It wasn’t that long ago that we considered the Canucks to have no chance whatsoever at first place in the Western Conference, let alone the Presidents’ Trophy. On March 20th, for instance, the Canucks were a full 6 points back of the Blues with just 10 games remaining and were coming off their 7th loss in 10 games, leading PITB to theorize that the Canucks were taking it easy to close out the season. To top it off, Daniel Sedin was injured by the dirtiest cheap shot of the season.
It looked like curtains for the Canucks’ chances at finishing first overall, but they responded to Daniel’s concussion by going 8-1 over their next 9 games, leading to a dramatic final game against the Edmonton Oilers. With the Rangers losing and the Blues winning earlier in the day, the Canucks had to pick up, at minimum, a single point to win both the Western Conference and the Presidents’ Trophy.
Unlike the rest of the season, the Canucks overachieved when I watched this game.
Canucks 3 – 0 Oilers
In all seriousness, winning back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies is an impressive feat that deserves big kudos. So, here goes:
The best player on the ice played for the losing team: Devan Dubnyk played a phenomenal game, making 39 saves, many of the genus crikey. Unfortunately for him, the Canucks took 42 shots.
Dubnyk was superb early, as the Canucks were dominant in the first period, taking 10 shots before the Oilers even got one, but his best save came when the game was already decided in the third period. Chris “Kiss Huggins” Higgins was coming off 5 goals in 7 games and looked sure to make it 6 in 8, staring at a wide open net from the slot after a sweet feed from David Booth. Instead, Dubnyk dove across, made a tremendous save with his stick, and covered up the rebound with his glove, robbing Higgins of the goal and the hug.
Higgins’ reaction to the save-of-the-year candidate was priceless, giving the goaltender a look that could be interpreted one of three ways: the biggest woe-is-me pout you’ll ever see, a grudging not bad Duby, or a terrible Deniro impression. Definitely not as good as Vernon Fiddler’s Deniro.
Unlike Dubnyk, Luongo had very little to do in this game, picking up the 60th shutout of his career with just 17 saves and plenty of help from his goalposts. Typical Luongo: even when he gets a shutout, it’s a particularly chokey shutout that won’t silence his critics.
Luongo’s best save came on a shorthanded breakaway by Ryan Jones, though he was helped along by Alex Edler backchecking hard from behind. Of course, when I say “backchecking,” I mean “hooking” and when I say “from behind” I mean “right in front of the referee.” It definitely could have been called. And by “could,” I mean “should.”
The reffing was problematic all game. Burrows was called for a high-stick on a clear follow-through, giving the Oilers a 5-on-3 in the first period, but other than that it was all in the Canucks’ favour. Edler hit Eberle from behind, but the only call was on Eberle for the retaliatory slash. Salo caught Horcoff in the mouth with a high stick, causing him to check to make sure all his teeth were still there, but it was missed entirely. When Salo himself was hit in the mouth with Nugent-Hopkins’ stick and the refs missed it, a linesman made the call. Malhotra sent VandeVelde into the boards awkwardly from behind, but Eager was the one to get the penalty for cross-checking Malhotra in return. Clearly the referees were getting their favourable calls for the Canucks out of the way before the playoffs started.
Ales Hemsky was easily the best skater for the Oilers, finishing with a team-high 6 shot attempts: 5 of them hit the net and the 6th hit the post after a gorgeous move. He also set up Sam Gagner with an open net after making Bieksa look silly by pulling up on a 2-on-1 and letting him slide helplessly past. Hemsky pulled everyone’s attention his way as he stood alone in the slot, then slipped the pass through to Gagner with an open net to shoot at. Well, open except for Edler sprawled in the crease. It wasn’t quite Dwight Howard on Mehmet Okur, but Edler was still credited with a blocked shot.
The game remained scoreless through 35 minutes and the Canucks needed something to spark the offence. Fortunately, Tom Renney obliged by sending Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager onto the ice. After Maxim “Lappy 486” Lapierre steamrolled Hordichuk, he came out of the corner like he was Baby and he had just been put there. He attempted to elbow Kesler in the head, sparking a mad scrum where both Hordichuk and Eager went after Lapierre, leading to a 4 minute powerplay for the Canucks. But man, their toughness really made the Oilers’ stars feel safer. Really.
Though Higgins was held off the scoreboard by Dubnyk, the third line, ostensibly a checking line, once again contributed offensively. Samme Pahlsson cut off Dubnyk’s clearing attempt around the boards, chipping it back behind the net to Jannik Hansen. Pahlsson then made like Brett Hull and found a soft spot in the Oilers’ defence to send Hansen’s return pass just over Dubnyk’s right pad with a one-timer. Before you start referring to Pahlsson as the next Brett Hull, however, keep in mind that it’s very, very easy to find soft spots in the Oilers’ defence. They’re like a baby’s skull.
Prior to the game, the Canucks gave out their team awards, with the bulk of them being selected by the fans. This sent many into conniptions that the fans got the choices all wrong, that Henrik wasn’t the team’s MVP, Edler wasn’t the best defenceman, and Higgins wasn’t unsung – he was totally sung! The one that got everyone’s britches in a twist was David Booth as the Canucks Most Exciting Player, as he had just 15 goals heading into game 82 and was coming off 10 games without a point. So Booth went out of his way to justify the fans’ choice, having arguably his best game of the season and putting a gob-smacking 11 shots on net.
One of those shots even went in, and it was plenty exciting. On the powerplay, Booth came flying through the neutral zone, picked up the drop pass from Bieksa, then completely burned Jeff Petry and made a nifty move to beat Dubnyk. Petry, of course, is the player whose emergence this year allegedly made Tom Gilbert expendable at the trade deadline. If that’s the Oilers’ idea of a top-notch defenceman, I’m looking forward to many more games against the Oilers in the coming years.
With Mason Raymond out of the lineup becoming a father, the red-hot Lapierre was moved to the second line with Kesler and Booth, which seemed to spark the line. The trio out-shot the entire Oilers’ team 20-17, with Lapierre getting 4 shots on net himself and having another 3 attempts blocked. Given Lapierre’s recent success on the top line and Higgins’ fantastic work on the third line, Lappy 486 might have earned himself a spot in the top six for the start of the playoffs. At least, until someone hits his USB self-destruct button.
The atmosphere in Rogers Arena was excellent to end off the regular season. I may not like the wave, but the game where the home team wins the Presidents’ Trophy is probably the least inappropriate time for it to occur. I also appreciated the standing ovation they gave the Canucks for the final minute of the game and the one last Luuuuu for Luongo’s final save of the game.
Prior to Vigneault’s appearance on After Hours, CBC showed the Canucks’ “Please Celebrate Responsibly” PSA. As it ended, you could distinctly hear Vigneault chewing on a cough drop. Never change, AV, never change.
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