Coming into tonight’s game, the Canucks had given the media very little about which to criticize them. If you were splitting hairs (and some did), you could suggest their penalty killing, 0-for-3 at that point, was subpar, but even that was a petty gripe. After all, it was a pretty small sample size, right? It’s not like they had given up five straight powerplay goals in the series or something. Mind you, then they did. And before you could say, “On second thought, I would prefer the majority of this game be played at even-strength,” they were down by two on powerplay goals by Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe. The Sharks would never relinquish the lead, although this might have had something to do with the fact that there was a Canuck in the penalty box for over half the match. Like the Canucks’ fifth man, I watched this game:
Much of tonight’s focus will be on the reffing, and it certainly was called a little tighter than one might expect. Actually, scratch that. This game was called tighter than Homer Simpson’s grip on Bart Simpson’s neck. While the silliest calls (and non-calls) went against the Canucks, who had 11 minor penalties tonight, the game featured 55 total penalty minutes. For a game that never really got out of hand, that’s simply too many. How bad was the officiating? When asked about it after the game, Alain Vigneault held his tongue, and the linesman called a penalty on his tongue.
That said, this game wasn’t won or lost by the referees. In the end, this was a one-goal game in which both teams were gifted lengthy 5-on-3 powerplays. In just under two full minutes with a two-man advantage, the Canucks failed to score. In just over a minute in the same situation, the Dan Boyle put the game-winner past Roberto Luongo. It was inevitable, though. Anybody who watched the Canucks this season knows they can’t score on a 5-on-3. Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing that Nashville put so much effort into shutting the Canucks down with a five-man neutral zone trap in Round 2. The Canucks are just as susceptible to the three-man defensive zone trap.
Speaking of systems, tonight was exactly what San Jose needed: a game that, by virtue of its copious penalties, completely removed Vancouver’s primary advantage in north-south, even-strength play. The Sharks’ two opening goals were almost identical: after moving the puck around the zone, they were able to one of their big forwards parked in front. This is what the Sharks have been hoping to accomplish since the series began, but they haven’t been able to gain the zone in order to execute, primarily because they lack forechecking speed. Thankfully, you don’t have to forecheck on the powerplay. Normally, considering their regular season special teams, I’d be happy to see the Canucks locked in a special teams battle to decide the Western Conference Final, but the San Jose might be the only team where long stretches of even-strength are the better option.
With the playoff beard, Joe Thornton is beginning to look a lot like Arrested Development’s Homeless Dad. Seriously. Change the headwear colour and it’s uncanny. Next time he’s the intermission interview, Elliotte Friedman should ask him to say I just want my kids back.
Alex Edler had a fine game tonight, with 5 hits and 5 blocked shots in just over 23 minutes of icetime. Unfortunately, he also committed the backbreaking turnover that allowed Patrick Marleau to score on a first period breakaway. Edler will take a lot of criticism for coughing up the puck, but it wasn’t entirely his fault. Watch the video again. As he creeps in from the point for a one-timer, Henrik Sedin uncharacteristically puts the pass right into his skates. Poor Edler — it’s hard to recover when you suffer the hockey equivalent of a lightning strike. After digging the puck from between his legs, Edler tries to unload it, but Marleau’s on him too quickly and he blocks the puck right out of the zone. There’s your breakaway. This may be Henrik Sedin’s first deserved minus in weeks.
That said, the most infuriating part of the goal actually comes after it beats Luongo, and the Hockey Night in Canada director decides to editorialize by immediately cutting to Cory Schneider (who is apparently sitting in an adirondack chair in the tunnel). Of course, the tacit suggestion is: Pull Luongo. Somehow, when the Canucks have come out flatter than San Jose’s anthem singer, Funny Bob’s goaltending becomes the story. It’s inane. In their respective game 2s, Antti Niemi, Dwayne Roloson, and Tim Thomas gave up 7, 6, and 5 goals, respectively, and not only did nobody suggest they be pulled that night, but nobody suggested putting their backup in for the next game. Roberto Luongo lets in three goals and he has to go? Canuck nation: in the immortal words of Bruce Boudreau, get your asses out of your heads. No goaltender gets a rough ride for no good reason than Roberto Luongo.
Early in the third period, Ryan Clowe took a healthy run at Kevin Bieksa, only to accidentally pulverize Logan Couture instead. This means, of course, that Ryane Clowe ran one of the Sharks’ skill guys. Up in the press box, Ben Eager went nuts.
I won’t gripe about the officiating all night, but if you want evidence the officiating tonight was less than stellar, look no further than Douglas Murray’s murderlicious crosscheck on Alex Burrows during a Canucks’ powerplay, which very narrowly gave the first-line winger a case of Bonus Eruptus. No call. Apparently, Douglas Murray is allowed to play Jenga with his opponent’s spine. Anyway, a little later in the period, Aaron Rome crosschecks Kyle Wellwood to the ice and the referee whistles him for it. It was not a hard check. Here’s how I know: what’s the difference between Kyle Wellwood and a bank? It’s difficult to knock over a bank.
Henrik Sedin’s pass on the Dan Hamhuis goal (also above) is absolutely mental. In the past, we’ve seen Henrik deconstruct a four-man box like Jacques Derrida with saucer passes like this, but it still blows my mind every time he feathers one from one side of the zone to the other. Henrik can make a puck look like an Aerobie Super Disc. You half expect a border collie to come out and nowhere and catch it in its mouth.
Kevin Bieksa played with real urgency in the third period, orchestrating two of the Canucks three goals with intense rushes into the offensive zone. His goal is scored after he barges across the blue line with determination, gets knocked over, then gets back up just in time to wire a feed from Jannik Hansen. Alex Burrows’s goal is also the result of some fine work by Bieksa, although Juice didn’t get an assist for the play. If there’s any justice in the world, he’ll eventually be credited with one. The whole thing starts after he walks around Douglas Murray like a Levite encountering an assaulted Samaritan.
I saw a number of people on Twitter who claimed the Canucks lost their composure ala San Jose in game 2. Not even close. They took a few undisciplined penalties, certainly, but at no point were they unfocused or solely concerned with retribution like the Sharks on Wednesday night.
Jamie McGinn, injected into the lineup in the place of Ben Eager, picked up right where Eager left off, taking out Canuck defenseman with big hits. The one on Ehrhoff was clean, but may have separated his shoulder. The one on Rome was not, and it may have concussed him. McGinn got five and a game. I disagreed with this, especially when you consider Ben Eager was out of the box after two minutes when he laid a much more vicious and ill-intended hit on Daniel Sedin. Todd McLellan called the call on McGinn the right one, but that’s pretty hypocritical, considering he defended Eager. Think he’d be whistling the same tune if he hadn’t won the game?
Still, the Canucks almost made the Sharks pay dearly. I recall, after Raffi Torres only got two minutes for his hit on Brent Seabrook, Joel Quenneville muttering that it should have been a major, and that “we could have scored four goals on that powerplay.” Well, looks like he wasn’t too far off. The Canucks scored two, turning a 4-1 game into a 4-3 game with only a few minutes to go. It was a little infuriating to watch them execute with such urgency after they passed the puck on the 5-on-3 like second-graders playing silentball.
At times this season, Alain Vigneault has ridden Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome pretty hard. Now they’re injured, and he finds himself bound to crummy old Keith Ballard, who he finds much less desirable. This seems a little like when Jacob woke up the morning after his wedding and discovered he had accidentally married Leah.
Nobody was buying San Jose’s sea of orange. They only appeared to get about a 20% buy-in from the crowd, and the fact that it wasn’t a sea of teal seemed like a tacit admission from the HP Pavilion events staff that their team’s primary colour is ugly.
Crazy stat of the night: Sami Salo had one shot on net. Why so crazy? Because he attempted 11. Those are Shaq at the free throw line numbers. So where did the shots go? Well, one missed the net. The other 9 were blocked. It’s almost as though he shot at the Sharks on purpose. Part of me wonders if, after all the injuries, Salo has just snapped. Now everyone must feel pain. Expect to see a breaking news story that a crazed Finnish man is perched on a shopping mall rooftop, furiously slapping pucks at innocent people in the parking lot.
I was amazed at the play on Ryan Kesler in the game’s dying moments. He was hooked, he had his stick held, then, when that didn’t deter him from going forward, he himself was held. The referee’s arm went up. The penalty was on him. Granted, he gave Marc-Edouard Vlasic a slash that nearly halved him like the razor wire in Ghost Ship, but still. Considering how tight the refs were calling things, I’m surprised Kesler’s infraction was the only one the official’s felt merited a whistle.
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