Throughout an unprecedented season for the Vancouver Canucks, there have been a few questions raised by both the long suffering fans and the jaded media that cover this team in this hockey mad city.
We love the game, and no bones about it. The media knows the depths of that love, and will often stir the pot on occasion. Every injury is reason for hand wringing. Every line juggle a half hour of white noise on the local sports radio.
Throughout it all, this Canucks team has just kept winning. With four games left, they have played more different players because of injury than any other team in the NHL. One guy goes down and another just steps up.
Tonight’s game featured a team that has had injury problems of its own, with their two leading scorers, Kopitar and Williams, out for a while with devastating injuries. They just kept winning too, and came into Rogers Arena with a 7-1-1 record in their last nine. They also came in with the youthful “talk” indicative of a young team, with Drew Doughty being quite open about it here.
In the first period at least, the Kings brought that intensity at least. Aided by a slow start and two pretty silly penalties by Henrik Sedin, the Kings had momentum, and even though the the Canucks penalty kill looked every bit the #1 in the league group that they are, that momentum did help. With seven minutes remaining in the first, Luongo tried to move the puck up to Bieksa, but the Sedin line was not far enough back yet, and Richardson beat Henrik, made a nice pass to Drew Doughty.
He stayed down low, and with Luongo in the butterfly to cover his potential shot, made a very nice pass to Clifford. He blasted it into an open net for the opening goal, one Luongo had no chance on.
While the young Kings should have been motivated even further by the goal, it seemed to have the affect of motivating the home team. The Canucks came on, aided by some strong shifts by Mason Raymond’s newly cobbled together line with Hansen and Torres.
When Moller was sent off in the final minute for a high sticking call, the #1 power play went to work. They looked great, and a shot from Daniel Sedin produced a rebound that Kesler banged home. Unfortunately, it was .02 seconds late, and was immediately waived off.
While the Canucks did not score when they started the second period on the power play, the second period seemed to turn in the home team’s favour. While the Kings were still in the game, and still pushing, the greater speed and greater determination on the puck by the Canucks was readily apparent. After easily killing an Aaron Rome boarding penalty, the Canucks finally broke through with about five minutes left in the second.
This one was all set up by a great read by Victor Oreskovich ( who has been very good since being called up, improving every game ) to intercept a Doughty pass, springing Daniel Sedin and jumping up to make it a two on one. Victor smartly drove to the net, and Daniel cut in behind and rifled it by Quick. Some Canucks afterwards were upset by the late hit after the puck went in the net by Doughty, which was blindside but not to the head. It was debatable by Rule 48, and in my mind, at least, unnecessary.
The Kings had a bit of a push back, but Luongo stood tall, and another iffy decision by Doughty led to one of the games turning points. With about twenty seconds left in the second, Doughty jumped up into the slot onto a loose puck. He had no coverage, and when his attempt to feather the puck through a horde of legs in front deflected out of danger, Hansen, Torres and Ehrhoff blasted off the other way.
Hansen made a nice pass to Ehrhoff, and this time they beat the clock with the big German ripping it home with under a second left. Two very nice goals against the play that were not the norm with a normally defensive team from L.A.
The third period was the one where the Canucks showed why they are considered the class of the league this year. Every line had shifts where they spent the entire time in the Kings defensive zone. The visitors were left with just chipping pucks out. Quick was standing on his head to keep his team in, with pucks coming from everywhere, and Luongo was left to watch from his own end.
On one of the rare forays into the Canucks zone, another of the turning points of the game occurred. With Handzus bearing down on a puck in the corner, along with Tambellini and Aaron Rome. Tambellini got to the puck first, and Handzus and Rome came together at the same time, with the result all three guys looking like bowling pins, with the big Kings centre getting the worst of it. He was down for a bit, but played the rest of the game, on a play Terry Murray was adamant was a penalty, but one that went uncalled.
Shortly thereafter, was a play that will most definitely draw the attention of the NHL’s supplementary discipline office. With about seven and a half minutes left, mature rookie Chris Tanev was far ahead of Kyle Clifford, going for a puck in the corner. As he turned to play the puck, and trying to avoid the hit, Clifford came in hard, driving him in the numbers, and then exacerbating the damage by driving his hip into the defenseman’s head. It looked like a willful dirty play, with a definite attempt to injure. Tanev stayed down for a bit, but eventually made it off the ice under his own steam.
The officials rightly agreed and sent Clifford for an early shower. The Canucks went to work on the five minute power play, and were soon on a five on three power play when Matt Greene crosschecked Kesler going for a rebound.
With a full two minutes of a two man advantage, the Sedins, Ehrhoff, Salo and Kesler threw the puck around well, and a nice pass to Kesler down low by Daniel Sedin resulted in Kesler slamming it home, giving the Canucks the two goal lead and Daniel his one hundredth point of the season. ( and, strangely, with all the accolades and records broken, the teams’ first 5 on 3 goal of the season! )
The game was basically over at that point, with the Canucks shutting down the Kings even attempting a shot on net. The Canucks kept them in check, and a frustrated Doughty finished off an uneven game for the young star by taking a selfish cross checking call in his own end to seal the deal.
Talented, and with a lot of the pieces a young team needs to be successful, the Kings showed their immaturity tonight. That will need to improve to see them take the next step.
In the mean time, a dream season for the Canucks continues with the fans getting to celebrate a President’s Trophy for finishing first overall . Of course, both the fans and team are excited. But, to a man, they still talk about the “process”, and the desire for “another trophy”.
We will see. A well deserved congratulations for the team’s first President’s Trophy in its history.