The Vancouver Canucks are well on their way to winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, but are doing absolutely nothing to dispel one of hockey’s most long held beliefs.
Ask anyone involved in the game, and they will tell you that before almost any team wins the Stanley Cup, it has to endure at least one — and in some cases a series — of devastating, soul-crushing defeats in the playoffs. Apparently, that is supposed to harden the skin enough to make one a champion one day.
It wasn’t long ago that the Canucks were the ones who were having their character and intestinal fortitude questioned. From their star goalie who seemed to be good for at least one brutal goal every big game to their sublimely talented twin talents that seemed to go AWOL in the same types of situations, the Canucks were seen as a team that could not close the deal. Some questioned whether they ever would.
They shouldn’t anymore, not after the Canucks’ 3-2 overtime win against the Boston Bruins in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s clear to anyone watching this series the Canucks are simply the better team. End of discussion. If both teams play their best, the Canucks are better. If they both play less than their best, which both teams have taken turns doing in the first two games, the Canucks are still better. But the better team doesn’t always win. When that team is as talented as the Canucks are and has developed a killer instinct, though, the wins seem to follow.
Consider what the Canucks have done in their past three playoff games, all victories. In Game 5 of the Western Conference final against the San Jose Sharks, the Canucks got a goal with 14 seconds remaining to tie the score before Kevin Bieksa scored in double overtime. In Game 1 of the final, they got a goal from Raffi Torres with 18.2 seconds left to win 1-0. And in Game 2, Alexandre Burrows scored 11 seconds into overtime to give the Canucks a stranglehold on the series.
Teams that can win that way in big games on a consistent basis have obviously learned their playoff lessons well.
It was actually a confluence of luck and preparation that led to the goal. The luck came when Canucks coach Alain Vigneault decided at the last minute to put the Sedin twins and Burrows on the ice to start overtime. The referee had already lifted his arm, but the Canucks were still able to make the change.
The preparation came when the Canucks realized that if Boston goalie Tim Thomas was going to live by the sword, there was a good chance he’d die by it as well. The Canuck players were told that Thomas, who is extremely aggressive with shooters and comes out way beyond the crease, could be beaten if the Canucks faked the shot and froze him rather than take a low-percentage blast that would almost certainly be stopped.
“I’ve been doing my pre-scouting on Tim Thomas, and he likes to challenge. If I shot I think he just stops it because he covers all angles,” Burrows said. “So I wanted to walk around and shoot it, but he kind of tripped me and I lost the puck and I was just lucky to wrap it around.”
While the Canucks’ best players really came on in Game 2, the Bruins were let down by theirs in a big way. How Zdeno Chara could not contain Burrows on the overtime play is a mystery. In reality, Chara had a terrible night, continuing a trend that goes back to his days in Ottawa where he seemed to struggle in the postseason. Thomas’ aggressive ways were huge factors in the tying and winning goals and the first goal of the game, also scored by Burrows, was very stoppable.
“As a team, we need to realize that we’re right there,” Thomas said. “If we can eliminate a few things it will greatly benefit our game.”
It sure would help if the Bruins didn’t turn the puck over so much in crucial areas of the ice, if their best players performed commensurate to their abilities and if they could neutralize the Canucks speed by slowing the pace of the game down the way they did in the second period.
In reality, the Canucks haven’t been that much better than the Bruins through the first two games of this series. The Bruins could just as easily be going home with a 2-0 lead if only a few things had gone their way. But the Canucks have a commanding lead because it appears they’ve learned the lessons from playoffs past.
The Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks should indeed be taking notes.
MANNY BEING MANNY
The Canucks got an enormous boost from the return of Manny Malhotra to the lineup after missing almost three months with a career-threatening eye injury.
Not only did it provide the Rogers Arena in Vancouver with a huge emotional touchstone, Malhotra also went 6-1 in the faceoff circle.
“It’s no surprise to us that he wins faceoffs,” said Daniel Sedin. “He’s unbelievable at that. He’s kept himself in shape. He’s a hard-working guy. I think we expected him to play well tonight and he did.”