Most people in the hockey world thought a match-up between the Red Wings and Canucks, the two best teams in the Western Conference, would be the game to watch tonight. Instead, Sam “Him?” Gagner stepped into the spotlight, scoring 8 points against the Chicago Blackhawks and tying Paul Coffey and Wayne Gretzky’s franchise record for most points in a game.
Yeah. Sam Gagner did that.
But I didn’t watch that game. The game I watched was merely okay. What game did I watch? I watched this game.
Canucks 3 – 4 Red Wings (SO)
I’m not kidding: one of the highlights of this game was hearing Sam Gagner updates up and down the press box. “Gagner has 5 points!” “Really?” “Oh my goodness, he just scored another goal.” “6 points?” “What is happening?” “7 points!” “Ha, he just passed his Dad’s career-high for points in a game.” “Wait a second, he’s just one point from tying Wayne Gretzky for the franchise record.” “No.” “8 points, he did it!” “What in the world?” “Seriously?” “Sam Gagner now shares a record with Wayne Gretzky. The world doesn’t make sense any more.”
With Chris Higgins out of the lineup with a hunger for brains the flu, Alain Vigneault sent out Andrew Alberts as the fourth line winger and bumped Raymond and Malhotra up to the second and third line, respectively. But those lines transformed more than a Triple Changer, to the point that even the Sedins were split in the third period. There’s a reason why: the Canucks were terrible in the first two periods. I mean, worse than Broadside terrible.
Oddly enough, the Red Wings played like they actually wanted to win this game. I can’t imagine why. Meanwhile, Roberto Luongo, who would have surely given up 6 goals against the Chicago Blackhawks, was suitably brilliant and made 40 saves. Also suitably brilliant? Me, in my brand new suit.
Those were just the best of his 14 first period saves. He had 14 more in the second and another 12 through the third period and overtime. And yet, some people will criticize him like crazy because of the 2 he didn’t make in the shootout. With a lesser goaltender (like, say, Corey Crawford or Ray Emery), this game would have been out of reach halfway through the first period, when the shots were 10-1 in favour of the Red Wings.
Luongo also looked impressively comfortable handling the puck. His best moment was when he beat Bertuzzi to a puck that would have given him and Franzen a 2-on-0. He calmly played it away, while giving Schneider knowing looks on the bench. This is how you clear a loose puck, Gingerbricks. Watch and learn.
It’s not often that someone makes Dan Hamhuis look absolutely silly, but Danny Cleary managed to accomplish it to open the scoring for the Red Wings. He went outside-inside on the Community Man, before walking right around him and snapping the puck stick-side. Cleary’s just lucky that he caught Hamhuis when he was playing the role of a living statue to raise money for the Canucks For Kids Fund.
Like sine and cosine, the Red Wings came in waves for the first 40 minutes, overwhelming the Canucks’ transition game with relentless forechecking. The speed of Helm was particularly noticeable and the Canucks had trouble escaping their own zone with possession because of the pressure.
The line of Booth, Kesler, and Raymond seemed to be the only line that was capable of actually playing hockey in the first two periods; with the transition game hampered by Detroit’s forecheckers, dump-and-chase hockey was a requirement. That line’s speed enabled them to effectively create chances with the dump-and-chase strategy and led to the tying goal. Booth impressively out-battled Datsyuk along the boards and cut out front, while Kesler whacked in the rebound like it was an uppity mole.
One bright spot for the Canucks was the penalty kill, which successfully killed off both Detroit powerplays. Hamhuis and Bieksa were particularly good shorthanded. At one point, Bieksa showed off his cross-sport acumen, leaping up and spiking a puck out of harm’s way in front of the net. He then absolutely leveled Pavel Datsyuk behind the net like an All-Pro linebacker. His shift didn’t last long enough for him to snag a puck on the short-hop like a center-fielder.
The second period was balls. The Canucks didn’t get a single shot until 12 minutes into the second frame. It’s a minor miracle that the Red Wings only scored one goal, a sickly sweet snap shot by Jiri Hudler off the rush. Maxim Lapierre responded to the goal by getting into a combination staring contest/wrestling match with Justin Abdelkader. It’ll never be as successful as chess-boxing.
Gordie Howe was at the game and received a loud and long standing ovation from the Rogers Arena crowd when his name was announced. I don’t have a quip or clever observation here; it was just pretty cool.
I love Jannik Hansen. I don’t love dangerous plays. I especially don’t love it when a player I love makes a dangerous play. Hansen pushing Ericsson’s skate out from under him as they chased down an icing was extremely dangerous. The Rogers Arena crowd, however, was, like a hippy’s bathroom, incensed. They booed lustily and chanted “Ref you suck!” after seeing the replay.
After 40 minutes of absolute domination by the Red Wings, they seemed to decide that a one-goal lead was good enough. The Canucks had other ideas, out-shooting the Wings 10-0 at one point in the period. The re-shuffling of the lines seemed to have helped, as Daniel skated with Kesler and Booth, Henrik centred Hodgson and Raymond, and Lapierre formed a checking trio with Hansen and Burrows. Malhotra jumped on the ice for faceoffs occasionally, while Weise and Alberts played Cat’s Cradle on the bench.
Down by one, the Canucks began gambling with a riskier, more aggressive forecheck, and it paid off with the second of three tying goals. Hansen, Lapierre, and Burrows swarmed poor Drew Miller like angry bees, causing a turnover that Burrows slapped into the top corner.
It didn’t take long for Miller to make up for his mistake. After Luongo made a save on a Cleary tip, Rome tried to shovel it to Luongo to cover up; unfortunately, his pass was a little weak, leading to a mad scramble in front of the net. Luongo made a brilliant toe save on Cleary just before Miller gathered the rebound and fired it in to put the Wings up 3-2.
The Canucks managed to tie the game up again, however. This time, it was Mason Raymond, whose wrist shot deflected off Brad Stuart’s knee and past Jimmy Howard. I have no idea why Stuart lifted his leg on that shot, but I have a couple theories: 1) He was a dog in a previous life and he really needed to use the bathroom. 2) He’s wanted to join The Rockettes all his life and he subconsciously broke into a routine. 3) It was Brett Lebda’s fault.
Burrows had the best hypothetical chance in overtime, but ran into the linesman on a potential breakaway. Or maybe the linesman ran into him. It depends on whether your hat is made from tin foil or not.
The result of the shootout wasn’t the least bit surprising: the Red Wings have players who can score in the shootout and the Canucks don’t. The player in the lineup for the Canucks with the best career shootout percentage was Maxim Lapierre, who is 3-for-6 in his career. Would you have guessed that?
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