After back to back losses to the worst team in the NHL, you could hear the naysayers increasing in volume and stridency. “Told Ya”, opposing fans intoned. “Watch out for the Hawks taking you guys out”, was another. “Better be scared of the Ducks, and Corey Perry is going to win the Ross and Hart over your Twin guy”, came loudly from down south.
Through it, and the last few days, the Canuck players and coaches talked about the process and effort. They knew they had a bit of a letdown, after clinching the President’s Trophy. Tonight, the Canucks showed the home fans things are well in hand.
This is the best team in the NHL this year, with the best record. Every time they have had questions asked and whispers started, they have stepped up and answered those questions.
Tonight, the Canucks did have a lineup change to get used to. With the surprisingly harsh suspension of Raffi Torres, ( I will admit, on viewing the replays, that it might have been suspendable. But that was far more a hockey play, as GM Mike Gillis stated, than the dirty elbow Heatley put into Steve Ott’s head a few weeks ago. Heater got 2 games, Raffi, 2 regular season AND two playoff games? Really? )
Before the game started, the Canucks handed out their team trophies. Kris King was also in attendance to present the President’s Trophy. The crowd got a surprise treat, when Henrik Sedin was joined by assistant captain Manny Malhotra. The crowd greeted him warmly in his first public appearance since his injury, and the team was surprised by the appearance, and seemed to draw some extra oomph from seeing their fallen compatriot.
The team also unveiled a very sharp statue outside the arena of Roger Neilson, coach during the ’82 run, the inspiration for Towel Power, and one of the nicest fellows in hockey. RIP Roger.
So, with one forward short, there would be many different line combos tried out by Alain Vigneault. It mattered little though, as the home team was the better and more intense team early. Even with a possibly soft penalty on Rome giving the Wild some early power play time, it looked more like the Canucks penalty kill was the dominant special team.
The home team was flying, and the pressure paid off about eight minutes in, when Hansen made a nice cross ice pass to Raymond, who ripped home the game’s first goal and his fourteenth. Alexander Edler, in his first game back from back surgery, was a little off on his timing, and took an interference penalty shortly after, and the Wild were once again shut down by a combination of inspired penalty killing and Luongo’s goaltending.
There was some back and forth, but mainly the home team was pushing the play. That pressure resulted in a late penalty for Brodziak, and the #1 power play went to work. As SNET voice John Shorthouse likes to say, “the only thing missing is Sweet Georgia Brown!” They threw it around like the Globetrotters, and a Daniel Sedin cross ice pass to his brother, followed by a touch pass to Kesler, who tapped it into the empty net, made it 2-0. ( we call that “Sedinery” in Vancouver )
The second period started much the same, and Brodziak tried a different tack by sitting on Henrik, and then punching him in the back of the head to draw his second straight penalty. This one, the Wild did a better job of killing off, but it was only delaying the inevitable. The Wild were getting some shots off the rush, but they were mainly one and done. The Canucks would spend whole shifts in the offensive end. Even after Bieksa took a goalie interference penalty, the Wild just could not break the penalty kill of the Canucks, and Luongo was there when they managed to get a shot on net.
This led to the third goal of the night, and one of the more impressive. Ryan Kesler flew down the wing, and went inside and outside before ripping his much improved wrister top shelf before Backstrom even moved. Just over a minute later, Daniel Sedin showed great hustle by winning a race to a puck, stopping and avoiding a check, before setting up Raymond for his second of the night, another wrister ripped top shelf.
Luongo’s economy of movement and positioning was in very good form on this night. The Wild’s best chance of the night might have been the only time he was not square to the shooter all night, when he robbed Mikko Koivu in the slot with all day to shoot.
With the score now 4-0, the Wild were trying to play tough, with many young guys fighting for jobs. The Canucks kept their heads up and threw their own big checks, sending a message that those kind of tactics are not going to work this year.
Thus, the third started with more of Ryan Kesler and his heavy shot. This time, Chris Higgins saw him breaking and fed a perfect pass. Kesler once again ripped that now trademark wrister, and Backstrom was once again easily beaten, and chased from the game, to be replaced by Theodore. It was Kesler’s hat trick goal, and his 40th of the season, giving the Canucks their first pair of 40 goal scorers since 2003, when Naslund had 48 and Bertuzzi 46.
The game remained a little chippy, with Hansen taking a roughing penalty that may just get PM Bouchard an Emmy nomination for best performance on ice. It was once again futile, padding the stats of the penalty killers, and showing how on Luongo is right now. The Wild pushed to try and break the shutout, and had some of their better pressure in the second half of the third, but it was one of those nights where you knew it would take a special goal to beat the Canucks #1 netminder.
He may not win the Vezina, with Thomas having an amazing season in Boston. But, unless the Flames can score eight, and the Bruins give up none their remaining games, the Canucks will win the Jennings Trophy for least goals allowed by a team.
You get the feeling that there is only one trophy the team is going to be satisfied with this year, however.