TheCanuckleheads.ca

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  • Birthday 02/20/1977

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  1. You're right that Patrick McNally would have gone much higher had he been willing to commit to turning pro within a couple years, but that wasn't the case. After meeting with 18 teams prior to the 2010 draft, he fell to Vancouver in the 4th round because he was a high school junior who had his senior season at Milton Prep School to complete before going to Harvard. As we all know, Mike Gillis values intelligence and character when acquiring players, and so he wasn't too worried about the 5-6 years it would take for McNally to turn pro given the intelligence already evident in McNally and the education he would get at Harvard. This is his freshman at Harvard, and you have to imagine that when you go to Harvard, you're going there for the degree ahead of the hockey. So I imagine he'll complete his four years prior to turning pro. His father, after all, is an FBI agent, so this is a young man who likely has dreams of being a great NHLer, and a secondary plan for his life when he retires or doesn't make it as a pro. As a quick update on his performance so far this year at Harvard, McNally has 15 points (4G, 11A) in 14 games, and all four goals have come on the power play. By all accounts, McNally is adapting easily to the college game and was named the ECAC Rookie of the Month in December. Here's an article that discusses McNally's achievement and includes his stats for the year up to the beginning of January: http://www.gocrimson.com/sports/mice/2011-12/releases/120103_mcnally_ROM And here's my own write-up on McNally prior to the season ranking Canucks' prospects: http://thecanuckleheads.ca/2011/07/22/top-20-canucks-prospects-part-3-of-4/
  2. With the pre-season in full swing, the Vancouver Canucks are once again looking like the class of the Northwest Division. Edmonton may be better than last year, but are still in rebuilding mode. Calgary remains the most enigmatic team in the league, and their aging core and lack of youth do not bode well, although a place in the post-season remains a possibility. Minnesota made a pair of bold acquisitions from San Jose in trading for Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, but their team identity remains in flux as they transition out of Jacques Lemaire-style hockey and into a free-flowing offensive style. And then there's Colorado, which has alternated between challenging Vancouver for the Northwest crown and being bottom feeders. Last year couldn't have been much worse as they finished with the second-worst record in the NHL. So it's hard to imagine them challenging Vancouver, but this division is so weak right now and the Avalanche have enough young talent that they could finish second and claim a playoff stop. A lot will depend upon how the acrobatic Simeon Varlamov plays and whether he can stay healthy; much like Cody Hodgson, injuries have marred Varlamov's development. As for their place in the Western Conference, playing in what is now the NHL's weakest division should help the Canucks vie for the top seed in the West and the President's Trophy. Detroit, Chicago, San Jose, L.A., and possibly Anaheim would have to be considered the Canucks' main competitors for Western supremacy. Of course, the Canucks expect to have a strong regular season and will rightfully set their sights on the Stanley Cup, which means that their regular-season challenge will be to remain focused on building good daily habits so that the group forms a strong identity and they improve their mental fortitude along the way. Last year's victory against Chicago was a big hurdle to get over, but of course Roberto Luongo's wildly inconsistent play against Chicago and Boston remains a concern not just for Canuck fans, but also for the Canucks' brass and no doubt Bobby Lou himself. Naturally, there were other problems that surfaced in the Stanley Cup final, and had the team not been so banged up, they might have come out on top despite Luongo's up-and-down series. After a 2010 off-season in which Mike Gillis addressed more glaring needs by acquiring the services of Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres, and Victor Oreskovich, the Canucks' GM prioritized the retention of a few key pieces by re-signing Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins, and Maxim Lapierre. But it is the competition Gillis has created between a gang of NHL veterans and AHL up-and-comers that will be intriguing to watch unfold during training camp. This group includes Marco Sturm, Steve Pinizzotto, Mark Mancari, Mike Duco, Byron Bitz (currently injured), Owen Nolan, Todd Fedoruk, and Steve Begin. Who will emerge and claim roster spots? Who will start the year with the Wolves and be injury call-ups? And who will be cut or traded the way Darcy Hordichuk, Shane O'Brien, and Brendan Morrison were last year when the team decides to go in a different direction? It is already proving to be an extremely competitive training camp in which young prospects will be given opportunities, but may find it difficult to pull a Shirokov by making the team out of camp. There's just so much experience on the current roster and in the group of forwards Gillis has either signed or brought in on PTOs (i.e. professional try-outs) that for Darren Archibald or Anton Rodin or Jordan Schroeder to make the team seems like a stiff task. In the near future, then, we will find out what kind of identity Gillis and Vigneault would like to create on the fourth line. We will also find out how the team handles to so-called Stanley Cup hangover. Kesler, Hamhuis, Malhotra, Samuelsson, and Raymond are five key components whose respective injuries/off-season surgeries leave a few questions unanswered. And in the long term, we must also ask how the goaltending situation will be addressed. It is not like Mike Gillis to stand pat when a situation emerges that stands in the way of winning. But then again, he's much more liable to deal internally with a problem like Luongo. We could see a platoon situation between Luongo and Schneider emerge. And behind the scenes, who knows what Gillis has up his sleeve. But you've got to think that consistent playoff goaltending is something that Gillis has given a lot of thought to since Game 7 against Boston, and the plan will no doubt unfold as the season progresses. With those preliminary thoughts, here are the Top 10: Keys to the Vancouver Canucks' Season. 10. Manny Malhotra proves his versatility This could be the year in which Manny Malhotra takes Cody Hodgson under his wing. From all reports, Malhotra's eye continues to improve, but still isn't 100%. What does this mean for the Canucks? Well, prior to his miraculous return to play in the Stanley Cup final, Malhotra remained a leader in the dressing room, and I think one of his roles this year will be to mentor Cody Hodgson. Let's just hope he remains a defensive force on the ice and in the faceoff circle, because he had trouble in the faceoff circle against the Bruins (50.6% compared to his regular season average of 61.7%), and his limited vision may have been the culprit. Regarding Hodgson, although he may start the year on the second line, Ryan Kesler will take that spot upon his return, which won't be more than a few weeks away. The likely domino effect will drop Hodgson onto the third line, which will shift Malhotra to the left wing. As Alain Vigneault has mentioned, Malhotra can play on the wing and step in to take key draws if they decide Hodgson is ready to be the team's third-line centre. Either way, look for Malhotra to be a key penalty killer, play some centre, some left wing, and take on the role of mentoring Hodgson who has the tools to be a very effective third-line centre, while also running the second-unit power-play. 9. The fourth line finds its identity early on It will be important for the fourth line to form an identity and gain Vigneault's trust early on. Last year, Gillis addressed a weak third line by bringing in Malhotra and Torres. Along with Jannik Hansen, they formed a consistent trio that won faceoffs, threw their weight around and had the speed to create chances and disrupt the opposition's break-out. The fourth line, on the other hand, never found a consistent identity. Alex Bolduc's separated shoulders limited his usefulness. Guillaume Desbiens never made much of a mark, and Tanner Glass is now in Winnipeg. But having Maxim Lapierre centre the fourth line is a good place to start. And my guess is that Steve Pinizzotto has the inside track on the left wing spot, while Mark Mancari and Owen Nolan are running neck-and-neck for the right wing spot. And due to injuries to start the year, Mike Duco and either Mancari or Nolan could be the extra forwards. At this point, Oreskovich may be in tough to beat out some of these newcomers, but he and Byron Bitz will surely their shot at some point during the year. However you see the fourth line coming together, it promises to be an exciting unit that can fight, hit, agitate, chip in offensively, and change the momentum when the Canucks need a spark. 8. Mikael Samuelsson has a bounce-back year Mikael Samuelsson had a bit of a rough year in 2010-11 due in large part to nagging groin and hamstring injury that hampered his skating and eventually worsened to the point that he was shut down after Game 5 of the Nashville series. After scoring a career high 30 goals in his first year in Vancouver, Samuelsson dropped to just 18 goals in 2010-11. Coupled with Mason Raymond's inability to put the puck in the net, Vancouver's second line came to be referred to pejoratively as the Helicopter Line because it featured Kesler in the middle with no wings. This year, with no major upgrade to the second line, Samuelsson needs to put the puck in the net, and his potential role as a first-unit power play quarterback (with Edler and/or Salo) means that he will have to be healthy and productive after off-season adductor tendon surgery and sports hernia surgery. If he's not, Owen Nolan and/or Mark Mancari could find themselves getting a look in his second line right wing slot. 7. Alex Edler steps into the Ehrhoff void With Christian Ehrhoff's departure, Alex Edler is expected to pick up the scoring slack. Of course, Vancouver's defensive depth has always been a key to their success, and Edler isn't the only one who will be counted on for more points. Dan Hamhuis will no doubt play more on the second-unit power play alongside Kevin Bieksa and/or Sami Salo, and Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev both figure to contribute more off the rush at even strength. But the power play is a vital component to winning, and the Canucks were lethal all year until the finals when Ehrhoff's shoulder injury, Samuelsson's absence, Kesler's injury, and — most of all — Tim Thomas' brilliance conspired to shut down the Canucks' vaunted power play. If Alex Edler continues to evolve as expected, we could see a 50-point season from him, and the Canucks may need it for their power play to remain as dynamic as it was last year. 6. Cody Hodgson assumes a key role in the Canucks' lineup The subject of Cody Hodgson has been beaten to death over the last three years, although this year's tempered expectations are that he will find his way into a full-time role with the big club this year. With only eight regular season games under his belt, he has yet to prove he's a worthy Top-9 forward, but the Canucks could sure use a shot of youth in their lineup, and early indications are that Hodgson is fully healthy, lighter on his feet, and stronger on the puck, all of which should help him grow into a solid NHLer. As mentioned in the intro and in the section on Malhotra, Hodgson will likely need to settle into a third line role once Kesler returns. Whether he does or not will depend on how he performs through the rest of the exhibition schedule and in the early going when he is expected to fill in on the second line for Ryan Kesler. 5. Dan Hamhuis stays healthy all year The loss of shutdown defenseman Dan Hamhuis in the finals was one of the many hurdles Vancouver couldn't quite overcome. After a head-over-heels hip check on Milan Lucic, Hamhuis was finished, and like Kesler, Samuelsson, Raymond, and Malhotra, he enters the season with an injury that could mar his early performance. Like Mikael Samuelsson, Hamhuis had off-season sports hernia surgery. The prognosis has been positive, and it is expected that Hamhuis will be ready to go on opening night. But losing Hamhuis in Game 1 of the finals was a big blow given his stabilizing influence on the team. He also missed 18 regular-season games due to two separate concussions after missing only seven games in his entire six-year career in Nashville. Gillis went after him in unrestricted free agency last year for many reasons, one of which was his durability, and the Canucks will need a healthy Hamhuis if they are to return to the promised land for a shot at redemption. 4. Cory Schneider repeats his rookie performance Had it not been for playing a back-up role on a dominant team that featured Vezina finalist Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider would no doubt have garnered some Calder consideration. With a spectacular record of 16-4-2 with a 2.23 GAA and a .929 SV%, Schneider may shoulder an even heavier load this year. He may not platoon with Bobby Lou, but getting 30-35 starts is very possible, and given the uncertainty surrounding Luongo's ability to carry the playoff load, Alain Vigneault will likely be more prepared to start Schneider in key playoff games should Luongo falter. On top of that, it is a contract year for Schneider, and although he will be a restricted free agent, and it's hard to imagine that Schneider will re-sign in Vancouver unless he becomes their full-time starter. In short, Schneider seems ready for the prime time, and yet the goalie market in the NHL is flooded, otherwise Vancouver may have traded such a valuable asset prior to the last year of his entry-level deal. That, however, may be a blessing in disguise, as the Canucks now feature the best goaltending tandem in the league. But who will step up and prove to be the go-to guy when the games matter most? It will be interesting to monitor the situation as it unfolds through the season and into the playoffs. 3. Ryan Kesler returns in dominant form Following post-season hip surgery to repair the torn labrum Kesler suffered towards the end of the Sharks' series, Kesler will almost certainly miss some time at the beginning of the season. How quickly he is able to return to his 41-goal Selke Trophy form will go a long way to determining how successful Vancouver's season is. Of course, coming off a President's Trophy and a trip to the Stanley Cup finals has made his absence at training camp seem like a blessing in disguise. Cody Hodgson may get to start the season centring the second unit, which should give the Canucks' top prospect a couple weeks to get his feet wet as an NHL regular. But while other Canucks have been training for the upcoming season, Kesler has been rehabbing. Let's just hope he can step into the lineup and find the stride he had throughout the regular season and through the first three rounds of the playoffs. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are the back-to-back Art Ross Trophy winners, but Kesler is the guy who excels in every aspect of the game due to his speed, strength, and dogged determination to win at all costs. In other words, Kesler is the engine that turns Vancouver from a good team into a powerhouse. 2. The Sedins each put up 100 points If the Sedins can have another scintillating offensive year in which they weave their Sedinery against the rest of the NHL, Vancouver should be in very good shape. Especially in the early going, when Kesler is out of the lineup, it will be vital for the Sedins' to pick up the slack. Under Alain Vigneault, the Canucks have had a mediocre record in the first month or so, and some of this has to do with Luongo being a notoriously slow starter. Although 100 points each is not the lone prerequisite for Vancouver's success, if they can repeat the numbers they've put up the last two seasons, it will go a long way to making the Canucks a Stanley Cup favourite once again. The true test, of course, will come against teams like Chicago, LA, Boston, Nashville, and others who have a physically powerful defensive tandem to disrupt the Sedins by knocking them on their keisters. Hopefully, the Sedins will once again have evolved from last year and be better equipped to put points up while playing against the league's elite defensemen. 1. Roberto Luongo finds peace of mind It's true that Roberto Luongo is one of the absolute best goalies in the business. But it's equally true that his confidence in his own ability can be very thin, especially when the pressure's on. What he needs is peace of mind more than anything, and the inner faith in his own ability to rebound from bad goals. His tendency against Chicago for the last three years and against Boston in the final to let the goals pile up is not a good pattern; not only does it demonstrate to his opposition a fragile state of mind, but it shows his teammates that he's nervous, which makes playing in front of him very challenging. In a lot of ways, your goalie sets the tone for your team, and Vancouver has a tremendous team that unravels when things snowball on Luongo. But if he can forget his ego, relax, and move on from bad goals and bad performances, he will be just fine, and so will the Canucks. On the other hand, if he holds a grudge against the media for being hard on him and feels the need to have his ego flattered the way he did after his scintillating Game 5 performance against Boston, he will remain overly concerned with himself. As he should have learned from Tim Thomas, having fun and being unconcerned with accolades and criticism is the key to remaining in the moment.
  3. Thanks for the reply. I appreciate it.
  4. Has anyone come across McNally's stats for the 2010-2011 season? He was a senior at Milton, where his team had an amazing 26-3-1 record. McNally was named the New England Prep School Player of the Year, and will start college next year at Harvard. I'm writing an article on Canucks prospects and can't find this year's stats anywhere. If you could post them, I'd appreciate it. The only site I found that would have the stats is USHR.com, but they charge an exorbitant subscription fee to see current stats...
  5. My oh my, how things turn on a dime. Momentum. Energy. Confidence. A 31-save shutout for Bobby Lou has put Vancouver back in the driver’s seat. Roberto Luongo’s Game 5 shutout is his fourth of the playoffs after posting goose eggs in Game 1 of the Chicago series, the Nashville series, and the Boston series. But this is a big one. It comes on the heels of two less than stellar games. While the lovable yoga master Tim Thomas has been getting all the love for his charismatic excellence, Roberto Luongo hasn’t received much credit for Vancouver’s Stanley Cup run. Sure, Luongo has looked fragile at times under pressure. But over the last year-and-a-half, Luongo has handled the pressure of a nation by winning Olympic Gold on his home rink in an overtime thriller; he has conquered his nemesis, the Chicago Blackhawks, by winning Game 7 in a double-overtime classic; and in Game 5 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, he conquered the media demon once again. Now that he’s won Game 5 in such flawless fashion, it reminds me that it’s a good thing he’s no longer the captain of the Canucks. Unlike last year, he now has his teammates to defend his greatness and reassure the media skeptics that they trust in Lou. And Luongo was razor sharp. A little early work gave him some confidence, and the Canucks were hungry. Unlike Games 3 and 4, Vancouver played very few complacent shifts. They were never rattled, Luongo was calm in net, and they won the physical battle. Although the first period shots were 12-6 Boston, Vancouver outhit the Bruins 23-13. It set the pace for a hard-hitting, fast-paced affair. The Canucks killed off three first-period power plays behind some clutch saves from Luongo, and by winning most of the puck battles in traffic: along the boards, in front of the net, in the corners. The move to put Edler alongside Bieksa was a key adjustment, and along with a steady diet of the Sedins and Burrows in the first 10 minutes, Vigneault signaled he was going to ride his best players. To Boston’s credit, they didn’t give an inch. A few aggressive pinches by Canuck defensemen in the early going gave the Bruins several odd-man rushes. Perhaps their best scoring chance came on a Chris Kelly wrist shot from the slot, which beat Luongo over his left shoulder, only to ring off the crossbar and out of play. After two games mired by bad breaks, Vancouver got one in their favour. It kept the game scoreless, which is a much better place to be than having to come back against the Bruins. And in the aftermath of giving up 12 goals in two games, Vancouver desperately needed not to fall behind early. Once again, the Sedins and Kesler didn’t score on the power play. And once again, Maxim Lapierre’s line produced a third-period game-winning goal. In Game 1, it was Hansen finding Torres as he slid through the slot for the re-direct. In Game 5, it was Maxim Lapierre who was far and away the best player in the final frame. Not only did he score the lone goal by sending a knuckle ball in off Thomas, but he was skating with the puck and creating chances the way Kesler did against Nashville. If Lapierre had Kesler’s hands, he might have had a hat trick. On consecutive shifts after his goal at the 4:35 mark, Lapierre cruised around the offensive zone, hanging on to the puck and using his speed to threaten the defense. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to finish any of his rushes. In the end, though, Boston didn’t generate many golden scoring chances once they fell behind. Their most dangerous stretch came on a series of icing calls against Vancouver with around five minutes to go. Manny Malhotra, our faceoff specialist who usually thrives when you need a big win, lost four straight draws cleanly. Four straight draws against Krejci and Peverley were pulled back to the right point. It gave Boston some puck possession, but coming from behind isn’t their strong suit. And for the most part, the Canucks kept them to the outside, blocked shots, and boxed out beautifully. Up next, “The Bingo Bango Bongo Man” and his Vancouver Canucks face an even stiffer test in Beantown. To this point in the series, the home team has won every contest. Both teams have been decent on the road, while lacking the urgent purpose it takes to win on the road. Being down in the series helps manufacture that urgency, so Vancouver’s challenge is to treat Game 6 “like a Game 7″. It is a Canuck soundbite we heard prior to Game 5 of the San Jose series, and we’re bound to hear it again. If they enter The Garden with that mentality, they will once again win the physical battle. There’s a two-day break to prepare for Game 6 and one of the mental hurdles for the Canucks will be keeping their eyes off the prize. “Enjoy the moment,” as Luongo religiously puts it. And “play the right way,” as Coach Vigneault likes to say. The Canucks faced an avalanche of Bruin momentum in the wake of two blowouts in Beantown, and nobody in this series has been able to hold off the adversary’s desperation. In Boston, the Bruins have been the hungrier team. Now their backs are against the wall, and Vancouver needs to find the killer instinct they had in finishing off San Jose. Either way, Game 6 should be dandy!
  6. It's understandable that Vancouver Canuck fans are freaking out a little bit. The team has a 40-year history without conquering Lord Stanley, and after two great games on home ice, we were all dreaming of coming home for Game 5 with either the Stanley Cup or a 3-1 series lead. But now that it's 2-2 and Luongo has looked fragile and the power play has been listless and the momentum has swung in favour of the Bruins, it's no time to jump ship. The series is still there for the taking, and there's no reason to think Vancouver doesn't have the moxy to overcome this adversity. After all, nobody wins it all without going through some tough times. But let's not sugarcoat it. There's a lot to feel miserable about when your team is outscored 12-1 in two of the most important games in franchise history. We can start with the fact that Bobby Lou has given up 12 goals on 58 shots for a woeful .793 save percentage — numbers that are eerily reminiscent of the Chicago series when he was shredded for 10 goals on only 40 shots in Games 4 and 5 for an even uglier .750 save percentage. The question heading into Game 5 is whether Luongo can regain his composure and confidence. It's a question Vigneault will no doubt be asking himself right up to game time on Friday. Unlike the Chicago series, though, I don't think there's any reason to consider putting Cory Schneider between the pipes. As Alain Vigneault has already stated, "Louie is going to be fine. He's one of the best goaltenders in the league. We've got a lot of trust and faith in him…in his ability to play well." On the other hand, it must be said that Vancouver could have won both games in Boston if Tim Thomas had been in their net. The Canucks out-shot Boston in both games, and they carried the play in the first period of both games. Had they managed to put an early one past Thomas in either game, we're probably not talking about Luongo. In Game 4, unable to score early on, the snowball was put in motion by a pair of bad breaks when Edler's stick broke (leading to a seeing-eye shot from Andrew Ference) and Kesler re-directed a Mark Recchi pass past Luongo. But the fact is that after a couple fluke goals, Luongo has made very few big saves, while Thomas has been rock solid. This is why Luongo gets so little credit when Vancouver wins and a lot of blame when they lose. During a six-week stretch against Chicago (Game 7), Nashville, San Jose, and Boston (Games 1 and 2), Vancouver was the better team and Luongo was part of the equation. But it would be hard to argue that Luongo has stolen a game for Vancouver in these playoffs. Either way, six weeks of solid goaltending is nothing to sneeze at. And then, all of a sudden, after a couple bad bounces, he's playing as if shell-shocked and his mental fortitude is once again a big-time concern. Of course, Vancouver has plenty of other culprits. The Sedins have played decent 5-on-5 hockey, but haven't been scoring on the power play. Kesler hasn't been playing like the beast he was against the Predators. As a group, the defense hasn't been adding much to the offense, while the forwards haven't supplied enough traffic in front of Thomas or produced enough second chances. Finally, lady luck seems to be on Boston's side. But as Tommy Larscheid would point out, "you've gotta be good to be lucky, and lucky to be good". Having success begins with trusting your keeper to make a few clutch saves when the defense breaks down. And that's not happening right now. In the first period of last night's game, Vancouver out-shot Boston 12-6. Boston had two quality scoring chances. The first came on a Rich Peverley breakaway. On the play, Peverley made no deke or fake. He skated in and fired a wrist shot right at Luongo, who initially had his stick covering the five-hole, only to inexplicably remove it when the shot was released, thereby opening the door to the back of the net. Sure, it was a defensive breakdown, but it was a very makeable save. The second scoring chance came in the closing minutes of the period when Michael Ryder undressed Christian Ehrhoff and snapped a wrist shot short-side on Luongo that, despite a tight angle, rang off the post. Two days after the 8-1 debacle, you could tell Luongo wasn't sharp, and any team, no matter how confident and cohesive, will lose energy and focus when they're wondering if their keeper is rattled. As any Canuck fan knows, if Luongo's mind isn't sharp, neither is his technique; and he's not an athletic scrambler who can overcome poor technique and a frantic mindset. On the second goal, with Vancouver still carrying the play (not by a long shot, mind you), Ryder stepped over the blue line and fired a 60-foot wrist shot that found the back of the net. Yes, the puck took a slick deviation off Sami Salo's stick at the release point, causing the puck to dip slightly. But an NHL goaltender has to make that save. It's one thing if the deflection happens right in front the net and you have no time to react, but from that distance, Luongo had the time to pick it up, but his glove remained a foot higher than the puck's trajectory. If he's locked in and focused, it's easy pickings. On the third goal by Brad Marchand, there was mass confusion between Ballard and Bieksa. Ballard had a nightmare of a game, and after losing the puck once, he was tripped behind the net, which led to Marchand finding the puck on his stick right in front of the net. Again, Vancouver needed a save to keep the game within reach, and they didn't get it. By 4-0, Vigneault had no choice but to pull Luongo — which he also should have done after the second period in Game 4 to save Luongo from digging the puck out of his net four more times. In any case, heading into Game 5, Canuckleheads near and far will be wondering whether Schneider will see any more action in these playoffs. Stability in goal is a prerequisite to winning the Stanley Cup, and my guess is that Luongo will start Game 5 and Vancouver will play so well and be so hungry for a win that Luongo won't face much action early on. But if Boston weathers the early storm and starts getting their chances, we'll find out very quickly how confident Luongo is by his rebound control and his ability to catch the puck cleanly. And if Vancouver gets behind the 8-ball, I'd expect Vigneault to have a quick hook, especially with the knowledge that Schneider played well in Game 6 against Chicago…despite a pair of costly puck-handling gaffes. And so it comes down to this: if Vancouver is destined to win the Stanley Cup, they will stem the tide of momentum and take advantage of being back on home ice. But they'd better not wait for some last-minute heroics to get it done, because Luongo's confidence is unquestionably shakier now than it was early in the series. Speed should be the key. Boston has now matched Vancouver's physicality, but the Canucks must use their team speed to exploit the Bruins' defense. If they do, they'll get Thomas moving the way Tampa had him moving on occasion in the Eastern Conference Finals. Then the goals will come in bunches.
  7. Fortunately for the Canucks, they've been down this road before. I'm not sure what it is about this team that sees them spiral so wildly out of control on occasion. But in Games 4 and 5 against Chicago, the Canucks got complacent and then couldn't stop the bleeding. After a 5-0 shutout in Chicago in Game 4, Vancouver returned home for Game 5, only to lay another egg. The 7-2 final was ugly, and you had to wonder how a team that had played so well in building a 3-0 series lead against their nemesis could suddenly look so impotent. Obviously, when things snowball the way they did in Game 3 last night against Boston, you have to take the loss with a grain of salt and move on. After a tremendous 1st period for the Canucks, which included a 5-minute penalty kill on the Rome major, Vancouver seemed to have weathered the storm, and if it hadn't been for Tim Thomas' continued excellence, Vancouver might have escaped the period with the lead. But they had no puck luck throughout the game, while Boston got a pair of breaks early in the 2nd. The Ference wrister to open the scoring 11 seconds into the second frame seemed to have eyes, and it came after Edler's stick broke trying to make a pass three seconds into the period. A hard-luck goal to be sure, but a goal that got the ball rolling in Boston's favour. The second goal came on a power-play a little over three minutes later, and it was another bounce that went Boston's way, as Mark Recchi's centring pass deflected off Kesler's stick and through Luongo's 5-hole. Then, just past the mid-way point of the hockey game and with Vancouver on their third power play of the evening, Brad Marchand scored the goal that broke the camel's back. Despite the 2-0 deficit, Vancouver had carried the play through the first half of the game. Thomas had made some fantastic saves, while Boston had benefited from a couple favourable bounces. But the Marchand short-handed goal was a brilliant solo effort, as he took advantage of some sloppy defending from Vancouver's first power-play unit. After stripping Daniel Sedin at centre ice, the Canucks had three defenders around Marchand, but Kesler, Ehrhoff, and Edler all looked nonchalant. Edler decided to fish for the puck instead of defend, which allowed Marchand to chip it off the boards to himself. Ehrhoff, meanwhile, was skating back at half-speed, perhaps assuming that Kesler and Edler would be sufficient defense to deal with the situation. But Marchand was in full flight, and Kesler went for a lazy poke check instead of using his body to angle Marchand into the corner, which allowed Marchand to waltz in all alone on Luongo, who also went fishing and missed. After that, the floodgates were open. In the end, the scoreline flattered Boston. Three of the eight goals were scored in the final two-and-a-half minutes, which once again makes you wonder what in God's name Luongo was still doing in net. Considering his propensity to give up more goals once his team has fallen behind by a few, why wouldn't Vigneault put Schneider in for the 3rd. I mean, what's the benefit to keeping Luongo in when you're down 4-0? Despite the scoreline, he hadn't played all that poorly, and the potential danger is that Boston continues to light the lamp, which is exactly what happened. No goalie likes being pulled, and Luongo may have told AV to leave him in, but why is the ultra-competitive Luongo making that call rather than the coach? Tim Thomas, on the other hand, was the reason Vancouver was kept off the score sheet until it was too late, as Jannik Hansen's 3rd of the playoffs came on Vancouver's 40th shot. So 8-1. No big deal. Vancouver outshot Boston 41-38, and there will be games where things don't go your way. But unless Game 4 plays out differently and the Canucks look like a hungry and resilient team full of confidence, the snowball will be in full effect.
  8. Hey Joe,

    It's King Richard. It's a hockey card of Brodeur from the early 80s. Not quite sure what year...

  9. Traditional wisdom suggests you don’t mess with a good thing, but Vigneault never seems to get blinded by superstition. Take tonight’s Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, for example. Vancouver beat Boston 1-0 in the opener of the Stanley Cup Final. It was a solid defensive performance, and his troops took control of the game when it mattered most in the 3rd. The Canucks were rewarded for dictating play with a clutch goal in the dying seconds from Raffi Torres — the lone Canuck (other than the injured Samuelsson) with Finals’ experience. In Game 1, after losing stalwart rearguard Dan Hamhuis to injury, you’d have figured Edler, Salo, or Ehrhoff would have slid into the first defensive pairing alongside Kevin Bieksa. But Vigneault chose to go with Aaron Rome, who’s always been pigeonholed as an extra d-man, or a third pairing d-man at best. Rome won’t add much to the offense and he never does anything flashy, but then again, neither does Hamhuis — unless he’s throwing a spectacular hip check, like the one in Game 1 on Lucic that got him injured. Rome is sort of a poor man’s version of Hamhuis: he reads the play well, moves the puck quickly, and plays a smart, simple game. Of course, smart money might have been on Edler playing with Bieksa in Game 2 and Keith Ballard stepping in to fill the void on the third pairing. Ballard played well with Chris Tanev against San Jose when Ehrhoff and Rome were out, but Rome has been so consistent that it’s hard to argue with the decision. The second surprise is that instead of using Ballard (and assuming Hamhuis can’t go), Andrew Alberts appears poised to play in his first game since Game 3 of the Nashville series. Alberts, a former Bruin, will play in only his fourth playoff game alongside Christian Ehrhoff. Alberts brings an added physical dimension to the back end, and you can imagine the 6-foot 5-inch Alberts banging and crashing pretty effectively against Boston’s big forwards since there isn’t the same element of speed San Jose can throw at you. The decision to dress Alberts once again leaves the high-priced Ballard in the press box, but Alberts is a reliable stay-at-home type. As a third pairing, it will allow Ehrhoff to carry the puck and join the attack. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, it appears Manny Malhotra will make his return to the Canucks’ lineup centring the fourth line. And it’s a perfect time for it. After a penalty-filled Game 1 which made the fourth lines on both teams pretty irrelevant (Tambellini played 2:30; Oreskovich played 1:54; and Bolduc played 1:39), having a faceoff specialist and penalty-killing master like Malhotra on your fourth line will help spread the penalty-killing minutes around if the game is called as tightly as Game 1. The other consideration is that one of Boston’s true strengths is winning draws. Patrice Bergeron is an elite faceoff man (62.0% in the playoffs), while David Krejci (52.1%) and Rich Peverley (52.2%) are very strong as well. With the addition of Malhotra, it will be good to get him some work early in the series so that you’ve got the dynamic duo of Kesler and Malhotra to rely on for the crucial draws when games later in the series are hanging in the balance. But you’ve gotta hand it to Vigneault. A couple years’ back, he was a compulsive line juggler. At the first sign of trouble, he’d start juggling. Sometimes it worked, but it lacked a sense of purpose. Now, he tinkers. He has the depth to do it, he tends to read match-ups with 20-20 insight, and because anyone can slot in on any given night, every depth guy seems ready to play their role when called upon. So it should be interesting to see how Alberts and Malhotra play after such long layoffs. But I suspect they’ll fit in seamlessly. The Canucks always seem to have a game plan, and when the core is all on the same page, the one or two new parts can generally fit into the whole without disrupting team chemistry.
  10. hi, i was trying to make out who the canuck was in your statis pic?

  11. For the first half of Game 1 in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, the parade to the penalty box seemed like it would never end. Maybe the players were a little jumpy, and maybe the refs were too. Sure, you can't argue with the high-sticks. And Burrows deserved the extra two minutes at the end of the 1st. But the goalie interference penalty to deny Vancouver its 2nd-period 5-on-3 was a terrible call, and there were a few others that were pretty chintzy. Like a couple games in the Sharks' series, the refs seemed like cops at the end of the month trying to make their quota. And when you get a slew of penalties, you also get increased embellishment and too many scrums after the whistle. The result of all the penalties was that Boston's anemic power play proved itself anemic. Zdeno Chara was left alone in front of Luongo and it's anyone's guess why Claude Julien is choosing to use him there instead of on the point, where his 100+ mile-per-hour cannon should do a whole lot more damage. But Julien has obviously tried Kaberle and Chara together, and with Kaberle as the quarterback, the clear strategy would be to play a forward high on Chara and back right off Kaberle — whose shot wouldn't scare Betty White. If I were Julien, I'd put Chara and Seidenberg together on the point, but what do I care? So long as Boston is struggling, I applaud the strategy. As for Vancouver, they had their share of power-play chances too, and their execution was the one aspect of their game that looked rusty after the eight-day layoff. No doubt the power play will be sharper on Saturday, but the good news is that Luongo was razor-sharp and is now 8-1 in his playoff career in Game 1s, including three shutouts this year — against Chicago, Nashville, and now Boston. Vancouver was also the better team at even strength, which is where Boston wants to play. Given Vancouver's power play prowess and Boston's disjointed execution over the past several months, the Bruins want to play 5-on-5, where they had the best even-strength goal differential during the regular season and so far in the playoffs. But it didn't look like it last night. In the opening minutes of the game, Vancouver had three B-grade scoring chances that Tim Thomas turned away before the penalty parade turned the game into a special teams' battle. Then, once the refs put their whistles away in the 3rd period, Vancouver once again proved to be the better 5-on-5 team. Of course, it was only Game 1, but Vancouver was faster, hit more, made better passes, and turned the puck over far less than the Bruins. The Canucks outshot Boston 14-10 in the 3rd, which doesn't sound particularly dominant, but Vancouver doesn't tend to fire the puck on net from anywhere. Like Detroit, they are a puck possession team, and they're perfectly content cycling the puck and passing it around until their opposition starts running helter-skelter so they can expose the opening. In the 3rd, Burrows had a golden tip-in attempt on a tic-tac-toe play initiated by the Sedins; Hansen had a breakaway; Lapierre had a beautiful re-direct; Edler hit the under-side of the crossbar; and then with 18.5 seconds to go, Torres finished off a gorgeous 3-way passing play for the Game 1 winner. Kesler started the play by spinning across the blue line, retrieving a loose puck and firing a cross-ice pass to a wide open Jannik Hansen. Hansen looked to be loading up a wrist shot as he moved into the slot, but as Chara slid to the ice, Hansen slipped a beautiful pass under Chara's falling body to Raffi Torres, who was charging the net. Thomas, whose great strength and weakness is his willingness to skate way out of his crease to challenge shooters, was caught in no man's land when the pass went through. Torres had an easy tap in. It may only have been Game 1, but it was an ugly, chippy, Bruins type of affair that Vancouver pulled out, proving once again they can play any style of game and win. Chara and Seidenberg played a lot and played well, and Tomas Kaberle moves the puck smoothly, but like the series against San Jose, Boston's blue line looks pretty thin. Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, and Andrew Ference are serviceable defensemen, but they offer precious little in terms of offense, and collectively, they looked too slow to deal with Vancouver's team speed and precise passing. So while the Sedins had their chances, and so did Kesler's line, Vancouver's best line was Lapierre's — a fact that has a lot to do with who they were playing against. Torres had the winner, Lapierre was buzzing all night causing havoc in the offensive zone, and Hansen was the best Canuck on the ice. Just like the regular season, Hansen has been Vancouver's unsung hero throughout the playoffs, and he always seems to step up and play his best when Kesler and the Sedins are held in check. Last night, he was clutch in setting up the winner, but he also had three shots on goal and a few bone-crushing hits. For some, the story of last night's game was the great goaltending of Luongo and Thomas, the poor power plays, the injury to Hamhuis, or the Burrows bite on Bergeron. And those are all valid storylines — especially the superlative goaltending battle. But with 10 hits between Lapierre, Torres, and Hansen, Vancouver's 3rd line set the physical tone, exposed Boston's thin defense with their speed, and then sealed the deal with a Sedin-like bit of magic in the dying seconds of the game to open the scoring.
  12. The unbelievable news of Manny Malhotra’s return to the Canucks’ lineup will be a major x-factor in the Stanley Cup Finals. When you listen to him deal with the media, the guy oozes class, professionalism, and positivity. In the two-and-a-half months since his injury, he has dealt with two major eye operations and faced the fear that his hockey career was potentially over and that his vision may never fully recover. Despite the gravity of the injury, Malhotra remained directly involved with the team — going on road trips, being present in the locker room, and working on faceoff techniques with his fill-ins: Maxim Lapierre, Mason Raymond, and Cody Hodgson. And when Henrik Sedin accepted the President’s Trophy, what an emotional moment it was to see Manny emerge and accept the trophy alongside the Canucks’ captain. And now he’s back. Naturally, Alain Vigneault is remaining discreet about how Malhotra will fit back in to the Canucks’ lineup, but you’ve gotta think he’ll be there, centring either the third or fourth line. Bringing a guy like Malhotra into the Canucks’ dressing room is where Mike Gillis deserves a tremendous amount of credit. Signed very early in last summer’s free-agency period to a 3-year $7.5-million contract, some observers thought it was a lot of money for a third-line guy with limited offensive potential. But $2.5 million to Malhotra is the luxury Gillis could afford by maintaining a very balanced salary structure since taking over the ship three years ago. With cap hits of $6.1 million for each Sedin, $5.3 million for Luongo, $5 million for Kesler, and an incredibly deep blue line with six guys each making between $3.1 million and $4.5 million (Hamhuis, Ballard, Bieksa, Salo, Edler, and Ehrhoff), Gillis has refused to invest too heavily in one guy, knowing that depth throughout the lineup is far more important than putting all your eggs in one basket the way Washington has with Ovechkin or New Jersey did last summer with Kovalchuk. Of course, long-term injuries to Salo, Burrows, Edler, and Malhotra helped the Canucks retain their tremendous depth (while even adding to it with the shrewd deadline acquisitions of Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre). But Gillis, along with capologist Laurence Gilman, must be applauded for remaining patient and not dealing anyone until it became an absolute necessity, which it never did. So now that Vancouver has made it to their third Stanley Cup Final in the 40-year history of this franchise, Malhotra’s return adds yet another chip for Vigneault to play against the Bruins. All season, Malhotra has been a leader on and off the ice. Every Canuck fan knows that much, and if you’d forgotten, his recent press conference to discuss his return told you everything you need to know about Malhotra as human being. When asked what he learned about himself and his teammates by enduring such a severe injury, Malhotra choked up a little in discussing the family environment the Canucks have built over the past few years, and as an outside observer to that family, the bond has never seemed stronger. Here it is in Malhotra’s words: “We talk about our team concept all the time…We have a real family environment around here…Obviously, we’re here to win, we’re here to play hockey. But more importantly, the level of care we have for each other in the room and the importance we put on our personal health and the health and well-being of our families really came first and foremost. Right from ownership to management, coaches, teammates, and even players around the league. GMs, coaches I’ve never played for expressed their best wishes and thoughts just for my health, and you really put things into perspective. And like I said, we’re here to play hockey, we’re hockey players, but at the end of the day the level of respect that we have for one another as friends, husbands, brothers, fathers — that really came to the forefront for the last couple months.” Once you get past the miracle of Malhotra’s return and you consider things purely from a hockey perspective, you remember what a solid player he is, and how much pressure he takes off Ryan Kesler to be the shutdown guy. To be sure, Kesler will likely be playing against the Krejci, Lucic, and Horton line for much of the series, but as Malhotra gets more comfortable on the ice, you can expect to see him taking more key draws (especially in the defensive zone, in the closing minutes, and on the penalty kill). Throughout the regular season, he was a rock on the third line between Torres and Hansen. He has size, speed, and smarts, and even if Lapierre starts the series on the third line, if things go well for Malhotra, it seems pretty likely that he’ll return to his regular spot, which should alleviate the need to have Kesler’s line playing the shut-down role all the time. Against Chicago and San Jose, Kesler’s primary focus was shutting down the Toews line and the Thornton line respectively. But against Nashville, when there was no dominant player to contend with, Kesler was free to roam and he turned in a dominant offensive performance. If all goes well, we may see that same Kesler in the finals against Boston, and that may prove to be Manny’s greatest contribution.
  13. With the Stanley Cup Finals set to begin on Wednesday, June 1 at The Garage, Vancouver has a distinct advantage over Boston in two areas: their power play and overall team speed. So far in these playoffs, Boston's power play is clicking at a paltry 8.2% (5-for-61) compared to Vancouver's 28.3% (17-for-60) efficiency. Boston scored 0 goals in their first-round series against Montreal, 2 goals against Philly in Round 2, and 3 goals in their schizophrenic series against Tampa. And if you've seen many Bruins games since their trade for Kaberle, you'll know that his presence hasn't blended well with the rest of Boston's first unit — which generally includes Chara, Lucic, Horton, and Krejci. Most of the time they look dysfunctional, and although Chara may disturb Luongo in front of the net, I'd rather have him there than unleashing bombs from the point with Lucic and Horton banging around and sniffing for rebounds. The sheer fact that Boston has advanced to the Finals in an era where special teams usually play a decisive role in winning and losing is a remarkable testament to their 5-on-5 play, their collective resolve, and their good fortune. Vancouver, on the other hand, had the best power play in the regular season at 24.2%, and it's continued to be efficient throughout their playoff run, accounting for a lot of clutch goals. And since we're talking special teams, both penalty-killing units have been mediocre at best. The Canucks have killed 80.6% (58-for-72) of their short-handed situations, while the Bruins have killed 79.4% (50-for-63) of their penalties. Vancouver's other distinct edge is their team speed. When you think of getting in on the forecheck, as both Boston and Vancouver like to do, the Canucks have burners like Kesler, Raymond, Hansen, Torres, Burrows, and Lapierre who should wreak some havoc on Boston's blueline. Chara is obviously solid, but expect Torres to take a run or two at Chara, while the rest of the Canucks forecheckers should focus on hammering the other guys: Seidenberg, Kaberle, McQuaid, Ference, and Boychuk. Like Boston's forwards, their defense has size, but they're not the most mobile group, so Vancouver's game plan will be to use their speed to hit, cause confusion, and force turnovers. In contrast to Vancouver, Boston has very few speedsters. Despite the imposing size of guys like Lucic and Horton, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Chris Kelly will be key to disrupting Vancouver's quick and efficient breakout. If Boston is too slow to get in on the forecheck, though, Vancouver's slick passing and collective speed could help them accelerate the tempo, which is something Boston will want to slow down. Boston's toughest test so far in the playoffs was against Montreal, when Thomas played very well (unlike the Tampa series where he was pretty shaky), but Montreal's team speed and skill, along with an efficient power play, gave the Bruins all they could handle. It wasn't a good match-up for Boston, and although they squeaked through, Vancouver boasts a deeper, a more experienced, and a much tougher line-up than the Habs. So what about Boston? Where do they hold the advantage? Let's say that in goal, Vezina finalists Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo are a wash. Both are capable of playing at an elite level, and both have their bouts of inconsistency. But Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton are Boston's biggest difference makers, and their presence raises a few vital questions for the Canucks: 1. Will the Sedins and Burrows be able to win their fair share of puck battles to gain control in the offensive zone? 2. Will Chara, Lucic, and Horton succeed in causing chaos in and around Luongo's crease? And if so, how will Luongo handle the disturbance? 3. Boston has had a more balanced offensive attack in the playoffs than in the regular season with the emergence of Marchand, Seguin, and others. But Vancouver has more depth on their third and fourth lines, so the real question is whether Kesler, Raymond, Higgins, Bieksa, and Hamhuis can control the Krejci-Lucic-Horton line and prevent them from taking over games. In the lone regular- season game between the Canucks and Bruins, this line took over a tightly-contested affair that was played at the Bruins' speed. X-Factors: With the news that Manny Malhotra may be ready to play (and possibly even in Game 1), will he play his third-line role right away and be assigned to the Krejci line? Or will he begin on the fourth line, leaving Kesler and company to deal with Boston's best line? Either way, the Malhotra storyline will be fascinating to follow, because whatever role he plays should be galvanizing for Canuck fans and an emotional boost to the whole team. For the Bruins, Tyler Seguin has only played 7 games in the playoffs, but he has 6 points. If Boston is going to win, they'll need Seguin or Michael Ryder or Rich Peverley to give the Bruins the balanced scoring they've enjoyed through three rounds.
  14. If I could’ve been anywhere last night when Kesler — hobbling à la Kirk Gibson — tipped home Henrik’s wrister with 13.2 seconds left in the third, and when Bieksa slapped a ground ball past Niemi for the double-OT winner, it would have been wherever Tom Larscheid was. As each goal went in, I couldn’t help but wish Tommy and Shorty were calling the game. You just know Tommy would have been going ballistic on the air. And once he settled down, he would have told you about puck luck and how you’ve gotta be good to be lucky and lucky to be good. And he would’ve sung the praises of Kesler’s herculean effort the way no other colour man can. There were a few wild bounces on both sides in last night’s game, but in the end, the stars aligned in Vancouver’s favour. Uncannily, last night’s double-overtime Game 5 thriller on home ice to send the Canucks to the Promised Land came 17 years to the day after their double-overtime Game 5 thriller on home ice against Toronto, when Gus Adams potted the winner to send Vancouver to the ’94 Cup Finals. Both games took place on March 24. For the 2011 edition of the Vancouver Canucks, Alex Burrows opened the scoring on yet another piece of Sedin magic. Henrik, who set up both of Vancouver’s goals in regulation, set a new Canucks’ standard for assists in a series with 11. Along with Luongo, Henrik and Daniel were monsters in the decisive Game 5. Despite a relative dearth of shots on goal (San Jose outshot Vancouver 56-34), the Sedins controlled the play when they were on the ice, and it started on the first shift of the game. On the Burrows goal, which came 8:02 into the 1st, the Sedins won the puck battle along the boards, and after a slick between-the-legs drop pass from Daniel to Henrik, Henrik found Burrows all alone cutting to the net for an easy one-timer past Niemi. San Jose tied the score on a bit of a bone-head play by Keith Ballard. Ballard (22:29 TOI), who played a very strong game alongside rookie Chris Tanev (20:42 TOI), was on the ice for a rare penalty-killing shift. When Dan Boyle snapped a shot towards the net at 9:57 of the 2nd, Ballard tried to catch it. It would have been easy pickings for Luongo, but the puck nicked Ballard’s glove and dipped into the net. It was a groaner, but you’ve gotta have selective amnesia on the ice, and Ballard continued to take regular shifts with the steady Tanev, and their minutes helped keep the defense fresh as the game wore on. Then, in the opening minute of the 3rd, Kent Huskins sent a wobbler through the neutral zone that bounced past Alex Edler, sending Pavelski and Setoguchi in alone on Luongo for the go-ahead goal. Luongo made a knee-jerk decision to come out and win the loose puck, but a diving Joe Pavelski tipped it to Setoguchi who one-timed the puck off the post and into the vacated Vancouver net. But apparently one bad bounce deserves another, and Vancouver got theirs in the second overtime. Before Bieksa’s goal could happen, though, Ryan Kesler did his best Kirk Gibson impression to tie the game with a miraculous last-minute goal that seemed to come out of nowhere. Kesler, who’d pulled up lame just before Boyle’s tying goal (perhaps a pulled right hip flexor or quadricep) and was skating gingerly throughout most of the third, won the offensive zone faceoff and drifted towards the net to screen Niemi. As the Sedins, Burrows, Edler, and Bieksa worked the puck around the outside, they couldn’t get into the middle of the ice to create any scoring chances. Time was running out, and then Henrik Sedin, who’s made clutch play after clutch play throughout the series, fired a wrister towards the net and Kesler tipped it between Niemi’s legs. I wonder how Tommy would have described it. And I wonder how he reacted wherever he was watching it. A few fist pumps, maybe? Hugs all around and jumping up and down? No doubt, he was cheering like a man on Cloud 9. In the opening five minutes of the first overtime, the Canucks looked hungry. They had all the momentum after a goal in the dying seconds, but San Jose withstood the pressure and slowly began to dictate play. But you’d have to say that despite registering 56 shots on net, the Sharks rarely penetrated Vancouver’s defense, and Luongo seldom left rebounds hanging around. Vancouver boxed out well, and Luongo did a fabulous job of kicking rebounds into the corners or else leaving no garbage for the Sharks to pounce on. And then, mid-way through the fifth period of hockey, Kevin Bieksa stepped up to the plate and sent a ground ball past an unsuspecting Niemi. Bieksa, who’d have to be neck-and-neck with Henrik Sedin if they named a Western Conference Final MVP, was a defensive stalwart on Vancouver’s shutdown pair with Dan Hamhuis, and his offensive contributions mostly proved to be turning points. He saved the best for last with one of the strangest goals you’ll ever see. It was like something out of a commercial where Wayne Gretzky is having a game of horse with Mario Lemieux and they’re plotting ridiculous goals. In this case, Edler fired the puck off the third stanchion and back to the point, where Bieksa slapped at the bouncing puck and sent a knuckler past Niemi. Everyone on the ice except Bieksa and Marleau lost track of the puck, but the refs must have seen it too because no one blew the whistle. What a way to end it: with a bit of good old-fashioned puck luck. It’s astonishing to think that Bieksa’s goal came 17 years to the day after the Canucks clinched their last berth to the Finals when Greg Adams beat Felix Potvin in double-overtime of Game 5 on home ice. Pure coincidence? Or was there some kind of cosmic destiny at work?
  15. If you're a pool player, you know that your first shot on the 8-ball is usually your best chance to finish the game. It may not be an easy shot, but it somehow gets harder to sink if you miss that first opportunity to put your opponent away. As the Canucks head into Game 5 against the Sharks, it's the third straight series they've had the chance to wrap things up on home ice. While there's no need to dwell on Round 1, the breakdown against the Hawks began with a lacklustre effort in Game 4 that ended 7-2, turning the momentum in Chicago's favour. Since Vancouver had been leading 3-0, you figured one bad loss was no big deal; they'll finish things on home ice in Game 5. But after a 5-0 no-show to make the series 3-2, Vancouver suddenly had a series on their hands and it took tremendous fortitude to salvage their season in overtime of Game 7. In Game 5 against Nashville, with the Canucks up 3 games to 1, the 4-3 loss was nothing to hang your head about, but it forced the team to travel back to Nashville where they played a solid Game 6, winning 2-1 in one of their cleanest defensive performances of the playoffs. Of course, elimination games are generally the hardest to win because most teams bring more urgency and desperation with their season on the line. And the way momentum has turned in several playoff series the last two years (Philly's historic comeback against Boston last year; Chicago and Detroit both forcing a Game 7 this year despite being down 3-0), you just never know what could happen if you let the first opportunity to punch your ticket to the Stanley Cup pass you by. This is why you hear so many Canucks talking about playing Game 5 "like it's a Game 7″. The coaching staff clearly wants every player to manufacture the same level of urgency and focus San Jose will play with. This is also why Christian Ehrhoff may play even if his shoulder is still a little tender. Vancouver's had some practice with Game 5s, and you'd hope that after a monumental all-around effort in Game 4 to put San Jose on the brink of elimination, they'll be able to bury the Sharks on home ice so the raucous crowd can celebrate a third trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in their 40-year history. At this point in the series, there are no secrets between the two teams. If Vancouver stays disciplined, Luongo stands tall, and the Canuck forwards challenge the Sharks' defense with speed, they should be in good shape. But if San Jose creates turnovers down low the way they did in Game 3, they play a great half-court game. Their forwards are big and skilled enough to draw penalties and create scoring chances in bunches. So far, Henrik Sedin (1G, 9A), Daniel Sedin (2G, 3A) and Kevin Bieksa (3G, 1A) have been the key play-makers for the Canucks, while Patrick Marleau (4G, 2A), Joe Thornton (1G, 5A), and Dan Boyle (1G, 3A) have been the most dangerous Sharks. But tonight there's the Thornton question mark. He'll play, but how well? His toughness has been questioned in the past, and you can bet Vancouver will test out that right shoulder of his. It will be interesting to see if he passes the puck quickly instead of holding on to it and fending off defenders the way he usually does. Obviously, he's the key guy in the offensive zone—creating space, using his reach and big frame to protect the puck, and then centring it for one-timers or into the crease for wild goal-mouth scrambles. For the Canucks, though, Thornton doesn't really matter. There's no need to focus too much attention on him. They've proven to be a dynamic team that can win any style of game. And tonight's game should be a beauty.