Following a tough loss to the Sharks on Friday, the Canucks played this game like they had a lot to prove. After giving up 5 goals on their first five penalty kills in the series, they made sure to take five straight penalties just to prove that they could kill them. Having struggled on 5-on-3 powerplays all season and failing to score on two on Friday, they slyly goaded the Sharks into three such situations just to prove that they could take advantage of them. And finally, to avoid any accusations that they were only winning because the Sharks were choking in the third period, they wanted to prove that they could win a game despite being outscored in the final frame. I, too, had something to prove: could I watch this game? Yes. Yes, I could. It wasn’t that difficult. I’m not even sure why I questioned myself. I watched this game.
Everyone seems to be a little bit confused and angry about the reffing in this series. One of the major issues is the inconsistency: it’s unclear what will and won’t be called. In one game, it will seem like anything goes. Holding, hooking, interfering? No problem. The next game it will seem like the strictest regular season game and lightly blowing on Kyle Wellwood is interpreted as cross-checking. I haven’t been this unsure about calls since I was peer pressured to prank call my high school crush.
That said, while there were certainly some odd calls, weak calls, ticky-tack calls, and outright bad calls, that is not the story of the game. The story of the game is what each team did with those calls. On Friday, the Sharks scored 3 powerplay goals, while the Canucks squandered two 5-on-3 advantages in the second period. In this game, the Canucks killed off the first five powerplays of the game and were rebuffed every time. The Canucks received the next five, with enough overlap to create three 5-on-3 advantages and they scored on all three. That’s the story. No matter what the calls are, you play hockey with the game you have, not the one you might want or wish to have.
Still, the officials were not at their best. They were so discombobulated that they tried to call a too-many-men penalty because they didn’t realize the Sharks had pulled their goalie. Yikes.
The series of 5-on-3 powerplays for the Canucks in the second period was quite possibly the most bizarre sequence I have ever seen in a playoff game. A Torrey Mitchell hooking call less than a minute after a Dany Heatley high-stick led to the first 5-on-3. 11 seconds later, the puck was in the net. Before Mitchell’s hooking call expired, Henrik Sedin made a tape-to-tape pass to Logan Couture as he was coming off the bench, forcing a too-many-men call for the second 5-on-3. 16 seconds later, the Canucks had scored again. Just 6 seconds after the faceoff re-started play, with the bench minor still in effect, Douglas Murray cleared the puck over the glass for delay-of-game. You know at this point that the refs do not want to put the Canucks on yet another 5-on-3 powerplay, but delay-of-game is automatic. Also automatic at this point: the Canucks on a 5-on-3. 10 seconds into the 5-on-3, third goal into the net.
With Ehrhoff and Rome out, Alain Vigneault surprisingly brought in Chris Tanev and Keith Ballard, leaving Andrew Alberts in the pressbox. I know, I’m shocked too. Not that Tanev was playing; I was shocked that Ballard was on the ice. Doesn’t Vigneault hate Ballard like Nene Leakes hates Star Jones?
It’s pretty clear what Keith Ballard was doing while sitting in the press box: taking numbers. On Friday, Jamie McGinn injured two Canucks defensemen. Today, Ballard exacted some revenge with one of the most visually spectacular hipchecks you will ever see. McGinn was clearly looking to lay out Ballard with a big hit: shortly after, he was upside-down. I am in love with this hit. If I wasn’t already married, I would ask this hit to marry me. You know what, that hit is worthy breaking the law: it’s polygamy time. Hit, will you marry me?
My wife just told me that she’s totally okay with that hit entering into an open relationship with us.
With Ehrhoff out, Sami Salo stepped up into a much larger role, playing over 23 minutes and skating on the first powerplay unit. He thrived with the added responsibility, scoring 2 goals and an assist. Defensively, he blocked 5 shots while playing over 5 minutes shorthanded. He was playing like the weight of the world had just been lifted off his shoulders. Since the world didn’t end at 6:00 last night, I suspect it literally was. Clearly, the only reason the world didn’t end is because Salo saved it.
Salo had 9 of his shots blocked on Friday. On the Canucks’ first 5-on-3, he smartly passed up a shot with too many bodies in front of the net, instead feeding Ryan Kesler for the one-timer. Kesler made no mistake, burying his first goal of the series top corner past Niemi’s blocker. It was tough for Salo to pass up the shot: he loves to shoot more than Roy Harper.
Fortunately, Salo had more opportunities to shoot the puck. On the second 5-on-3, he drove a shot through Niemi with a massive slapshot. With his super-hearing, he heard a few people in the crowd speculate that it wouldn’t be possible for him to shoot it any harder than that. He took it as a challenge. On the third 5-on-3, Salo circled out past the blue line to get a good 35 foot run-up to his one-timer, ripping it five-hole on Niemi.
On that last goal, take note of how much space Henrik has to get his pass through to Salo. With Marleau playing high to take away the shot from the point…he fails to take away the shot from the point. Well done, Patty.
Only one person in the entire world would attempt to pass a puck through a goalie while on a 2-on-1. Henrik Sedin is that man. With the Sharks pushing hard to recover from a 3-0 deficit in the third period, Henrik and Burrows took advantage of an over-aggressive Douglas Murray to get a 2-on-1 break the other way. Dan Boyle defends the rush perfectly for a lesser man, but you can’t find a better man than Henrik. It’s an instant-classic bit of Wizardous Sedinerie from the Wizards of the Coast.
The Sharks were arguably the better team tonight, dominating time in the offensive zone. Meanwhile, the Canucks played it safe. An indication of how safe they played: the Canucks managed only 13 shots on Antti Niemi. Only 7 of those shots were at even-strength. Meanwhile, they took only 1 shot per 5-on-3, but scored on each one. Germans wish they could be that efficient.
Despite losing the faceoff battle, winning 45% of their draws, each of their 4 goals came shortly after a won faceoff. Maxim Lapierre was the only centre over 50% in the circle.
The Canucks managed to set a number of franchise records in this game, as pointed out by Dan Murphy. Henrik set the record for most assists in a game and in a playoff series by recording an assist on all 4 Canucks goals. Salo had the two fastest goals by one player, the Canucks as a team had the 3 fastest goals, and with only 13 shots, they set the unenviable mark of fewest shots in a playoff game. I’m also fairly certain that no other team has scored three 5-on-3 goals in one playoff game, let alone one period. They were destroying records like it was Disco Demolition Night.
Despite playing only 5 minutes tonight, Cody Hodgson had a big impact. His nifty pickpocketing of Heatley started the Sharks march to the penalty box as Heatley clipped him with a high-stick immediately after. The crazy domino tricks get all the glory, but the first domino is what gets everything started. Props to Hodgson.
Raffi Torres lived up to his reputation as a human bowling ball, as he knocked over opponents and teammates alike at every opportunity. He got a bogus charging penalty for his beautiful destruction of Douglas Murray at the end of the first period, but didn’t make any changes to his style of play, knocking Joe Thornton out of the game in the third period with a shoulder-to-shoulder collision. Uh-oh, better get Maaco.
The best post-game comment came courtesy of Alain Vigneault at the end of his time at the podium: No one’s going to ask about my goalie? Exactly. After game one, the first question Vigneault was asked was whether he was considering a goaltender change for game 4, a ludicrous question that earned a terse No from Vigneault. Then, after a solid 33-save performance, no one asked any questions about how essential his performance was to the Canucks winning this game, particularly early in the game as he helped the team kill off their early penalties.
And finally, Neil Young may have season tickets to the Sharks, but he has roots in Winnipeg. He showed up in the crowd wearing a Manitoba Moose hat. Think he’s excited about the possibility of the Thrashers moving up north?
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