Last year’s Stanley Cup Final opener was a 6-5 game, a classic barn-burner between two freewheeling offensive clubs, with nets minded by Antti “Just wins” Niemi and Michael “Just waived” Leighton, but anyone hoping for another barn-burner was kidding themselves. The Canucks and the Bruins don’t play that way. Instead, both are built around those two things hockey fans loathe: defensive systems and Vezina-nominated goalies. (Blech. Nothing ruins offense like a commitment to preventing it.) Unsurprisingly, then, the Canucks and Bruins gave us the first 1-0 Game 1 since 1984, with the goal coming after fifty-nine minutes of scoreless hockey. That said, that doesn’t mean this game was unentertaining. Anyone who says that clearly didn’t watch this game. Shun them and listen to me. Unlike them, I watched this game.
It was beginning to look as though we were in for overtimes aplenty until Raffi Torres’s goal with 18 seconds remaining in the game. The scoring chance is the result of a great play by Ryan Kesler, who tips a puck past a wandering Johnny Boychuk, draws three Bruins to him, then finds Jannik Hansen streaking into the zone. Meanwhile, compounding Johnny Boychuk’s problems, Raffi Torres walks right around him and turns the play into a two-on-one. This is unfortunate. If Hansen had Tomas Kaberle one-on-one, there might be cause for concern, because Hansen’s won that battle before, but Zdeno Chara is the Bruins’ defender in front. One-on-one, he would have done just fine. Unfortunately, with a passing option now in tow, Hansen has the upper hand, and he draws both Chara and Tim Thomas to him. Chara tries to lay down to take away the pass, but when you’re that tall, dropping to one’s belly takes so long there’s elevator music. Hansen gets the puck across to Raffi Torres, who directs it past a sprawling Thomas.
Clearly the Bruins and the Canucks don’t see each other too often — Patrice Bergeron doesn’t know much about Alex Burrows. 14 Western Conference teams and the entire NHL officiating staff would have warned him not to put his finger in the mouth of Alex Burrows, the Charlie of the NHL. Next thing you know, Bergeron’s going to put his hair in Burrows’s hands or gently place Burrows’s stick between his thighs. Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if Burrows was suspended a game for his zombie bite on Bergeron. Provoked or not, it was a silly thing to do, especially considering the Canucks’ mandate to avoid the between-whistle stuff. Biting is not very zen. Burrows should stick to archery, which is more zen.
Almost as exciting as Raffi’s game-winning goal? The inevitable, hilarious photo if him celebrating afterwards. Here it is. Early reactions say Torres looks like alien Mr. Burns doing jazz hands. Also: while you’re looking at that photo, find the guy in the lime green polo. Pretty easy, huh? Yeah, it’s too easy. Someone should tell him.
On the faceoff immediately following the goal, Kesler goes straight ahead, missing a net Tim Thomas is no longer minding by only a few feet. He had scored, the goals would have been four seconds apart, making them the fastest two goals in postseason history, one second faster than Norm Ullman’s two goals in five seconds in 1965. It also would have been a nice capper to a fine faceoff performance. Kesler went 13-for-22 on the night, including 5-for-5 in the offensive zone.
A lot of people are arguing about whether the goal was offside. It wasn’t, andhere’s the proof. As you can see, not only does Kesler smartly pick Boychuk’s pocket, but he drags a leg to ensure he stays onside. It’s an impressive play. I haven’t seen Kesler drag a leg like that since… well, when he did it for two whole periods versus San Jose. So, not that long ago.
Glenn Healy tends to vacillate between incoherence and blind rage, but sometimes, he’s like a brook that babbles pure gold. Here he is, mixing idioms with aplomb: “You wanna venture outside the house, then you’re playing with someone else’s cards.” Well, that just doesn’t make any sense. He sounds like Zap Brannigan detailing an attack plan.
I know he scored the game winner, but you’ve gotta feel for Raffi Torres. Not only does he appear to be getting oranger by the day — lately he looks like the lovechild of Velma Dinkley and Fozzie Bear — but scoring the game-winning goal meant every major media publication would be doing a story on him for tomorrow’s paper. That meant all the postgame questions directed at him were about how nobody wanted him this summer. “Thanks for the reminder,” he laughed, the first time he was asked at the presser. I have to imagine, the last time he’s asked, there will be less chuckling and more collapsing a man’s eyes with his thumbs.
Alex Edler had a strong game with a team-high 29 shifts for 24:27, two hits, two takeaways, and a game-high five blocked shots, one less than half his team’s total blocks on the night. He almost opened the series scoring, too, when he stepped over the blue line and wristed a laser past Tim Thomas. Unfortunately, it caught more iron than a wrinkled shirt.
Jannik Hansen was stellar tonight, but he won’t get the credit he deserves. When a game ends 1-0, it’s almost automatic that the three stars will be the two goalies and the guy that scored, and that’s what happened tonight. But one could argue that Hansen was the best Canucks’ forward. He was impactful in his fifteen minutes of icetime, generating Boston turnovers, creating scoring chances, and laying big hits, including two lovelies in one shift on Andrew Ference and Rich Peverley. He also had a breakaway and the primary assist on the game-winner. Not too shabby. Also not too shabby? Harrison Ford being a quarter Jewish.
Torres and Hansen have already received praise, but this was a great game by every member of the third line, individually and as a unit. Along with the game-winner, the line had a combined 10 hits and 10 shots. Six of those shots were Lapierre’s, and at least three were quality scoring chances. If Vancouver’s third line can continue to play at this level, Boston will be in tough.
A lot of people complain that the media in the East don’t see enough of the Sedins to fully respect their unique game. It’s true. But Tim Thomas’s unique goaltending is similarly underappreciated out West. He’s crazy good. He made two saves in the opening minute of tonight’s game that few goalies could have made. He kept his team in it in the third, too, when the Canucks really began to turn up the pressure. He deserved better tonight.
Speaking of great goaltending, did you know Roberto Luongo didn’t get scored on tonight? It’s true. Luongo is the only goalie I’ve ever seen who can make a 36-save shutout and get shrugs. Luongo made three saves more than Tim Thomas and let in one goal less. Some will argue that Thomas had to make more difficult stops, but it’s not easy to make 36 saves look easy. Luongo is just a remarkably controlled goalie. He’s also remarkably clutch. Luongo has never been scored on in the Stanley Cup Final.
Boston’s poor powerplay continued to be poor, but it would appear that their problems are communicable. Both teams went 0-for-6 tonight with the man advantage, a development that made the penalty-heavy first half of the game feel pretty slow. On the flipside, if you were an optimist, you could also say that both teams went 6-for-6 on the penalty kill. It’s not entirely untrue. Both powerplays looked dangerous at times, but the penalty killers did a good job of closing up shooting lanes and letting their goaltenders see shots. Back on the negative side, however, Boston’s powerplay has some serious issues, such as Zdeno Chara as the net presence. His long reach is somewhat mitigated in crease traffic, and also, he has the hardest shot in the league. Don’t you think you should put him in a place where he can use it? Tomas Kaberle’s not cutting it at the point. Vancouver was so unthreatened by Kaberle’s shot, the moment he wound up, all six Canucks started skating up ice. That’s right, all six.
Dan Hamhuis’s hipcheck on Milan Lucic was wonderful, although the subsequent “middle body” injury (as Alain Vigneault coyly called it) was much less so. As he sent Lucic ass over teakettle, the Community Man appeared to strain something while ensuring Lucic landed safely (no joke, watch it again). Anyway, it would appear that flipping Milan Lucic is risky business. Also risky business? The film Risky Business.
Because the “no crosschecking” rule doesn’t apply when defending against a Sedin, Boston’s gameplan for stopping the twins became simple: crosscheck them straight to Hell. Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg were particularly committed. On one shift, Seidenberg cross-checked Daniel Sedin in the spine a record 9 times in a row. Daniel, doing his best impression of the referees, didn’t react at all. People often rip the Sedins for not being tough enough. No one ever gives them credit for having backs like stegosauruses.
And finally, though the shots on goal in the third period were only 14-10 in favour of the Canucks, it was clear to most, Claude Julien included, that Vancouver took over the game in the final frame. This isn’t the first time a game has tilted drastically in the Canucks’ favor in the third. You’ll recall the openers against San Jose and Chicago unfolded similarly. Each time, the opposing coach blames his players, but it’s happened enough times now that it might have more to do with the Canucks. Is this a conditioning thing?
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