Canucks 2 - 1 Red Wings
Anyone hoping for another game of the year candidate between the two best teams in the Western Conference was likely a little let down by last night's affair, which saw both teams play hard--just not too hard. With only ten games to go in the regular season, the Canucks and the Red Wings have begun looking forward to the playoffs, which means approaching these final matches cautiously and ensuring everyone is healthy and ready for the next set of games that will matter. Unsurprisingly, then, this game was decided by who played and who didn't, as Pavel Datsyuk's absence rendered Detroit notably less dangerous, and Daniel Sedin's presence, after rushing back to join the team for reasons of his own, made the difference. Dank scored both Vancouver goals. And, just as Daniel was determined to play in this game, I was equally determined to watch it. The good news is that we both succeeded. I watched this game:
- How can you tell the outcome of this game was secondary to injury avoidance while playing it? The piddly number of blocked shots. Detroit and Vancouver had a measly 13 between them. The Canucks had four. Two of those were attributed to Alex Bolduc, which makes a lot of sense. Bolduc is likely the only player in the Canucks lineup with any motivation to block shots. He'll be lucky if he gets many more chances to prove be should be part of the playoff roster; he's got no choice but to tempt fate and try to impress. Meanwhile, the Red Wings had nine blocked shots, but four of them were from Niklas Kronwall, who apparently didn't get the memo. This might be the only time of the year when coaches are begging players not to sacrifice their bodies, and guys are diving away from shots like synchronized swimmers.
- Speaking of Alex Bolduc, do you think he should send Gord Miller a box of chocolates with a captioned photo of himself at the bottom? For the entirety of the night, Miller kept calling him Andre. That is incorrect. "Alex" is Bolduc's first name. "Andre" is a precocious baby sea lion.
- Roberto Luongo was fantastic, as he has been for much of the season. After a slow start to the year, likely attributed to the adjustments called for by new goalie coach Rollie Melanson, Funny Bob has been fairly consistent all year. Courtesy Jason Botchford: he hasn't been pulled once in 2011, and he's let in 4 goals only one time. Luongo is now first in the NHL in wins, third in SV%, fourth in GAA, and leading the Canucks towards a first ever Jennings trophy. Put succinctly: he's good. In last night's affair, he made 39 saves, (several of the category amazeballs) and he kept the Canucks in the game during a one-sided first period and a few intense third-period assaults. He appears to be on his game heading into the playoffs, and this can only be a good thing, unless it turns out his game is shuffleboard.
- Don't get me started on his lack of shutouts. It should be obvious to everyone that Luongo always purposefully lets in one, so the team won't be too hungry next time. It's called The Snack Goal Principle.
- You'd have thought Daniel Sedin would be jet-lagged or something, but the in-flight movie was The Last Airbender, so he got a lot of sleep. One day after his wife gave birth to a new baby girl, Daniel scored both the opening goal and the game-winner, proving that witnessing the miracle of life makes you a better hockey player. Someone send Toronto a DVD of Knocked Up. With the two points, Daniel pushed his lead over Steven Stamkos to nine, impressed the Eastern Hart voters who only watch games in their time zone, and, more importantly, maintained the seven-point gap between he and that gloryhog Henrik. Daniel's first goal, banked off the skate of Niklas Lidstrom (akin to dunking on Lebron James), was the 12th time this season he's potted the game's first goal. No wonder he has more kids than his brother; he initiates more scoring.
- The best goal of the game was the Canucks' powerplay game-winner (above). Take some time to watch what all five members do. Salo and Ehrhoff pass the puck back and forth, trying to open up lanes for a point shot. They both get a clear shot, but neither gets through. When the Wings look to get the puck out, Salo pinches, Ehrhoff takes off to the red line to cover him. Kris Draper gets to the puck, he sees Salo coming. Worse, Henrik has already gotten into his clearing lane, so he turns back, then makes a poor clearing attempt, which Henrik recovers anyway. While all of is going on, Ryan Kesler is causing absolute havoc in front. First, he topples over Jimmy Howard, causing Howard to lose his stick. No call, because Howard's way out of his crease and he initiates the contact by diving for the puck. Then, Kesler takes Brad Stuart's legs out with a subtle drive-by trip. No call again, because conspiracies against the Canucks are topped only by conspiracies against the Red Wings. Niklas Kronwall tries to shade over and take away a pass to Kesler, but this opens up a stupid amount of room for Henrik and Daniel, who just pound away with the same cross-ice pass and one-timer until there's simply too much chaos to overcome, and the puck goes in. Color me impressed. And Badd.
- I wonder if there was ever a plan to ease Kevin Bieksa back into the lineup, because if there was, someone screwed up bigtime. Juice played the most minutes of any Canuck at 23:19, immediately returning to his top pairing with Dan Hamhuis. Bieksa played excellent, although he looked a little shaky on his skates, at times, including one icing call where Valteri Filppula gave him a late nudge and he fell into the boards. The best part of that incident was when the two linesman skated in to separate the men, and Bieksa, while standing right between them, slashed Filppula in the calf. Are you surprised? This is a guy who punched out a teammate during his first training camp. Kevin "Stagger Lee" Bieksa would shoot a man in a crowded saloon in a dispute over a hat. He's so badass.
- Bieksa did get a reprieve from the night's toughest assignment, however, as Dan "Community Man" Hamhuis took Bieksa's regular job of battling with Tomas Holmstrom in front. He did an admirable job, too, twice alleviating Detroit zone pressure by taking Holmstrom off the ice with a penalty. It was nice of Hamhuis to give Bieksa the night off; he took a beating for him, much like the time he recovered that old lady's purse from that unruly street gang, or the time he saved that young woman from those pipe wrench-wielding thugs.
- Victor Oreskovich had a good game, highlighted by one stellar 2nd period shift during which he set up three quality scoring chances from behind the net. First he muscled out in front for two shots. Then he made a beautiful centring pass. Then when the puck came back to him, he made a tape-to-tape pass to the point. This is likely the only time Oreskovich will ever receive this adjective, but it was positively Malkinesque. Nothing came of it, but it was nice to see flashes of NHL hands from the big man. That said, because they were under gloves, we don't know that they were actually his hands. They could have been the devil's hands. I've seen this before. Has he suddenly improved at playing the holophonor?
- Ryan Kesler was the big faceoff winner, going 13-for-18 in the circle, including 11-for-13 in the offensive zone. Curiously, however, he didn't take a single draw in the neutral zone. Apparently Kesler, like sparkling wine, is only for special occasions. Of the 12 faceoffs between the blue lines, Henrik took six, and Lapierre and Bolduc took three apiece.
- Raffi Torres had three hits, but you'd think he was out for the season too. I feel like I haven't seen him since Malhotra went down. He clearly drew a lot of confidence from playing with Manny, and now he's going to have to dig deep and discover it was inside him all along, or something. But Manny Malhotra died over thirty years ago...
- With the win over Detroit, the Canucks only need to win three of their final eight to win the Western Conference. It seems a foregone conclusion at this point, especially since they still haven't dropped two consecutive regulation games since November, and even alternating wins and losses to keep this trend alive means they'll win four. May as well start stitching that banner.