The blame will be largely shouldered on Roberto Luongo. He came out flat in Game Six and didn’t make the necessary save in Game Seven, but it’s not on him. The NHL’s best offense, that had steamrolled through the San Jose Sharks in the Conference Finals, gave him just eight goals of support.
Suffice to say, it was the worst possible time to have the worst seven games your team has played, and the worst year for the best team in franchise history to run into the best performance in the modern era by a goaltender. The newspaper scribes who covered the series will treat context like leprosy and make bold statements about the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins being motivated by the fallen Nathan Horton and Marc Savard, but they will be so, so, wrong. Tim Thomas won this series. Tim Thomas broke the spirits of the Vancouver Canucks forwards, who spent games in the regular season running up the score on Western Conference goalies long after the Bruins had gone to sleep.
Boston either didn’t see, or didn’t believe. After a few slip-ups in the Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Thomas was outstanding. He put together a quality start in every single game of the Stanley Cup Finals, save the second game where the Overtime goal scored against him was more the fault of botched defensive plays from his defensemen Zdeno Chara and Andrew Ference. But that didn’t matter. Nor did the Canucks back-to-back scoring champions Daniel and Henrik Sedin, or the determined Ryan Kesler, who played with heart but through obvious injury. He could have been declared legally dead after the series and nobody would have been surprised.
It’s a listless moment for Vancouver, one in which fans had psyched themselves up for seventeen years to see. There is no way to exit the downtown core but peacefully. The spirit was broken on a Patrice Bergeron shorthanded goal late in the second period. That was his second on the night and it wasn’t much of a game after that. Lots of garbage time. But the bitter feeling should be coupled with the relief that the playoff run, the tension, the anxiety, the weight loss, is all over. Not for another ten months will the Vancouver Canuck fans have to go through another ordeal as this. No other franchise without a Stanley Cup has lost in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final. It has happened to Vancouver twice.
The season was long as was not left without its moments. The franchise’s high points were relegated to grainy, one-angle Youtube footage and standard definition broadcasts, from a memorable run in 1994. Geoff Courtnall’s phantom goal to seal the deal in Game Six against the Rangers, and Pavel Bure’s breakaway goal in Overtime of the first round against the hated Calgary Flames.
Those will be shunted aside. Alex Burrows provided two such highlights, one with a slapshot over the right shoulder of Corey Crawford to eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks, another with the aforementioned wraparound goal against Thomas in Game Two of the Finals.
It’s a tough one to choke on, but Thursday morning in the wake of the celebration from the Boston Bruins, the Canucks pick up where they left off. Their goal, win or lose Game Seven, was always going to be about winning the Stanley Cup in 2012. That hasn’t changed.
For such a low moment, this is one of the franchise’s high points.