series, second in postseason hitting behind Dustin Brown’s 34. Since Dustin Brown is eliminated, that makes Maxim your active hits leader. Alain Vigneault’s decision to place him on a line with Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen paid off as well. This trio, which we called the Dead Line because two of its members were trade deadline acquisitions, put in a solid performance, spending the majority of their shifts in the offensive end of the ice. While they never scored, their shifts were some of the most threatening in the game, especially a minute-long third period shift during which the line generated chance after chance, hemming the Blackhawks in their own zone for over a minute, and allowing a Sedin line change without forfeiting possession of the puck. Naturally, the Sedins gave it away immediately. Typical.
It was good to see the Green Men tonight, but it was especially nice not to see them often, because it meant there were very few penalties called. Mike Gillis’s prepared speech the other day clearly paid off. Some have complained about the lack of whistles tonight, but I think the larger issue here is whether the green men are brothers, and maybe their dad is also a green man, but he has a moustache growing outside of his mask like Dr. Mcninja’s dad. Riddle me that.
The Canucks defense deserve credit for the game they put together tonight. Alex Edler was the best d-man on the ice for either team, finishing with a four hits, four shots, 2 blocked shots, and a plus-12 Corsi rating in a team-high 28:49. Kevin Bieksa played a mistake-free 28:09, jumping into the rush and forcing the Blackhawks defenders to think twice about getting caught low on transitions. And Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis had a game-high 5 blocked shots to go with 3 hits and two takeaways. He registered two giveaways as well, but both were nonperishable food donations delivered to needy families during the third intermission, so it’s hard to fault him. Why the stat guys scored it that way is beyond me.
A lot of people have knocked the acquisition of Keith Ballard, especially after Michael Grabner went on to become a Calder nominee. However, Gillis explained that the purpose of the acquisition was to give the Canucks depth at D, especially in case of an injury before a big game like this one. To nobody’s surprise, Sami Salo was unable to go for game seven, and Keith Ballard was waiting in the wings to fill in. He did so, admirably, and I do believe that alone makes the trade a success. Hips only played 11:05, but he was reliable, and he also made this wicked hipcheck on Marcus Kruger. Tip for the kids: it’s never a good idea to stickhandle backwards through the neutral zone.
And finally, for those of you who prefer the male gaze, let’s give a golf clap to the cameraman on the opening goal that finds a busty girl jumping up and down (0:15) immediately after Alex Burrows scores. Never underestimate a man’s power to find and film boobs. Somebody has lightning-fast reflexes. Anyway, that may be animated gif territory.
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