Third Man In is a feature that reminds the world that PITB actually has three writers and occasionally, that third writer comes flying into the fray with his gloves off, looking for a piece of the action. Usually on Friday.
The Canucks have seemed stacked on paper since July 1st, but the playoffs have shown how amazing the team really is. The team hasn’t gone through much in the way of playoff adversity, when you think about it. They’ve never trailed in a series, have faced elimination only once, and have racked up enough wins in each series that they’d have at least three chances to eliminate their opponents.
Of course, it’s easy to expect that with the way the Canucks dominated the league in every statistical category this season. Best offense, best defense, best special teams, best faceoff team, best record. For me, it’s almost like the Canucks were expected to wind up here. Who really expected the Predators to stop the Canucks in the second round?
Really, though, the Canucks’ making it to the Cup Finals for the first time in 17 years is special not only because it was a long time coming, but because it was truly on the backs of the whole team. Like The Avengers, the Canucks’ playoff roster is stacked when it comes to heroes.
Kevin Bieksa is the most recent and most obvious hero, with his Cup Final-clinching goal and all-around great play. Previously the playoff goat whose infamous antics (double slide, anyone?) were held up as cause of the Canucks’ early ousters the past two years, Bieksa hasn’t really elevated his game, so much as made it more consistent. Bieksa is reliable defensively and makes clutch offensive plays. He’s kept the mistakes to a minimum and prevented emotion from hurting his game, and he’s deservedly received much praise of late for his impact.
Alex Burrows has likewise done it all. The most emotional moment in these playoffs for me was his overtime goal in Game 7 against Chicago. In that series, the Canucks confirmed what many suspected — the Blackhawks were in their heads. The Canucks got cocky, then they got blown out, then they got scared, then they nearly lost the series. Riding high as the team is, it’s almost surreal to remember the Canucks were one Luongo mistake away from the biggest playoff humiliation in the history of the NHL. Alex Burrows didn’t score the most goals these playoffs, but he scored by far the most important one so far — his goal was the difference between a chance at the Cup and a humiliation that would never be forgotten.
With no disrespect meant to Schneider, the Canucks don’t make it to the Cup Finals without Luongo. His strong play in the San Jose series, stealing two games, is only the most recent of his heroic acts. Remember that without his performance in Game 7 of the Chicago series, Canuck fans would be arguing right now about who should be traded or fired, and which other team to root for in the Finals. Luongo kept Toews and Kane and Sharp and Hossa from sending the Canucks packing, and if he didn’t steal the last two games against San Jose, the Canucks would be down 3-2 in the series. Advancing to the Final then is hardly a sure thing.
Chris Higgins stepped in for Samuelsson, scored three game-winners and set up Bieksa for the deciding breakaway goal in Game 1 of San Jose. Sami Salo stepped in for an injured Ehrhoff and led the Canucks to win Game 4 against San Jose with two goals and an assist. Maxim Lapierre gave the Canucks a reliable replacement for Manny Malhotra and scored a couple timely goals while being strong defensively. Jannik Hansen has given the opposition fits, generated crazy momentum, and always seems to help tilt the ice in the Canucks’ favor. Raffi Torres has been a physical force. Take away any of these guys, and who knows where the Canucks would be right now?
It’s a shame there’s only one Conn Smythe trophy to give out at the end of the playoffs, because so many Canucks have put in performances that have changed the dynamic of the postseason. Like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, the Sedins and Kesler are the poster boys, and with good reason, but there haven’t been any passengers on this team. Throughout these playoffs, every player has had his moments to play hero, and their rising to the occasion every time is the reason this team may very well hoist the Cup.
Time Off is Good
There have been some complaints that the Canucks won’t get the full advantage of closing the series out early, because the Cup Finals won’t start until the first of June. This is ridiculous for two reasons. First, every playoff game is another chance for your players to get seriously hurt. The advantage to closing out the San Jose series early is that the Canucks have two fewer games for their players to be ground into the boards, the ice, and all manner of hard surfaces. That’s the advantage. Second, the Canucks aren’t 100% healthy right now. If the Cup Final started tomorrow, the Canucks would be without Christian Ehrhoff and probably wouldn’t have Ryan Kesler playing at his full potential. Ehrhoff and Rome are expected to be ready for the Final, and Kesler and the rest of the Canucks have extra time to heal, and this is because the Final’s starting a bit late.
Besides, this gives the Canucks a good five days’ notice when it comes to who they face. Alain Vigneault will be able to prepare his team strategically in a way the Canucks haven’t been able to yet this postseason. The Canucks found out they were playing the Blackhawks and the Sharks at the last minute, and the ‘Hawks series lasted so long they had no prep time for the Predators. Alain Vigneault won the Jack Adams in 2007 and could win it this season, too. He’s a very good coach. Canucks fans should be looking forward to seeing how well he prepares his team given the long break.
Who Do We Want?
The “Lightning versus Bruins” debate is all the rage, just as it was with San Jose versus Detroit. Either series, the Canucks will have their hands full, but the two potential opponents are very different. The Boston Bruins have their weaknesses, but are big and scary and probably have the best answer to the Sedins that the Canucks have seen all playoffs in Krejci, Chara and Thomas. Think Nashville, only tougher, and with legitimate offensive threats. The Lightning, on the other hand, are simply the most well-rounded team in the playoffs excepting the Canucks.
The thing to really consider in these series is the X factors. Against the Bruins, the worry is injury. Kesler, Ehrhoff and Salo are already pretty banged up these playoffs, and no one’s injury proof. The Bruins are a big, physical team and it’s likely that against them, the Canucks’ depth would be tested. The Canucks are deep, yes, but having the likes of Lucic and Chara banging on the Sedins and Kesler can be a little unsettling.
What scares me from the Lightning is Dwayne Roloson. He was injured in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, and while he watched from the press box, his team pushed the series to seven games. If you’re in his shoes, you can’t help but think an injury cost you the Cup. He’s getting old, and the man is determined to have another shot. If he makes it into the Cup Finals, I’m worried about his sheer determination. He’s been a huge part of the run the Lightning have been on thus far, and he terrifies me.
For that reason, I’m rooting for the Bruins. Their toothless powerplay and poor puck management are weaknesses the Canucks can exploit. The Canucks are favorites either way, but I’d take the Bruins over the Lightning.
Trevor Linden Was Crazy Manly
It’s no secret that hockey players are manlier than basketball players — one group will miss games with pinky sprains, the other will play with broken bones — and it’s no secret that Trevor Linden was a truly magnificent leader and player. Still, in case anyone missed it, check out this quote from Cliff Ronning:
“You don’t know this, but Trevor Linden had cracked ribs and torn rib cartilage for the last four games of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final. You can’t imagine what it’s like to hear your captain, in a room down the hall, screaming at the top of his lungs as they injected the needle into his rib cage. Knowing him, he probably thought we couldn’t hear. He would then walk into our dressing room like nothing had happened. That was inspirational.”
It’s good that the Canucks are looking back this season at the heroes of the past, and that we get to talk about how amazing guys like Linden really were. The ’94 team had its share of heroes, too.
Tags: Cup Finals, featured, heroes, playoffs, Third Man In, Trevor Linden was crazy manly