Friday evening, the Canucks were able to skate to a convincing 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames in game two of their opening round series, tying it up 1-1 as it shifts to Calgary for game three. The Canucks scored two goals in the first, courtesy of Daniel Sedin and Chris Higgins, and were able to get an insurance goal from Latvian rookie Ronalds Kenins as well as an empty-net goal from sniper Radim Vrbata to come away with their first home playoff victory since game five of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. It wasn’t a perfect game for Vancouver, but there was far more good than bad, and we’ll be taking a look at both the good points, and the few low points of the Canucks’ big victory.
An Excellent Opening 20 Minutes
While the Canucks came out and had a very respectable first period in game one, it was nothing in comparison to what they were able to put together to start this contest. The Canucks came out flying, out-shooting the Flames 13-t0-3 through the opening 20, while also potting their first two goals of the night. Considering the fact that offence was a concern heading into this game, it was refreshing to many a Canuck fan to see two get past Jonas Hiller early, and finish the night with four. They may have needed the practice at starting off quickly, as it’s that kind of intensity they’ll need to start the game in what should be an energized Saddledome on Sunday.
The Sedins Continued to Dominate
After an impressive opening game that found neither Sedin on the scoresheet, they were able to find the back of the net early in this game, with Daniel Sedin ripping one past Hiller less than three minutes in off a wonderful pass across the slot from brother Henrik. Not only did the Sedins contribute to the offensive output of the squad, but both were dominant possession players, with Daniel posting a 56% CorsiFor% and Henrik putting up a whopping 69% CorsiFor%. Leading up to the series, there was a lot of talk about how the twins would need to take advantage of the Flames’ possession struggles, and they have certainly done that so far.
Eddie Lack Stands Tall
Eddie Lack quietly had a very nice game one, stopping 28 of 30 shots, including some key saves in the late moments of the game, and he was able to back it up with another very strong performance. Lack, whose name was featured prominently among the chants at Rogers Arena, stopped 22 of 23 shots directed his way, and was well on his way to a shutout until Kris Russell scored a power play goal with under four minutes to play. The lovable Swede was able to keep the Canucks on top with some huge saves in the third period, and was able to snag his first career NHL playoff victory.
The Continued Shut Down of Hudler-Monahan-Gaudreau
Heading into the series, the concern for pretty well every single Canucks fan was the white-hot line of Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan and super-rookie Johnny Gaudreau. Hudler, 31, has experienced a career season, with 76 points in 78 games, good for top ten in league scoring, while Monahan was able to put up a 31-goal campaign, and Gaudreau, arguably the favorite for the Calder trohpy, had 64 points in 80 games. Leading up to the post-season, they were the hottest, most exciting line in hockey, and it struck fear into many across Canuck Nation. Well, it appears the Canucks have figured out how to shut them down completely, as they have a combined two points over these two games (an assist from each of Monahan and Gaudreau on the late power play goal from Russell on Friday), and have rarely been seen as a threat when on the ice. It got to the point where head coach Bob Hartley chose to split up the trio, something seen as borderline-inconceivable just days ago. A lot of their ineffectiveness can be put on the fact that the Canucks’ top-four of Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Dan Hamhuis and Yannick Weber have all played some of their best hockey of the 2015 campaign, and have done a masterful job keeping Calgary’s big three in check (specifically Jiri Hudler, who has just one shot all series long.) If they continue their strong play against this line, it’s hard not to like the Canucks’ chances.
Radim Vrbata Lacking Killer Instinct
Throughout the regular season, Radim Vrbata proved that he could a be top-line sniper in the NHL, scoring 31-goals, just four off his career high of 35 in 2011-12. However, through the two playoff games so far, Vrbata has lacked the killer instinct that he possessed through the regular season, despite eight shots through two contests. Despite the high quantity of shots on goal, very few of them have passed the eye-test as high-quality scoring chances, and he hasn’t been putting himself in positions to score the way he was throughout the majority of his 79 regular season games. Vrbata hasn’t been hurting the team in the slightest, but he could make things easier on the club if he stepped the way he has for various points during the season.
Kevin Bieksa and Luca Sbisa Still Aren’t Playing Well
To put it lightly, the bottom pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Luca Sbisa had an abomination of a game one, with many pegging them as the primary cause for Russell’s last-minute GWG, and while they weren’t as bad as they were on Wednesday (not exactly a high bar to clear), they were still among the worst Canucks on the ice. Sbisa was an embarrassing 38% CorsiFor%, while Bieksa was a sub-par 44%. Neither player is expected to be a shutdown force with regularity, but the Canucks could do well to get some higher quality play out of these two.