So we’re five games into the Stanley Cup Final, and Boston has outscored Vancouver 14 to 6. Tim Thomas is the Conn Smythe favourite. The Sedins have two points between them. Ryan Kesler has one assist. The Canucks’ powerplay is 1-for-25. That said, the only number that matters right now is the 3-2 series lead they take back to Boston. Many thought there was no way they could recover after the most unsuccessful trip to Massachusetts since the East India Company’s 1773 delivery of three shiploads of tea, but the Canucks regrouped, refocused, then forced the Bruins into a complete reenactment of game 1. In that game, Vancouver eked out a one-goal victory with a third-period marker from the third line. Sound familiar? I recognized the similarities because I watched that game nine days ago. And then, yesterday, I watched this game:
Though he wasn’t named as one of the game’s three stars, for my money, Alex Edler was the best player on the ice last night. After the trip to Boston, it finally became apparent that the injured Dan Hamhuis was the backbone of the Canucks’ blueline (it only took us 104 games to realize this), and that somebody else was going to have to step into his steady, shutdown role. After failed attempts to pair Kevin Bieksa with Andrew Alberts and Keith Ballard, Rick Bowness finally caved and tasked the somewhat unpredictable Alex “box of chocolates” Edler with the job. Edler’s been hot and cold this postseason, relegated to the second pairing and removed from the top powerplay unit, but he found new life as Kevin Bieksa’s stay-at-home guy. He bought into the role completely, attempting only one shot and registering a whopping 10 hits. Edler stayed at home with such conviction that he was hailed a feminist hero after the game.
Also a remarkably steady presence: Chris Tanev, who played a mistake-free game. Though the rookie only skated for 12:15, his composure and calmness trickled up through the rest of the Canucks’ defense corps. Said Kevin Bieksa after the game, He’s so cool and calm he could have played with a cigarette in his mouth. It’s true. He was unbelievably relaxed. He played one of his shifts with a Fresca in his left hand. At one point, during the second period, he offered Shawn Thornton some licorice.
Tanev also nearly orchestrated the game-winner with a brilliant cross-zone pass to Tanner Glass that left the fourth-line winger an empty net at which to shoot. Unfortunately, Glass fanned on the puck in such spectacular fashion you’d have thought his hockey stick was a palm frond. “I thought I was Bill Buckner,” Glass chuckled, after the game. Thank God he was able to laugh. Had Maxim Lapierre not scored the game-winner later on, Glass may have gone down in history as this generation’s Nathan Lafayette. Good thing the Scrabble gods gave me both blank tiles when we played a couple months back. Who knows how Glass would have wasted that opportunity.
My favourite Jim Hughson call of the postseason came as the Bruins pinned the Canucks in their own zone, throwing the puck around and looking for a shot. After the Canucks took Dennis Seidenberg’s lane away, he moved the puck across to Tomas Kaberle. Hughson’s call: Seidenberg can’t shoot. Kaberle probably won’t.
Let’s talk about that game-winning goal, huh? Though Lapierre will go down in history as the goalscorer, it was a full five-man effort. The play starts in the defensive zone, as Alex Edler shoves Dennis Seidenberg off the puck for one of his 10 hits, and begins the transition. After a great save by Tim Thomas on the ensuing 2-on-1, Lapierre is the first one on the rebound. He moves the puck to Torres, who sends it up the boards to Kevin Bieksa, who intentionally banks the puck off the boards back to Lapierre. He makes no mistake. His exuberant, running celebration afterwards is hilarious. He looked like Snoopy dancing on a piano.
Lapierre had a game for the ages last night. Greg Wyshynski called it his essential performance. Apart from the game-winning goal, he also put three shots on net, attempted four more, blocked a shot, registered four hits, a takeaway and a blocked shot, and won five of nine faceoffs in just under thirteen minutes of icetime. One wonders if he’s the greatest deadline acquisition in Canucks history.
That said, Lapierre has few admirers outside of Vancouver, as a result of his tendency to dive and chirp. He was probably the last guy many in the hockey media wanted to see score the game-winner (after Alex Burrows and Raffi Torres, perhaps, Vancouver’s other game-winning goal scorers in this series). For example: Bruce Arthur tweeted that Lapierre’s goal was hockey’s death blow to karma. Vitriol was especially high after Lapierre embellished a Zdeno Chara spear in the first, reacting like he’d been shanked in the gut by White Power Bill in the prison yard. This probably doesn’t help the unfair reputation that the Canucks are whiny divers but, considering the way the media’s been whining about it and embellishing examples of it, I would say it takes one to know one.
On the goal, Tim Thomas overplayed the point shot, trying to make a kick save on a puck going about a foot wide. After the game, Roberto Luongo said that it would have been an easy stop for him. It’s true: his much more conservative playing style would have left him in position for Lapierre’s shot. The media is portraying Luongo’s quote as a boastful shot at Thomas, but it’s actually a response to the media who said, after games three and four, that the Canucks’ goalie was playing too deep. It was an amusing criticism, especially because the same guys questioned Thomas’s aggressive style after games 1 and 2. You’d think Vezina-nominated Stanley Cup Final goaltenders would get a little slack, but in this series, any time a team has perfectly executed a play to capitalize on one of their weaknesses, it’s been the goalie’s fault for getting scouted.
While we’re talking about Luongo, he posted another shutout tonight. It’s his second of the Final, but whatever. He barely had to try. He made 31 saves. Meh. They were all floaters. Boston was basically shooting underhand. I think Cory Schneider should start the next one. The Bruins have yet to score on him in this series and he has game six playoff experience.
EA Sports predicted that this series would go seven, with the home team winning every game. After five games, their prediction is looking more and more likely. What the crap? If they get this one right, I think it’s time to question whether or not they’re harvesting gypsy souls over at Electronic Arts.
Manny Malhotra took 12 faceoffs last night. 11 were in the defensive zone. This is the second straight game in which he’s taken more faceoffs inside the Vancouver blueline than Ryan Kesler. More impressively: prior to Malhotra’s return, nobody had.
Speaking of faceoffs, Alex Burrows won an interesting draw late in the game. After an icing call, the linesman kicked Henrik Sedin out of the circle. It was one of many poor choices by the officiating crew last night. Burrows won the draw, however, employing a tactic that came to the team with Manny Malhotra: since hand passes are legal in the defensive zone, if you can’t get a stick on the puck, get it with your glove. Burrows did exactly that, but he wound up snapping the puck directly to Roberto Luongo like an NFL center. Right position. Wrong sport.
Reffing has been a bone of contention throughout these Stanley Cup playoffs, but the officiating was truly awful tonight. Alex Burrows was sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct after being slewfooted by Milan Lucic on a faceoff. Ryan Kesler was called for goaltender interference after Zdeno Chara ran into Tim Thomas at the side of the net. Meanwhile, the officials looked the other way for Boston. A blatant crosscheck by Dennis Seidenberg after the whistle went uncalled, for instance. It was interesting to note the connection between Seidenberg’s kneejerk accusation that Burrows dove and the referees letting the play go. Clearly, the Canucks have lost favour with the zebras.
Mason Raymond continues to struggle with the whole “scoring” aspect of being a top six winger, but he had a great game. He had three shots, two hits, two takeaways, and a blocked shot. He nearly got one on a beautiful dash through the offensive zone that forced Tim Thomas to make a remarkable blocker save. And he also exacted revenge for Brad Marchand’s game four low-bridge on Daniel Sedin by pulling the same stunt on Marchand when the Bruins forward took a run at him along the boards. Clearly, he had a vendetta. His Guy Fawkes mask was a dead giveaway.
Scary moment for the Canucks when Sami Salo took a shot off the ankle during the Bruins’ most dangerous shift. Vancouver really can’t afford to lose another shutdown guy. However, in a surprising turn of events for the injury prone defenseman, he fought through the pain, finished the shift, and stayed in the game. So how did he do it? He reminded himself that it could have been worse: for example, he could have been born with testicles on his ankle.
And finally, because I love you, here’s a Raffi Torres screencap from CBC’s postgame montage in which he bears a striking resemblance to Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
After a win over the Detroit Red Wings, the Canucks are sitting in second in the Pacific and boast the division's best goal differential. That said, a big part of that goal differential comes from the Canucks' league-leading 10 empty net goals. […]