In the Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s classic bout, the Rumble in the Jungle, Ali famously used what came to be called the rope-a-dope strategy. Early in the fight, he provoked Foreman into an all-out attack, but absorbed the blows by leaning against the ropes, allowing their elasticity to distribute the kinetic energy. Once Foreman had tired himself out and began making mistakes, Ali pressed the counter-attack and ended up winning the fight by knockout in the eighth round.
Against the Flames, the Canucks seemed to employ a similar rope-a-dope strategy. In this case, Roberto Luongo was the rope and the Flames were the dopes, as the Canucks coasted through much of the game before seeming to flip a switch in the third period, capitalizing on the Flames’ errors, and scoring three quick goals to win the game.
Unlike the Rumble in the Jungle, this game won’t go down in history as one of the greatest sporting events of all time. Even still, I watched this game.
Canucks 4 – 1 Flames
Roberto Luongo was the surprise starter for this game after Cory Schneider was reported ill with the flu. Since the Canucks couldn’t play the game without their full complement of redheads, they called up an emergency backup redhead from the University of Calgary, Dustin Butler. Coincidentally, he was also an emergency backup goaltender.
Also missing from this game: Chris Tanev and Chris Higgins, who both are out with injuries. This led Sportsnet to run a graphic with the title “Chrisis? What Chrisis?” which is simultaneously the worst and the best thing ever. Personally, I would have gone with “Canucks’ Chris Crisis Causes Concern.”
I don’t know what to make of the line of Ryan Kesler, Zack “Puck Passing” Kassian, and Mason Raymond. At times they showed remarkable chemistry, with Kassian showing his puck distributing skill, particularly on a nifty between-the-legs drop pass to Kesler in the first, but the line as a whole got badly out-shot by the Flames when they were on the ice. Kassian finished with a 17-3 shot differential in favour of the Flames, Raymond’s finished 15-4, and Kesler’s was 12-4. Personally, I think the solution is to put Chris Higgins with Kesler and Kassian when he returns, forming the Kes-Kass-Kiss line.
All three members of that line were on the ice when the Flames opened the scoring, but it’s hard to really blame any of them, as the puck pinballed off Kesler’s shinpad and Garrison’s skate and in. Unfortunately for the Flames, the last two digits of their score didn’t match the lucky numbers and it was game over after that.
A lucky bounce like that was bound to happen, considering that the Flames were out-shooting the Canucks 11-6 at the time of the goal. It took that kind of bounce to beat Luongo in this game: he made 40 saves in his first start in over three weeks. He didn’t show any rust or emotional turmoil; instead, he was the same as he ever was and didn’t seem at all like he wanted to find himself in another part of the world.
It didn’t take long for the Canucks to respond, as Alex Burrows tied the game up with the most Burrowsy goal possible. Jason Garrison’s point shot ended up at Burrows’ feet in the crease. With his stick tied up and not wanting to kick the puck into the net, he dropped to all fours in an attempt to knee the puck in. Turns out, this isn’t allowed, but Burrows admitted to Dan Murphy during the intermission that he had no idea it was against the rules. The referee waved the goal off immediately, but the video review revealed that it was Dennis Wideman’s stick that knocked the puck into the net. When Burrows just goes hard to the net, he gets goal after goal called off. When he blatantly (if unintentionally) tries to cheat, the goal counts.
How long did Alain Vigneault manage to keep himself from putting Kesler on the penalty kill? Approximately one-and-a-half games. In his defence, Kesler only came out shorthanded when Maxim Lapierre was in the box for a tripping penalty and so wasn’t available. Of course, Kesler blocked a shot while killing the penalty and led the team in blocked shots with three. I swear, he needs an intervention.
The first half of the third period was all Calgary, as Luongo was forced to make several solid stops while staring down open Flames. Personally, when I stare at open flames I just get really quiet and contemplative, but Luongo managed to stay focussed and keep the game tied until the Canucks could take over.
Maxim Lapierre scored the go-ahead goal thanks to a fantastic forecheck by Andrew Ebbett, who turned the puck over behind the net and flipped it in front, where Lapierre whacked it in like he was Princess Lockeroo. Wait, no, that’s Waacking. My bad.
Three minutes later, Kesler and Kassian’s callow chemistry paid off. Kassian gained the zone and neatly dropped the puck to Kesler, who fired it on net, as he is wont to do. Kiprusoff kicked the puck back out to the faceoff circle, where Dan Hamhuis went into his full wind-up and blasted a fastball on goal. Kiprusoff, like J.P. Arencibia trying to catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball, couldn’t handle it and the puck popped up into the air for Raymond to bunt in. With his speed, he was able to beat it out for a base hit.
Raymond’s speed led to the Canucks’ final powerplay of the game and a pretty give-and-go goal for the Sedins, as he was hooked on a breakaway, but didn’t earn a penalty shot since he still got a good scoring chance. The Sedins created a better one: Daniel slid the puck to Henrik along the boards, then slipped into the slot to receive the return feed, which he fired just inside the far post. Incredibly, it was Daniel’s first powerplay goal since January 5th. He managed to go 35 games without a powerplay goal, which doesn’t even seem possible.
Regrettably, the Canucks weren’t able to get Dustin Butler into the game in the final minutes. Apparently, Luongo and the rest of the Canucks wanted to get him into the game once it was out of reach, but there wasn’t a stoppage in play after Daniel’s goal. Probably for the best: Canucks fans can be pretty hard on their goaltenders.
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