Tonight we saw the importance of a two-goal lead. In the first period, completely against the flow of play, the Canucks opened the scoring. They then took advantage of an odd penalty call to get an almost unprecedented two-goal lead. Then, in the second period, a familiar sight: on a shot from behind the goal line, the puck takes an odd bounce and slips in behind Luongo. Without a two-goal lead, that’s the tying goal and the game takes on a completely different complexion. Instead, the Canucks proceeded to make the final 36-and-a-half minutes of the game deathly boring, shutting down the Predators, the game, and the pleasure centers of the viewers’ brains. It is extremely fortunate that they don’t award style points in hockey (Note: if they start awarding style points, the Canucks need to sign Patrick Chan immediately). Still, while it wasn’t pretty, it was a Canucks game. I tend to watch Canucks games. It should not come as a surprise, then, that I watched this game.
Eager to start their own aquatic animal-themed playoff tradition, Nashville fans opted for the catfish, which seems appropriate. We have voiced our displeasure with fish-throwing rituals in the past, but full credit to the Nashville ice girl who showed no qualms with grasping the ichthyoid projectile and displaying it to the crowd.
Ryan Kesler is going to get a metric tonne of credit for his work on the opening goal of the game, seen above, but let’s toss a little love towards Mason Raymond for his slick finish. The initial temptation has to be for Raymond to attempt a one-timer, to just direct the puck towards the net and hope for the best. Clearly, that’s what Rinne expects, as he lunges out towards the top of the crease to cut off the angle. Instead, Raymond’s initial touch on the puck directs it to the far post, where he’s able to tuck the puck past Rinne’s out-stretched pad from his knees. It’s a deft finish that shows some surprising confidence, considering it’s his first goal and only his fifth point of the playoffs. How is that even possible while playing with Kesler?
Okay, back to giving Kesler a metric tonne of credit. The Canucks’ opening goal comes completely against the flow of play: it was only their third shot of the game, the previous two coming from distances of 68 and 59 feet. Nashville had already had two powerplays and was dominating possession of the puck. On the play that led to the goal, it appeared that Kesler was content to simply dump the puck into the Nashville zone and go for a change, which should partially explain how lackadaisical Suter is with the puck. But Kesler alertly identifies the moment Suter loses the puck in his skates and bursts forward, anticipating the short pass to Weber and timing his pokecheck perfectly. He so thoroughly victimized Nashville’s top pairing that Horatio Caine took off his sunglasses and gave Weber and Suter a caring, pursed-lipped smile.
Shea Weber actually had a pretty tough series. Despite doing an excellent job shutting down the Sedins, he had no answer for Kesler and the physical exertion required to keep up with both of Vancouver’s top two lines seemed to wear on him. Shockingly, Weber didn’t manage a single point against the Canucks after putting up 5 points in 6 games against Anaheim. As much as the Sedins got a lot of press for their offensive struggles, Weber’s struggles were far more significant. Without Weber contributing on the scoresheet, Nashville ended up dependent on the surprising contributions of Joel Ward and David Legwand.
The Canucks second goal came after an…interesting diving call on Jordin Tootoo. I am legitimately surprised that Edler did not get two minutes for interference and completely shocked that Tootoo got called for diving on the play. On the ensuing powerplay, however, the Predators showed a distinct lack of urgency, allowing the Canucks to gain the zone and send two players nearly uncontested to the front of the net. Kesler tips the initial Henrik Sedin shot through Rinne, allowing Daniel Sedin to bat the bouncing puck into the back of the net. Side note: that phrase has always bugged me. It strikes me that one would need to be behind the net in order to put the puck into the back of it and that scoring a goal requires one to put the puck into the front of the net. Just saying.
Despite Nashville’s best efforts, the hot weather clearly affected the quality of the ice. The puck was bouncing more than Chuck Taine. The Canucks did well to take a two-goal lead while the ice was still in tip-top shape, forcing the Predators to battle the puck as much as they battled the Canucks’ forecheckers and neutral zone trap in order to tie the game.
As much as Predators fans might have reason to dislike the Tootoo interference call, there was an equally ticky-tack penalty against Higgins as he slashed Tootoo’s stick out of his hand. Singular. As The Blue Rajah says, two hands there, son.
Now for some praise for the refs: Steve Kozari made the right call on Legwand’s goal, immediately signalling when the puck crossed the line as Luongo flopped backwards to cover it up. Full credit, as well, to CBC for swiftly finding the right camera angle to isolate the puck over the line. I haven’t seen such fine investigative video work since John Anderton.
Kevin Bieksa was in rare form tonight, both on and off the ice. On the ice, he had 4 hits, 23:46 total time on ice, and 3:32 shorthanded. Off the ice, he cordoned off a corridor and taped up “Canucks Only” and “No Predators Except Partner” signs. Don Cherry claims that “Partner” is Shane O’Brien, but that clearly is not one of his many nicknames. If Bieksa had meant SOB, he would have written “Pain Lion” on the sign.
Bieksa wasn’t done: in the second intermission Scott Oake interviewed Juice and, at the end of the interview, inquired as to what the Canucks needed more of in the third, leading Bieksa to unexpectedly referenceLMFAO: shots shots shotshotshotshots shots shots. Shots. In doing so, he completed his season-long transformation from goat to league’s crunkest defenseman.
The second period was thoroughly ugly, as Vancouver managed only 2 shots on net and were entirely unable to mount any offensive pressure. Nashville wasn’t much better, only directing 7 shots on net, none of them particularly dangerous. The Canucks turned things around in the third, controlling the play and forcing Nashville to constantly start from their own end, but it was still choppy, chippy and chuppy hockey. Like when you let a child decorate their own cupcake, there was too much icing.
Jeff Tambellini played less than five minutes in this game, and only had 1 shift in the third period. Despite this, he had a huge impact on the game, chasing down Martin Erat on a clear-cut breakaway then taking him down with a clean body check. The speed Tambellini shows is absolutely incredible to see: he starts about 10 feet inside Nashville’s blue line, while Erat starts at center. That’s a good 40 feet of separation between the two. Still, Tambellini manages to not only catch Erat, but also get inside position on him before hammering him to the ice with his hip and shoulder. It’s an astounding play and arguably the most impressive play of the entire game.
The dying seconds of the game were easily its most exciting portion. After Alex Burrows narrowly missed an open net, he and the Sedins, followed by Kesler, Hansen, and Higgins, swarmed the Nashville zone like Hellwasps, preventing the Predators from escaping with possession. Eventually, the Predators were forced to ice the puck, bringing Pekka Rinne back into his net. The Predators’ only shot after that came with 2 seconds left.
The Nashville fans were absolutely incredible at the end of the game, cheering the home team almost immediately after the final horn and starting a boisterous “Let’s go Predators!” chant as they made their way through the handshake line. The raucous energy in the building continued to soar as the Predators skated out to center ice to salute the fans. The Predators clearly have a devoted fanbase; here’s hoping that this small taste of success in the playoffs will bolster that fanbase and contribute to the health of that market. Also, the Predators could use an influx of capital in order to afford a goalscorer. Just maybe.
My favorite part of the post-game celebrations comes at the 5:04 mark. Henrik Sedin cannot contain his enthusiasm as he embraces a trainer then a coach in ebullient bear hugs. He best be careful with those or Tanner Glass might start fighting him.
And finally, a brief reminder: we’re only halfway there. I know that after the heart-stopping drama of round one and the mind-numbing boredom of round two that it feels like the playoffs have been going on forever, but the Canucks will need 8 more wins to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Canucks will fortunately have at least four days of rest, as round three is slated to start on Saturday at the earliest, giving the battered a chance to recuperate and the tired a chance to recharge their batteries.
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