2011 NHL Playoffs - 2011 Presidents Trophy winners exorcize their 1st demon. Vancouver Canucks beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks to advance to round 2.
April 26, 2011 is a day that fans of the Vancouver Canucks will hold in nearly the same light as June 11, 1994 is, or May 6, 1982. Of course, those dates are known by many fans as the dates of the Canucks last Stanley Cup finals win, game 6 vs the New York Rangers and of course the date that the Canucks won their first Campbell Conference trophy with a 6-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks to advanced to their first Stanley Cup Finals.
The date of April 26th 2011, although it is the date of nothing more than a 1st round victory that enables them to advance to the 2nd round for the 4th time in 5 years is a theraputic date for both the fans & players of the Canucks. It is the day their team was finally able to slay the mental beast of the Chicago Blackhawks.
For the 2 playoff years prior the Canucks ended up with the Hawks in round 2 of the playoffs. In both of those series the Canucks started the series off on top. Being up 1-0 & 2-1 in 2009 was not enough, as they would eventually crumble after that going out in 6 games. In 2010, the chance to get revenge appeared to be there, the Canucks were a better regular season team, but the Hawks, with the extra year of playoff experience were a more formidable opponent & despite giving the Canucks game 1, would eventually again end the series in 6. That version of the Hawks went on to win the Stanley Cup. Of course, in the salary cap era, many notable pieces of their cup run like their heroic goalie Antti Niemi, scoring depth forward Andrew Ladd & power forward extraordinaire Dustin Byfuglien were tossed aside to make cap space.
Fast forward to 2011. The Canucks win the Presidents Trophy for leagues top regular season team. They win the Jennings trophy for best team goals against. For the 2nd year in a row they have an Art Ross Trophy winner, as Daniel Sedin equals his brother Henrik in that category. The top Power Play in the league, top in goals, and top in goals against. The Canucks appeared almost unbeatable. On the other side stood the Chicago Blackhawks, a team who backed into the very last spot in the playoffs after they failed to win a "win & your in" game & had to watch hopelessly as another team, the Dallas Stars failed the same task, giving the Hawks the 8th seed.
Many wondered if the Hawks of old would mentally phase the Canucks of now. In the 1st 3 games of the series, it looked absurd to think it. The Canucks won those meetings, taking a seemingly insurmountable series 3-0 lead. Then "it" happened. Somehow, somewhere, the nagging ghosts of the past got into the Canucks heads. For games 4 & 5, it seemed like the wheels had completely blown out on the Canucks road to the cup. Losing by a combined 12-2 over those two games, and seeing their Vezina candidate goaltender Roberto Luongo chased in both games. In game 6, they gave rookie Cory Schneider a chance to run with it. The kid did well, although 2 glaring gaffes gave the Blackhawks enough life, that eventually they would go on to down the Canucks in OT 4-3 when rookie Ben Smith added to the cities misery with a lucky backhand flick of his stick. While this game saw a far better Canucks effort, including that of Luongo, who came in for relief duty from Schneider after a minor injury. The consensus being they were the better team & were perhaps robbed by suspect reffing, the fact was, they were finding themselves in a do or die, game 7 against a team that has managed to come from behind 2 years in a row to steal a series from them.
On April 26, 2011, game 7 would take place at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The visiting Hawks came in with little pressure on them....
Allow me to sidetrack this for a moment. As an autograph hound, we often get to observe players in ways many others, including media & other players dont. It was evident to me, a veteran of seeing playoff hockey teams in various stages of preparation, they were TOO focussed. The little things were clearly an aggitation to them. They werent loose like in game 5, they were trying to avoid interaction with people, trying to look serious & all in all, trying too hard to be focused on the task at hand. The lack of relaxation & carefree attitude they showed prior made me think, they are nervous going in. They went from carefree & relaxed, to nervous & trying too hard to focus.
Ok, so back on to the events.
The game started with an early chance for the Canucks when goalless in 13 playoff games against the Hawks winger & 41 goal regular season man Ryan Kesler made a great solo effort to get close to the goal before he made a diagonal pass behind him to Alex Burrows who snuck in & planted it behind rookie goalie Corey Crawford. The Canucks would seemingly dominate most of the game after that. yet were unable to bury many chances. There was first Henrik Sedin inexplicably passing to Burrows on a chance where he clearly had the more open shot, Alex Burrows missing a penalty shot, and of course snakebitten Ryan Kesler having the best chance on a 2nd rebound chance late in the 3rd period that he put directly into Crawfords glove. With only 3:17 left in the game the Canucks got what many expected was the nail in the coffin. The Hawks Norris winning defenseman Duncan Keith would go off for a tripping penalty. The Canucks would have 2 minutes out of the last 3:17 with a power play. Game over, right? Wrong. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, himself goalless in the playoffs made a great rush towards the net that saw the puck eventually go to Marian Hossa who would direct a shot on goal, leaving a rebound for the opportunistic Toews to bury behind Luongo shorthanded with only 1:56 remaining in regulation time.
With the city of Vancouver's ego quickly deflated, Canucks nation sat nervously waiting for the start of OT. Once OT started they got some scary news early. Mr. Everything in the game Alex Burrows went off for 2 minutes for holding just 24 seconds in. But the Canucks managed to kill that penalty. Less than 3 minutes after Burrows penalty expired, he would taken a lucky break from a Chris Campoli mistake, cut in towards the middle of the empty attacking zone ice & slap a shot over the shoulder of Corey Crawford into the back of the cage & the game, the series, and the questions & demons were OVER.
The city that wanted this revenge so bad that they coined the term "3Venge" on twitter got their result from a hero they earlier in the series (myself included) criticized for his lack of offense. Alex Burrows had 3 goals in the final 2 games, and of course, the biggest being the series clinching game 7 overtime goal after taking the only penalty of OT.
Next up for the Canucks is Nashville Predators. While no one will admit it, and they really shouldnt. many Canucks fans are right now so thrilled with the result in hand they are willing to say "if we somehow lose to Nashville, its still a good year imo because we beat Chicago finally".. its a mentality that hopefully the Canucks themselves dont have. Because a team that wont practicallyeverything in the regular season shouldnt be happy with 1 playoff round victory... even if it was against their biggest demon.
For the record, there is a new demon to exorcize. The Canucks havent passed round 2 since 1994. In that time they have got to round 2 FIVE TIMES, losing to the Hawks three times, the Ducks once & the Wild once (which I was forced to witness in person during a game 7 collapse). But, until that demon comes to town...lets celebrate slaying this one.
part 2 of the list..
5TH HENRIK SEDIN - ART ROSS TROPHY & HART TROPHY WINNER
I dare you to find a single person anywhere on the planet, including in Sweden, in Vancouver, or even in the Sedin household who would have boldly stated at the start of the 09-10 season the leagues MVP & scoring champion would be 1 of the Vancouver Canucks longtime twin brothers.
While the brothers Daniel & Henrik have certainly stepped into that elite star level in the past couple years, even I, one of their biggest supporters since day 1, could not have guessed, let alone believed 1 of them would win the Art Ross Trophy & later that year, be awarded the Hart Trophy.
The more amazing part is, the common (and previously proven on multiple occasions) misconception that the brothers are less effective when seperated was blown out of the water when Henrik had to play without Daniel at his side for 19 games due to an injury to his brother early on in the season.
Henrik Sedin became the Vancouver Canucks 1st ever scoring champion, 1st ever Hart Trophy winner & the teams newest Captain in the year 2010. Making Hanks scoring title more amazing was the down to the wire fight he had with two of the games biggest icons, Alex Ovechkin & Sidney Crosby & his memorable 4 point final game, which was of course topped off by his final point of the year, a no look tip pass to his brother for Daniels 3rd goal of the game, Henriks 112th point & a TSN Play Of The Year win.
For a franchise that has been often tagged with a label of failure & underachievers, having a player win 2 of the major awards at once is one of the biggest moments in this franchises long & frustrating career. With the exceptions of this teams Stanley Cup Finals runs of 1982 & 1994, nothing in this franchises history comes even remotely close to the accomplishment of Hank last season.
The start of the 2010-11 season has seen the Sedins work their magic even more, with both brothers currently in the top 10 in league scoring it looks like 2011 will again be a big year for the Canucks future top 2 all-time point scorers for the franchise.
4th CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS- STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS
It wasnt that long ago that the only way the Blackhawks & Stanley Cup Champions were ever mentioned in the same sentence was when they were facing the Detroit Red Wings in a game during the season.
But since the death of Bill Wirtz, the cancerous soffocating owner of the team, the Hawks had started to soar. With draftees like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane & Duncan Keith in recent years, the fans started to think things might be turning around.
In 2010, they turned around alright. The Hawks went from the "up & coming" team to THE TEAM as they went on to win their 1st Stanley Cup in 49 years off the stick of their cornerstone player, Patrick Kane in overtime of game 6 of the finals over the Philadelphia Flyers on 1 of the most anti-climactic ends to a hockey championship ever.
The Hawks other wonder foward, Jonathan Toews, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP after a 29 pts in 22 games performance.
The Hawks started the playoffs against the Nashville Predators, a series they once trailed 2-1, but eventually won 4-2. Next up was the Vancouver Canucks, a team who most assumed would be ready to get revenge for the Hawks upsetting them the year prior. But they never were really in the series, and would eventually be knocked out by Chicago 4-2. The San Jose Sharks, who for several years had been continually considered "Cup contenders" got the closest they have gotten since the lockout, but would be swept by the flying Hawks 4-0.
In the Stanley Cup finals, the Hawks faced the Philadelphia Flyers. A team that came into the playoffs barely, and would become only the 3rd NHL team to win a series after being down 3-0 when they beat the Boston Bruins earlier in the playoffs. As it turned out though, Chicago was just too much for them. Despite the first 4 games being tied 2-2 & only 1 goal difference between the teams, it was starting to look like the Hawks might be getting better. In game 5, they showed their bite, winning 7-4 & knocking the wind out of the Flyers sails. Philadelphia put up a strong fight in game 6, but were defeated in OT when Patrick Kane slipped a shot past Michael Leighton that fooled everyone outside of Kane for several seconds.
With only ONE playoff round in 11 years, just 2 years prior, few expected the Hawks to make this surge this quick, but after a surprising run 2009 that saw them get to the Conference finals before bowing out, a lot of eyes were focused on them in the spring of 2010 & they dd not disappoint.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, the NHL Salary Cap hit them hard after their Cup win & several very notable pieces of the team, including their #1 goalie, a notable power forward (who also makes the list further down) & a couple other skill players have departed, leaving the Hawks as a good, but not great team now.
3rd- PAT BURNS NOT SELECTED TO THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME
Imagine if you would, the idea of Phil Jackson, Pat Riley or Don Shula being deathly ill, retired for more than 3 years from their profession, the HOF committee being abundantly aware they likely will not survive a year...and excluding them from the Hall in the most recent selection.
If you think its unimaginable. This is what happened this year to the only 3 time winner of the coach of the year award in the NHL, Pat Burns. Burns was diagnosed with terminal cancer awhile ago, this past year he was eligible for the Hall. The Hall was made very aware by massive campaigns to have Burns put in the hall before his impending death, of his situation. However the committee, who are not held accountable for their actions by ANYONE, pulled the most classless of actions in snubbing Pat in favour of a man who was himself already deceased.
The largest complaint amongst Burns supporters were, Doc Seaman could have waited till another year, as he had already passed away, Burns, still currently alive & clearly dying soon, could at least get to experience the ceremony. But the Hall didnt seem to care. The lack of respect they showed Burns by neglecting to include him (a person EVERYONE knows is going in anyways) while he was still alive has made many analysts, players & fans sick to their stomach & it has really tarnished the committee & made people show them little to no respect.
With the most ever coach of the year honours in the league, a Stanley Cup title & constantly deemed one of the greatest coaches of recent times all under Burns cap, the Hall seemed like a no-brainer...unfortunately, people with less than no brain were in charge of picking.
2nd- WOMEN PLAYERS IN THE HALL OF FAME
A couple years ago, the HHOF made an announcement that women could now be elected into the Hockey Hall Of Fame on their merits in their sport, and would no longer be compared to the mens game for the rare spots in the hall.
This year, the HHOF Committee made the major decision to include the 1st women's hockey players in the Hall. Canadian Angela James, long considered the "Wayne Gretzky of hockey" before Hayley Wickenheiser would take over in this more media covered era went in along side American Cammi Granato, the captain of the 1st ever Olympic Champion women's hockey team.
Cammi & Angela went in along with NHLer Dino Ciccarelli. While the poorly informed fans yelled at the top of their lungs the injustice of several NHLers being ignored in place of the womens stars, those that understood the process applauded the HHOF Committee at their inclusion, yet chastized them in the same breath for not selecting more NHLers with a backlog of big stars waiting & more to come. What some seem to still not understand, even months later is... that Granato & James were never "stealing" spots from the NHLers, as they were selected on their own merits in their own category, like builders.
The two stars made names for themselves in the sport in different ways. Cammi, the captain of the only American Olympic Gold medal winning team, was raised into a hockey family that included former NHLer Tony Granato. Her career included a successful College career, lots of time with the U.S. National team & a short stop at the end of her career in the WWHL.
Angela never got to play in the Olympics, as she was cut for the final roster of the first ever squad to go to the Olympics in 1998. Till this day, questions of whether the slap in the face to her may have bitten the silver medal squad the Canadians went with in the butt are asked. James career was spent playing against boys, and eventually in the league that would eventually (thru a couple name changes) become the CWHL many years later. She got to play for Team Canada a few times on the World stage, but never in the Olympics. The moniker of "The Wayne Gretzky of womens hockey" was often placed on her before the newer generation adopted the same title for the now best player in the game, Hayley Wickenheiser.
Many have wondered how the Hall can be so incompetent in excluding Burns from the Hall, yet so intuitive as to include women's players, in the very same year.
With women's hockey having large boosts this year with the Olympics, the emergence of the CWHL as their premiere league and now the inclusion of players in the Hall Of Fame, 2010 was a pretty great year for the sport of women's hockey.
In future years, the likes of Heaney, Nieminen, Goyette, Wickenheiser and more will enter. In most cases, it will be thanks to Cammi Granato & Angela James taking those first steps in that they will find their road in much more accepted.
1st - OH CANADA!!
It is an event that only happens every 4 years & in recent versions the NHL's finest have taken to the worlds largest winter sports stage.
The 2010 Olympic Winter games took part in my hometown, Vancouver, BC, Canada this past year & with the worlds eyes on our city, our home teams did not disappoint.
Canada won both the women's & mens Gold medal. While the womens tournament was a bit lopsided from the top 2 teams to the mid tier teams, the mens event, unarguably the marquee event of the Olympics, was some of the best hockey ever seen. Upstarts like Switzerland (who took Canada to a shootout in the round robin tourney) & Slovakia (the 9th ranked IIHF team coming in) caused the big boys of the tourney headaches & showed that there might be hope for these nations in the near future.
With millions of Canadians nervously watching, holding on to a fleeting 1 goal lead, American Zach Parise caused a near national mass suicide when he tied the game up with 25 seconds left in regulation. In the end however, it did nothing more than make a dramatic storybook ending, even more storybook. The stick of Sidney Crosby would inevetably be the most important in Vancouver, as his overtime winning goal past American goaltender Ryan Miller, would send not just a city, or even the province, but the entire country into a frenzy. The bronze medal would see Olli Jokinen score the game winning goal to give Finland the bronze over the upstart Slovakian team, powered by the incredible goaltending of Jaroslav Halak.
The women's tourney saw a new superstar emerge for Canada, as Marie Philip Poulin, an 18 year old became the hero, scoring the only 2 goals in the Gold Medal game, while Olympic rookie goalie Shannon Szabados shut the door at the other end allowing Canada to win their 3rd straight Gold medal 2-0 over the U.S. team. In the bronze medal game, Finland would knock off the 2006 silver medalist Swedes in overtime with a Karolina Rantamaki bankshot that fooled Swedish goalie Sara Grahn.
In the mens tourney, things were considered great. For the NHL, the Canada vs USA final was a dream match for the powers that be. The only way the leagues midget troll of doom would have been happier about the outcome was if it were played in Hawaii or San Diego. However on the women's side, the dominance of Canada & USA again has angered the powers that be of the IOC & they have made ridiculous threats on the women's side of the sport to become more competitive or lose their spot.... despite the mens tournament being FAR more lopsided in its infancy.
Canada, USA, Finland was the gold, silver & bronze medal finshers in both tournies. That is the first time the same result for medals happened on both sides of the tournament.
The year 2011 is already a couple weeks old now & stories may already be developing that in fact opening day of the year could have seen 2 top 10 stories in the same game when Alex Ovechkin did a faceplant trying to take a shot on the soggy, possibly unsafe conditions of Heinz Field for the Winter Classic, and the possibility the games biggest marketing tool could have been knocked out of the line up for awhile in the same game as Sidney Crosby took a serious hit that has sidelined him for a few games since then.
The Vancouver Canucks dipped into the Unrestricted Free Agent Market on opening day of the NHL free agency period, by picking up a few forwards & 1 notable defenseman... Dan Hamhuis.
General Manager Mike Gillis was a busy boy on opening day. He went out and signed 4 new players, 2 that will be undoubtedly part of the Canucks roster & 2 who hope to be.
At $27M over 6 yrs, the Canucks got the highly sought after free agent Dan Hamhuis, who was so much in demand, 2 different teams traded for his negotiating rights prior to July 1st in hopes of wooing him to sign there before he hit the open market.
The 6'1, 202 lb, 27 yr old Smithers, BC native, played last season in Nashville. There he put up 24 pts in 78 GP with a +4 rating.
What the Canucks get in Hamhuis, is a very good shutdown defensively responsible dman, maybe soft physically at times...but makes up for it with incredible hockey sense. Should be a capable 2nd unit PP defenseman that will be a staple in the top 4 regular shift dmen. Still is improving his game, the upside on him is tantalizing to scouts & will likely soon find himself taking 1st line time...perhaps even this season.
Along with the addition of Keith Ballard, the Canucks have shored up their defense that was weakened last season with the longterm injuries of Willie Mitchell & Kevin Bieksa. With Mitchell all but moving on these recent additions shore up the Canucks main 6 unit, likely even leaving Bieksa as trade bait down the line.
It seemed fairly evident in the last week that Hamhuis had tunnel vision on the Canucks as his prefered destination & Canucks fans seemed tunnel visioned on getting him. Both sides got what they wanted today, and the price, not too shabby...when you consider the likes of an aging Sergei Gonchar got 5.5M from Ottawa on a 3 yr deal & Paul Martin got 5M from the Penguins.
This move now makes the Canucks defense (for now) one of the deepest in the NHL.
The Canucks dipped into the forward Free Agent Market on opening day as well, most notably by picking up forward Manny Malhotra.
The 30 yr old Mississauga, ON native, played last season in San Jose. There he put up 14 goals, 33 pts in 71 GP while finishing a +17. He also had the 2nd best faceoff percentage in the 2010 NHL Playoffs.
What the Canucks get in Malhotra, is a versatile forward who can play centre & wing, can play defensive style checking forward, and be an adequate offensive piece. At $2.5M for 3 years, the price might be a little steeper than some might want, but the Canucks needed a player like this & with some cap room to play with, felt overpaying to get their guy was acceptable. His addition is the Canucks answer to letting Ryan Johnson go, he will get lots of chances as a penalty killing forward.
After trading away Steve Bernier & Michael Grabner recently. The Canucks were looking to possibly fill a hole or two in their back 6, and this move will help to do that.
Other Canuck signings today included Jeff Tambellini, the former New York Islander & son of former Canucks player Steve Tamblellini, as well as Joel Perrault, a former Phoenix Coyotes farmhand with a handful of NHL games.
Former Canucks goalies, Curtis Sanford & Alex Auld signed on in Montreal, while recent back up Andrew Raycroft got a 2 yr deal in Dallas.
Elsewhere in the Northwest Division
Calgary Flames got in their Hot Tub Time Machine to re-acquire Alex Tanguay & Olli Jokinen. Rumour has them trying to get Theo Fleury & Ed Beers locked up next.
Edmonton Oilers obtained the best deal of the day in PP catalyst Kurtis Foster for only 1.8M.
Minnesota Wild bolstered the 2nd & 3rd lines with depth forwards Matt Cullen & Eric Nystrom
Colorado Avalanche acquired nothing.
Its almost June & only 2 teams are left playing in the NHL. The Philadephia Flyers, a team few people expected to still be playing, and the Chicago Blackhawks, a team many people, myself included expected to possibly be playing still.
When this season started, the Chicago Blackhawks (even though I didnt like admitting it, still fresh off the sting of them beating us in the playoffs the year before, I was still a bit bitter) were my team to win the West....of course, it wasnt a resound vote of confidence. I did have my fingers dipped in several bowls, including the Calgary Flames (before they tried to build a team out of 3rd & 4th liners).
It came as little shock to anyone that the Blackhawks finished tops in their division & 2nd in the Western Conference this year. A lot of people expected the Hawks to take over the reigns from the long time Central Division champs, Detroit Red Wings.
I had the team getting this far possibly...I just didnt know who the goalie was that was going to get them here. Upstart Finnish goalie Antti Niemi has stolen the job from the greatest goaltender ever from France, Cristobal Huet. That is saying a lot for Niemi. Afterall Huet stole the job from superstar Nikolai Khabibulin & subsequently was responsible for the former Cup champion being run out of town. Now Niemi might do the same to Huet.
Round 1, the Hawks had a date with the Nashville Predators. I never took the Preds serious all year long, and in the playoffs that didnt change. I expected the Hawks to dispense of them quickly, so you could imagine my surprise when the boys from the Windy City were down 2 games to 1 from a place that thinks when someone says "puck" it must be someone with a speech impediment swearing at you. But eventually calm was restored & the Chicago Blackhawks got out of round 1 4 games to 2.
For their next match up, they were going to try & recreate history. The Vancouver Canucks, the Hawks 2nd round opponents of a year ago were back looking for revenge. With an Art Ross winner & improved scoring all around, the Canucks were seemingly silenced offensively by the defensive pairings of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as well as Nik Hjarmalsson and Brian Campbell. The offense that was so explosive for the Canucks seemed missing, while the Hawks wasnt. Jonathan Toews stepped up in the series & started an offensive streak that is still in tact at this point. Dustin Byfuglien & Dave Bolland seemed too much for the thin & undermanned Canucks defense to handle. While offensively Patrick Sharp & Pat Kane did what was expected of them. The rematch ended the same way, on the same date a year later. Chicago Blackhawks win 4 games to 2
While the Hawks were running thru the west, another team San Jose Sharks were doing something most people didnt expect...they were also winning. With wins over the Colorado Avalanche after being down in the series, and a more shocking win over the surging Detroit Red Wings, who were starting to look like the Wings of old in the weeks prior, the Sharks seemed a formidable opponent for the strong Hawks team. The Sharks, known for being a great regular season squad, but always faltering come playoffs saved their predictable collapse for the Conference finals this time. The #1 team in the West in the regular season was beat down by the bigger and faster Hawks squad. While playoff choke artist poster child Joe Thornton was scrounging up 1 measely point in the 4 games, Jonathan Toews was busy getting 6 pts in that same time span, including game 2 GWG & assisting on 2 other GWGs. All the same suspects from the Canucks series were responsible in gutting the Sharks. Byfuglien, Bolland, Kane, Sharp, Seabrook & Keith did much of the damage. With the exception of Patrick Marleau & Dan Boyle, the Sharks were dead in the water from the word go of this series. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the top seeded Western team 4 games to 0 in the Western Conference Finals and took home the Campbell Bowl. With a sweep in the books, the Hawks started to set their sights on their ultimate goal...the Stanley Cup.
The Chicago Blackhawks are where many thought they would be. In the Stanley Cup Finals. Maybe just not against who lost thought they would be there against. They will face a foe that was 24 points behind them in the standings. A team that would have finished 11th in their conference. But the Hawks wont take them for granted I suspect. Afterall, the only meeting these two teams had this year, the Hawks lost, and not all that long ago, back on Mar 13th.
Chicago will hope for youngster Antti Niemi to hold up the incredible performance he has put in for just 1 more round, while hoping out of the blue wonder Michael Leighton doesnt do the same on his end for the flyers.
With Jonathan Toews running amuck, already tallying 26 pts, it really seems they dont need anyone else to get the job done. But others are getting the job done. Patrick Kane has quietly put together 20 pts, while Patrick Sharp has been alright too. Even Marian Hossa, who many have seen as unproductive these playoffs, still has 11 pts himself. Then theres the big Bs. Byfuglien & Bolland. Duncan Keith was slow starting offensively these playoffs, but is now up to 10 pts. Brent Seabrook, Nik Hjarmalsson, Brent Sopel & Brian Campbell have done a decent job at adding some offensive jump to an already strong line up from the back end. As long as John Madden & his rotating group of checkers keeps doing their job, the lethal Philly offense shouldnt have too much luck against Niemi.
Coach Joel Quenneville will expect victory from his players. A Campbell Bowl isnt enough to quench the thirst these guys have right now. They have recent Olympic Champions who know how victory tastes. They have other recent Olympians, liek patrick Kane looking to get the bitter taste out of his mouth of a near victory. he doesnt want to go thru that again I assure you. While its clear Toews, Kane, Keith, Byfuglien, Sharp, Seabrook and Niemi want this championship badly. So do the rest. Ben Eager and Troy Brouwer are just as hungry. They know this moight be the closest they ever get & there is no waiting for the next chance. Marian Hossa is at the finals for a 3rd consecutive year, with his 3rd different team. He is 0-2 so far, he certainly doesnt want to go thru the pain of losing in the finals again.
I believe Chicago Blackhawks will win this series. The Flyers might have proven me wrong 4 times already this year, but at the same time, the Hawks have proven me right just as often.
As much as the city of Philadelphia might want this after the long wait they have had. Chicago is even hungrier. Philly hasnt been a champ since 1975, Chicago 1961. The Hawks fans have had to suffer thru the horrid ownership of Bill Wirtz, a man who probably would have played the games without electricity in teh stadium if it were leglally allowed. This franchise has had no chance to be a serious competitor too often in the past couple decades. Missing the playoffs 9 of the past 11 seasons prior to now, the Hawks have suffered longer then Flyerrs fans. Two generaltions of Hawks fans havent seen a Cup hoisted, while only 1 generation of Flyers fans havent seen it happen. The Hawks have had only 3 other Cup appearances since the last win in 61. The Flyers in comparison have only missed the playoffs 6 times TOTAL since winning the Cup & have been to the Finals 5 other times since their last Cup win. Everything about this series suggests Hawks fans have suffered longer, and deserve this more.
Whoever wins the 2010 Stanley Cup will have ended some long suffering for its fans & will have prolonged the other fans suffering a little longer. For what its worth, I think it will be the fans of the Chicago Blackhawks who will have the celebratory party, and I suspect it will be after game 6.
Well, the 2009-10 Vancouver Canucks season is over. Frankly, it was not that large of a shock to me, but still stings anyways. We were playing a team that had equal or stronger talent up front, far superior defense & had a goalie who had better stats than Luongo in most categories. Yet still, there is that feeling this team should have done better.
A lot of the Canucks sudden ending came at the hands of some of its most reliable players thru the regular season. Guys like Kesler, Demitra, Burrows, Raymond and Ehrhoff who were stable & even at times exceeding their expectations pretty much vanished come playoff time. A parade to the penalty box did not help their cause much either. But the non-efforts of some of their biggest players was more concerning to me.
I think a lot can be said of a teams effort when guys like Kyle Wellwood, Jannik Hansen & Shane O'Brien might have put up the best efforts on the team in the game that mattered the most, the final one. No desperation or "we MUST show up now" effort seemed to ever show up in guys like Kesler, Raymond or others.
The same "we can overcome anything" mentality the Canucks had used all season in their late game come from behind victories, the same mentality they even displayed against the Kings a round earlier was non-existant in the Hawks series. Chicago outscored the nucks 11-3 in the 3rd period of this series, they beat them all three times in GM Place, where the Canucks had a 30-8-3 record this season. The Chicago Blackhawks schooled the Canucks in the building they had schooled so many teams this year, the way they had schooled so many teams this year.
Over the next few days, a variety of excuses will come to the surface for sure. "This player was playing with this injury" will be common. but lets face it, does anyone for a second doubt the Hawks players are not also banged up & playing thru adversity? Seriously? With the exception of Sami Salo, who truthfully probably shouldnt have played in the last game, but kudos to him for doing it, no one on the team really has a severe enough injury that they can say that was the reason for the sudden drop off in productivity. Aches & pains are expected in a playoff fight. If it was TOO serious, they wouldnt have been able to play thru it as is. So, an injury really is a thin excuse, not a reason, for a drop off in productivity. Yet fans will eat it up when it comes out that this player & that player were fighting thru a really irritating flea bite or a *GASP* an itchy beard. But seriously, things like shoulder, knee & back injuries in the playoffs are going to be suggested. So, either the Canucks palyers are less able to fight thru adversity, or the entire Hawks franchise were playing in Iron Man suits.
The blame of this season ending on the same day as it did the year before does not solely fall on the players shoulders though. Coach Alain Vigneault (aka- the 2nd best coach in the series) without question shoulders some of the blame. His irrational coaching decisions thru the series were without question as much of the problem as the players wearing the jerseys.
AV took Mikael Samuelsson, who was still producing with the twins, off the Sedin line. Replacing him was offensively invisible (and a major reason for the Canucks game 3 loss after a penalty of idiotic levels which caused the 3rd goal) Alex Burrows. He seemingly rewarded one of the teams least effective stars with a promotion to the top line. This was after Burrows caused the team to not only lose a great scoring opportunity off an icing call with the Sedin line coming out against a tired Hawks line by taking a penalty, but was also at a time that the player in question had ONE playoff goal (not including an irrelevant empty netter against the Kings) in his last 15 playoff games. This is compounded when you realize that till the 3rd period of Game 6, Burrows was more or less the Sedins linemate. For the record, he scored ZERO goals with that promotion (not including an irrelevant empty netter). Burrows has 1 playoff goal (not including 2 empty netters) in 18 consecutive playoff games, got promoted to the top line, where Samuelsson was still producing...BY ALAIN VIGNEAULT!!
The same coaching decisions were evident in round 1 when Andrew Alberts (granted he settled down later in the playoffs) was possibly the worst player on all 16 teams in the playoffs at the time, kept getting chance after chance despite continually blowing it. Odd part was that double A had shown no signs during his short regular season time here to believe he warranted multiple chances. The same Vigneault demoted the teams top goal scorer to the 3rd line after he had slight slump where he only scored 1 goal in 2 1/3 games. Top goal scorer in the playoffs, demoted 2 lines for a slump that even Conn Smythe trophy winners are bound to go thru during a playoffs. Pathetic.
Then comes Vigneaults decisions between the pipes. Roberto Luongo is an elite goalie, no question....when hes on. When he isnt on, its scary though. He clearly was not "on" at home, yet AV kept going back to him & in fact, he went to back-up Andrew Raycroft only once in the entire playoffs, and that was back against the Kings. Luongo gave up 21 goals in 6 games. A goals against average of 3.52 and a save percentage of .862 from the starting goalie in the 2nd round series, and you never once go to your back up?? How about his 5.35 GAVE at home in round 2? Shouldnt that warrant a look at the back up? A back up that in the regular season had a better GAVE & only slightly less SPCT than your 7 million dollar starter?
When did AV turn into Marc Crawford? When did Vigneault quit being a coach, and start being players "buddies"? He played the playoffs like he was trying to win friends with some of the players. Burrows, Alberts, Luongo, Bieksa, Kesler and Raymond were all given ample chances to "step up" & all of them kept wasting their chances for the most part. Yet players who did produce, who were showing up, kept getting the short end of the straw. Mikael Samuelsson told Team Sweden to go fuck themselves earlier this year after getting left off the Swedish Olympic team. What could he have to say about a coach that demoted him 2 lines for essentially having 1 off game or so in the face of all these other non-performers getting handed chance after chance??
AV can perhaps explain why in a do or die game that you are only down a goal or two, your top line is not being double shifted?
- The Sedins had ice times of 18:51 and 18:40 each in the final game.
- Burrows (he of the ONE non-empty net playoff goal in the last 18 games) 19:37??
- Kesler (he of 0 G in the last 7 playoff games & 1 this post-season all together) 18:42??? Wellwood 18:52
- Samuelsson (teams leading goal & points scorer in the playoffs) 16:10.
- Raymond (0 goals, 0 points, -3 +/- in last 4 games) 16:47 played more than the teams best contributor offensively.
The top 3 lines were grossly mismanaged in the final game perhaps more than any other time in the playoffs.
Coach Vigneault one night suggested that Luongo was the 2nd best goalie on the ice that night. He wasnt wrong. He was the 2nd best goalie that night. However, no one once made note of the fact that this comment came from the 2nd best coach in the series. Alain Vigmeault was grossly outcoached by Joel Quenneville and to be brutally honest, maybe a tire iron could have outcoached him.
If the blame is to be broken down into a percentage basis. I would have to split it up like this.
Bieksa & Ehrhoff 5%
Rest of the forwards 5%
Rest of the defense 5%
Sure some of that blame seems unfair. I mean the defense core was eating up minutes they werent really qualified to take on at times with the various injuries. But still, the fact is they had jobs to do & at times werent able to do it.
This team didnt win because of several performances on the ice, and one performance behind the bench.
A little piece of trivia for you new fans to the game of hockey. The Vancouver Canucks used to actually play in Vancouver. True story.
The Canucks, who might have started to wonder if NHL stands for Nomad Hockey League wrapped up a very impressive 14 game, 13 city, 6 week voyage that saw them go 8-5-1 on the trip & gain 17 of a possible 28 points. Not too shabby for a team that came in 1 game below .500 on the road prior to the odyssey.
This feat is even more impressive when you consider Henrik & Daniel Sedin had 6 goals combined on the road trip. Add in Mason Raymond (2 goals) to the goal challenged list & you start to wonder how they won 4 games, let alone 8.
Big performances by Mikael Samuelsson (10 goals), Ryan Kesler (6 goals...and an 11 game point streak), Alex Burrows (7 goals..including some without the Sedins) and a couple timely Jannik Hansen goals, and the goal production was not so bad after all.
The big story of the trip however, was comebacks. It started the 1st game of the trip when the Canucks spotted the hapless Toronto Maple Leafs a 3-0 1st period lead, but roared back to win 5-3 with revenge filled back up Andrew Raycroft coming in to pick up the win in relief duty. Boston Bruins would be spotted a 2-0 1st period lead before the Canucks would win in a SO 3-2. By the time they did it in Columbus, where they trailed 3-1 in the 2nd period, it almost seemed expected. Winning 4-3. Doing it to Columbus twice in a matter of weeks was the moment the "comeback kids" title seemed to really make the rounds with this team. Trailing 2-0, then 3-2 to the Blue Jackets, the Canucks again came from behind & won, again, 4-3 when Christian Ehrhoff scored in overtime. They were down 2-1 to Nashville at the end of 2 periods, but came back to win 4-2. They saved the best for nearly last. After trailing 3-0 at the end of the 1st period, and 4-1 with less than 1/2 a game to play, the Canucks roared back against divisional challengers, Colorado Avalanche, to win 6-4 on the back of a Mikael Samuelsson 2nd period hat trick & Jannick Hansen getting his 2nd straight game winning goal. Even their final battle of the road trip in Phoenix showed the same mentality, that they can do anything. Phoenix had the lead 3-2 early in the 3rd period, but the Canucks tied it up & only finally lost it in the 6th round of a shoot out.
That is 13 points this team obtained in road games that they trailed. Many in the 3rd period. How can you even explain that type of effort?
The likelyhood of a great road trip is even more shocking when you consider the sub-par stats of starter Roberto Luongo compared to his backup, Andrew Raycroft. In goal they had a solid, but not necessarily great effort by back up Andrew Raycroft, who played in part or all of 7 games on the trip. His 3-1-1 record, .914 SPCT & a 2.31 GAVE were a welcomed addition. While Olympic Gold medal winning back stop, Roberto Luongo had a more modest 5-4-0 record, .888 SPCT & a 3.53 GAVE. It was not some of Luis best hockey, yet somehow, the team managed to keep pulling out wins for him, like in Colorado where he surrendered 3 1st period goals, but got the W at the end of the night. It wasnt lights out great goaltending, but it got the job done on the trip.
The fact these guys managed to get above .500 on the trip when you take into consideration some of the things has to be chalked up to pure willpower. Their top 2 players barely scored, one of their top secondary scorers barely scored, they had a brutally thin blueline & their top goalie didnt play like a top goalie some nights. Yet they got it done. Whether it was Mikael Samuelsson, Alex Burrows or Jannik Hansen, someone kept coming up with the much needed timely goals to help them win.
In the grand scheme of 82 games, a 14 game stretch really shouldnt be the make or break of any season, but for the Canucks this likely was. Imagine if they finished the playing 1 game below .500 hockey, like they had on the road going into the trip this season. A 6-7-1 record would put them 4 points further back & no longer in the division lead, clinging onto 6th in the conference for their lives, and perhaps even worse depending who the extra losses would end up being to. If it was Colorado & Nashville, they are suddenly 7th & 3 pts back of the division lead.
The Vancouver Canucks will, barring a horrid collapse, finish with a playoff spot & possibly, a division title. This road trip, although only 17% of the season, meant more to their season than probably 25% in the long run. They survived it, maybe even thrived on it & developed a team game that might help them thru the rest of a season where they will be without staple defemseman Willie Mitchell & even worse, the possibility that Kevin Bieksa will be back.
Probably no team this season has had a more important 14 game stretch this season than the Canucks. Without question, no one had a bigger road trip... Mentally, or literally.
With the season just slightly over 1/2 over, the race for the playoffs is starting to clear a bit. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets & the Carolina Hurricanes are already trying to envision what to do about the team in the off season. While at the other end of the spectrum, teams like the Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks & San Jose Sharks are looking ahead & trying to figure out what they might need to tweak for their Stanley Cup pursuits.
Mired in the middle is a cluster of teams that frankly includes the majority of the league. Right now they are either just in or just barely out of the playoffs, a simple 3 game slide here, or 4 game streak here can put them out or in the playoff race in a flash. Mixed right in the middle, the Vancouver Canucks.
Currently 6th in the west with 58 points in 48 games, the Canucks sit just 2 points ahead of the 9th place Detroit Red Wings and only 7 ahead of Minnesota Wild & Dallas Stars. They are also only 2 points out of 3rd in the conference, behind their divisional foes from Colorado. But if the Canucks know anything about their season to date, its that they are probably more focused now on maintaining a playoff spot than chasing a division title.
While they are in the mix for a division championship, the fact remains that the Canucks, will be road warrios for the longest road trip in NHL history coming up very soon. Its a road trip that will span 14 games over 6 weeks. See the Canucks are being evicted from their home to make way for the Olympics. Because of this, they will play 20 of their final 35 games on the road....a place that has not been all that pleasant for them this season.
In their first 21 road games, the Canucks have a 9-11-1 record. While they run wild at home with an 19-7-1 record, they have struggled on the road. If there is any saving grace, its that only 10 of those final 20 road games are against teams currently sitting in a playoff spot. They can also take some comfort in the fact they are 3-1-1 in the last 5 road games perhaps. All that aside though, this extended road trip will certainly be the true test of this team.
In the middle of this road trip is a 2 week break for the Olympics. If they struggle in the first half of the trip, they will at least have time to correct the problem perhaps. This can also work against them though. If they have a decent first half on this raod trip, they could potentially lose all the momentum they have built up with 2 weeks away from the rink.
There is also the potential fatigue factor of their top players. With 7 Olympains on the roster, including their most notable pieces, Roberto Luongo, Daniel & Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler & Christian Ehrhoff, the 2 weeks of elite level do or die play could really wear on some players. Granted every team has this problem, but every team isnt going to be doing this in the middle of a 14 game road trip.
In a league where a team that is 8 games above .500 is not in the playoffs right now in their conference, the Canucks can not afford to have a mediocre road trip. A .500 road trip could conceivably end their playoff hopes. By the time this marathon is over, they will have just a little over a month of the season left to rally back from any holes they have made for themselves.
The top line of Sedin-Sedin-Burrows is magical in their own building where line matching benefits them, on the road however, they are less magical & this will mean the Canucks will need to rely on secondary scorers like Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler, Mikael Samuelsson & a hopefully healthy Pavol Demitra to pick up the slack. They could use the likes of Kyle Wellwood and Steve Bernier to pick up their play as well.
Their defense core is solid, when healthy. Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler and Sami Salo are quite capable puck moves, while Willie Mitchell, Shane O'Brien and Aaron Rome are capable defensive defenders. But when they have injuries they do seem to be out of sync a bit. Brad Lukowich is a decent NHL defenseman, but the level of skill drops off considerably from there. With Kevin Bieksa out, the Canucks will need to keep healthy thru this trip on the back end.
How will Luongo react to this stretch? He could in theory be playing close to 20 games over this stretch if he plays the majority of Canucks games, and Olympics games. Of course, the likelyhood is he will get only some starts at the Olympics. Which means he should have a bit of rest. Problem will be if he gets too much rest (say he doesnt play for the final 4 or 5 games). Luongo has a long history of starting slow after any type of extended break away from action. This has to worry the Canucks going down the stretch where points will be vitally needed & they will be on the road to start. A cold Luongo might end the Canucks playoff hopes in early March. Andrew Raycroft, the back up has been very good this year & could be relied on to take some of the load off, but if coach Vigneault has one flaw in his coaching, its that his confidence in his back up goalie, despite a very good record, seems to not be there for whatever reason.
This team has been ravaged with injuries this season & over a 14 game stretch, the probability of an injury is realistic. What the Canucks cant afford, is injuries to any of their major pieces, this goes for the entire top 2 lines, defense pairs, and of course Luongo. Any pieces missing could literally destroy a team that will probably struggle thru this venture.
If the Canucks get out of the odyssey close or still in the playoff race, they will probably be ecstatic. They have 10 of their last 15 games of the season at home, a place they have been exceptionally strong this season. But that is a long way away & they first have to worry about getting thru the adventure that will be the make or break part of their season, an incredible 14 game road trip. No team in the league will have any homestand or road trip more vital to their playoff positioning than this 6 week, 13 city, 14 game road trip.
If the Canucks miss the playoffs, fans & critics alike will probably look to this horrible schedule as the downfall. While players & coaches generally dont like to use easily found excuses for shortcomings, this is a blatantly obvious one that cant be overlooked. Of course, if the Canucks do make the playoffs, even if by the thinnest of margains, you will have to take them very seriously at a run in the playoffs. Afterall, if they can survive the road trip & still have enough in the tank to pull them thru it & into the playoffs, then you have to wonder what does it take to put them down. To make the playoffs would likely mean a winning record on the road thru that stretch, and ontop of that, confidence in their abilities on the road. This trip will either break them, or will rally them around each other & possibly create the type of team building that championship teams desperately hope for.
The season might say 82 games on the schedule, but any Canucks fan, reporter, player or staff member knew when the schedule came out, their season really came down to 14 games and 6 weeks.
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From time to time I have something to say on hockey. Whether its the Vancouver Canucks, NHL in general, Womens Hockey or International Hockey...if I have something to post, it will be in here.