May 122010
 

I’ll admit I was one of those ‘bad’ fans who left GM Place early last night. I left early, not because I stopped supporting the boys, but because it hurt to watch them get pounded into submission.

In the end it was hard to watch. A Vancouver Canucks team which had entertained so royally all year literally ground to a halt, virtually every forward with any capability of an impact either injured or paralyzed with fatigue.

Yes the Chicago Blackhawks were the better team and deserved to win but that most certainly doesn’t explain what happened to the Canucks Tuesday night, a team which simply ran out of gas like a truck with a leak in the fuel tank and parts falling on the road as it slowed down.

In the end, only Roberto Luongo was there doing his job as the players around him dissipated and were again physically bleep-kicked as they were for stretches of the series.

The fact is, the Canucks were beaten by a bigger, better Blackhawks team. There’s a reason Chicago finished 9 points ahead of Vancouver in the standings. There’s a reason they ranked near the top of almost every significant team statistic: 3rd in GF, 5th in GA, 2nd in goal-differential, 4th in PK, and 3rd in FO%. They were better than the Canucks in each of these categories except in GF, where the Canucks scored one more goal than they did. They had an average PP (ranked 16th), but made up for it by scoring the 2nd most ESG after the Washington Capitals. Yes, the Canucks were a good team this season; unfortunately, the Blackhawks were better. When you consider the extent of the injuries on the Canucks’ blueline, perhaps it shouldn’t be much of a shock that the Canucks bowed out in the second round.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this loss is, despite all this, the Canucks still had a chance to win still series. I know the final scores of each game might say otherwise, but the Canucks, for as bad as they looked on some nights, also looked good in others. Despite the adversity – I want to see how the Blackhawks would’ve done if three of Keith, Seabrook, Campbell and Sopel were out of their lineup – a favorable bounce here or there and the series could just as easily have been tied 3-3 today.

Today, I’m actually at peace with the results of this season. After seeing Sami Salo play with broken balls, and Ryan Kesler (shoulder) and Mikael Samuelsson (back) gut through their own injuries, I can’t question this team’s willingness to compete. After seeing Kyle Wellwood, Mason Raymond, Michael Grabner, and even Shane O’Brien take on bigger roles than they’re accustomed to, I can’t question their ability to play in the playoffs. Even the Sedins, as banged up as they were, chipped in at an average of 1.17 points per game. They fought back from a 2-1 first-round series deficit against the Kings. They won two games in the Madhouse at Madison. Against all odds, they hung around against the ‘Hawks and still had a fighting chance until the 2:36 mark of the second period of Game 6. Obviously they need to get even better – and I have a few posts coming on what I think they need to do to get there – but last night, I walked out knowing they simply lost to a better team.

Sometimes the better team wins.

May 112010
 

Sunday was a big night for Kevin Bieksa. He scored 2 goals – including the eventual game-winner – and added an assist. On Monday, the NHL made him the first Canucks player to be featured in its “History Will Be Made” ad campaign.

May 102010
 

I like Elliotte Friedman’s (CBC) take on the Vancouver Canucks’ 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks last night.

Question No. 1: What do people around the NHL think of the Canucks?

Answer: A really good, potentially great, team. Definitely have the ability to win the Western Conference, if not the Stanley Cup.

Question No. 2: What else do they think?

Answer: An easily distracted group that beats itself through paranoia and a thin skin. A team pre-occupied with “conspiracies” against them and a perceived lack of respect.

That’s why last night’s Game 5 victory in Chicago was monumental. That is what the Canucks can be. That is their potential.

When Dustin Byfuglien high-sticked Shane O’Brien, and got nothing, they didn’t whine or fall apart. Same when Andrew Ladd ripped open the defenceman’s stitches. Same when David Bolland wounded Daniel Sedin with a slash to the ankles. And again when Ben Eager whacked Christian Ehrhoff late in the game.

They weren’t baited into stupid penalties. They didn’t lose their cool at verbal taunts or teammates being compared to “Dumb and Dumber” characters. For two years, all of this has worked for Chicago against Vancouver. Roberto Luongo looked lost. Others behaved embarrassingly. Even the Sedins lost their cool.

Not last night.

During the post-game show on Team 1040, they mentioned, numerous times, that the Canucks won because they played Canucks hockey. They controlled the puck and let the Blackhawks chase them around. And when they ignored the verbal taunts and the dirty whacks, the Blackhawks got frustrated.

If the Canucks want to extend this series to Game 7 and their playoff run past this round, they need more of what they did in Game 5. I have no doubt in my mind that the Blackhawks will come out bigger and dirtier in Game 6, and the Canucks will need to dig deeper and grow even thicker skin. It’s clear now that, when it comes to playing Chicago, composure is key.

Sticks and stones and all that.

May 062010
 

I saw this Dustin Byfuglien celebration after his second of three goals last night, and it left me steamed. To be honest, seeing the Big Fugly not only score a hat trick, but also taunt the fans, felt like a kick to the groin after being kicked in the gut.

Anyway, I post this video for two reasons: 1) to show those who didn’t like Shane O’Brien’s post-fight celebration against Wayne Simmonds what classy really looks like, and 2) to remind the Canucks that they should never, never, ever, ever allow this to happen in their own barn.

(H/T to Puck Daddy for finding this footage.)

May 052010
 

Almost to a man, the Canucks talked at length about playing more physically after getting beat in Chicago in Game 2. As the saying goes – talk is cheap.

That the Canucks lost 5-2 and now trail 2-1 in their Western Conference Semifinal series against the Blackhawks was bad enough. That the Blackhawks won by bullying the Canucks around at GM Place should be cause for serious concern.

To be fair, the Canucks, at times, generated some excellent pressure and scoring opportunities, only to be thwarted by Antti Niemi. However, for the most part, the Blackhawks threw their weight around, outworked the home team, blocked shots, and won the puck and positional battles when it mattered the most.

It’s not like the Canucks didn’t know what was coming to them. Everyone knew that the Blackhawks would simply crowd Luongo’s crease and then throw the puck at him. Still, all of Chicago’s goals came from within a couple of feet of Luongo, and all were scored on second or third chances.

How do you explain a Dustin Byflugien hat trick? How do you explain a goal scored by one of THREE Chicago players camped on the left side of Luongo’s crease and the lone Canucks defenseman (Bieksa) standing idly by on the right side? How does Dave Bolland get to Daniel Sedin without any sort of push back from the rest of the team? And most importantly, how does Luongo get repeatedly run over seemingly without any impediment from the guys in front of him?

Shane O’Brien going after Marian Hossa and the Chicago bench late in the third period doesn’t count. Neither does Kevin Bieksa confronting Byfluglien after the game was over. At that point, the damage was done, and in my own opinion, only sends the message that they are now a frustrated bunch.

Considering what was at stake, tonight’s performance was quite possibly the most embarassing of the Canucks’ postseason. In the last couple of games, the Blackhawks increased their intensity and level of play; the Canucks couldn’t match it. If the Canucks want to win 3 of the next 4 games, this can’t happen. They can talk all they want about learning from last year’s loss to this same Blackhawks team but as another saying goes – actions speak louder than words.

May 052010
 

Cam Cole (Vancouver Sun) put a damper in our party after the Canucks managed a split in Chicago and grabbed home ice advantage in their Western Conference Semifinal Series against the Blackhawks.

So here’s the bad news: The Vancouver Canucks, despite their Game 2 loss at United Center, still have home ice advantage over the Chicago Blackhawks in what is now a best-of-five.

Pity.

This means they have less than a 50 per cent chance of winning the series.

Well, that’s not really what it means, but that’s what the numbers say, this spring. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ win Tuesday night in Montreal was No. 30 for road teams in these Stanley Cup playoffs, the San Jose Sharks’ overtime triumph in Detroit was No. 31, against 28 wins for the home sides.

Unfortunately, he has a good point.

In fact, even the Canucks, who finished the regular season with a sub-.500 road record (19-20-2), are 3-2 on the road this postseason.

Now before we think about conceding the next couple of games, consider that the Canucks are pretty damn good at home too. Here are the the team stats at home as of today:

TeamGPGG/GGAGA/GPPGPP OppPP%PPGATSPK%
VAN3124.0072.3331323.1%51464.3%
SJS5204.00132.6083225.0%21888.9%
LAK3113.67134.3351241.7%31172.7%
PHI273.5031.5031323.1%31681.3%
BOS5173.40122.4052123.8%21788.2%
PIT5163.20163.2072133.3%51872.2%
OTT393.00155.0041136.4%41471.4%
BUF393.0072.330110.0%2977.8%
CHI5132.60153.0021910.5%22290.9%
DET4102.50133.2521513.3%32185.7%
WSH4102.50123.000150.0%31681.3%
NSH372.3393.001156.7%31275.0%
PHX492.25194.7531816.7%62171.4%
MTL482.00143.5031618.8%22290.9%
NJD362.0082.671166.3%51668.8%
COL341.3372.331616.7%11090.0%

So far in these playoffs, the Canucks, at home, are tied with San Jose for the most goals per game (4.00) and have allowed the second-least goals against per game (2.33); their goal differential (+5 or +1.67/game) is second-best only to the Sharks.

Now the road stats:

TeamGPGG/GGAGA/GPPGPP OppPP%PPGATSPK%
PIT4174.2592.2551827.8%41369.2%
DET6254.17172.8373023.3%73479.4%
VAN5204.00163.2052123.8%62070.0%
WSH3124.0082.671185.6%31478.6%
OTT3103.3393.0031127.3%31478.6%
CHI393.0072.3331225.0%11593.3%
PHX393.0072.3331520.0%21384.6%
MTL6183.00172.8352321.7%42281.8%
PHI5142.80142.8072528.0%22491.7%
SJS4112.7571.751166.3%1887.5%
NSH382.6782.670120.0%11190.9%
LAK372.33124.0051435.7%31376.9%
BOS372.3393.002922.2%011100.0%
COL372.33124.001911.1%41675.0%
BUF362.0093.00080.0%41369.2%
NJD231.5073.5031618.8%31376.9%

The other side of this argument is that Chicago is a pretty good team on the road as well. In fact, the numbers indicate that, in these playoffs, the Blackhawks have been a better team away from the United Center. Their special teams have been particularly stellar; on the road, their PP is ranked 5th (25.0%) and their PK is ranked 2nd (93.3%).

All this aside, the Canucks have only lost 12 of 44 games at home this season – they had a 30-8-3 home record in the regular season and a 2-1 record in the first round. Conversely, the Blackhawks are 25-15-4 on the road (23-14-4 in the regular season and 2-1 in the playoffs).

While it may be true that home ice hasn’t amounted to much for some playoff teams, the Canucks have been too good of a team at GM Place all season to not take advantage of home ice advantage.

May 032010
 

The Canucks could’ve have had a 2-0 stranglehold in their series against the Blackhawks. They could’ve had the young, cocky ‘Hawks against the ropes. The Canucks certainly got the start they wanted, but unfortunately, didn’t have the finish.

They carried a 2-1 lead into the third period, but surrendered a shorthanded goal that tied the game and the eventual game-winning goal with only 90 seconds left. To put this into context, the Canucks were 34-1 in the regular season and the playoffs when they carried a lead into the second intermission, and had outscored the opposition 112-68 in the final 20 minutes of games.

The series, tied at 1-1, now shifts to GM Place for the next two games.

After building a 2-0 lead only 5:02 into the game, the Canucks seemed to deviate from doing the little things that made them successful. Besides Mikael Samuelsson’s goal on an early 5-on-3 man advantage, the Canucks’ powerplay was essentially powerless. They were too cute too often and couldn’t get the puck on net. In fact, the Canucks managed a grand total of 0 shots on the powerplay in their final three opportunities, including both in the third period. (Plus of course, they allowed Patrick Sharp’s shorthanded goal to tie the game.)

A few days ago, I would have been satisfied about the Canucks earning a split in Chicago, and it’s obviously not the worst thing in the world to have home-ice advantage in a best-of-five series. But given the chances they had, it’s disheartening to think the Canucks could’ve instead come home with two wins in their back pockets.

May 032010
 

It appears the Chicago Blackhawks won’t give the Vancouver Canucks any credit for the Canucks’ 5-1 win in Game 1. Like Cam Cole (Vancouver Sun) said this morning, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

The Chicago Blackhawks have done the autopsy on their 5-1, series-opening turkey against the Vancouver Canucks and have come to the conclusion that it was all their own fault. Or that’s the story — and they’re sticking to it.

Like Seinfeld’s buddy George Costanza says while breaking the news to the soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend: “It’s not you, it’s me.”

“I think all the goals were self-inflicted wounds last night,” head coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday, a day of rest for both teams, though the Hawks expended so little energy in the opener, it’s hard to believe they needed it. “It was what we did that generated their offence.”

“It’s not about what they did, it’s about what we didn’t do,” said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews.

There was more — mounds of quotes, piled upon one another, at least a dozen variations on the theme of “It’s only one game” and “We expect them to come out hard in Game 2″ and the like — but the basic truth of it, from the Chicago side, was that the Blackhawks’ Game 1 effort blew, in the Windy City, and an attitude adjustment is in order for tonight’s sequel at the United Center.

If the Blackhawks aren’t going to say it, I will.

The Canucks were the better team on Saturday night. The Canucks skaters won the puck battles and were more effective and efficient than Chicago; the Canucks’ defense did a better job of clearing the crease in front of their goaltender; and Luongo was better than Niemi. All four lines scored, and that’s no small feat against a Chicago team that allowed the 5th least number of goals in the NHL.

Here are the stats from Game 1:

VANCHI
EVPPSHTOTALEVPPSHTOTAL
SOG2440282313137
BLOCKED102113103013
MISSED4307113014
TOTAL3891484419164

On the whole, the Blackhawks did generate more chances than the Canucks in Game 1, and perhaps that’s why they refuse to credit the Canucks. But let’s look at a further breakdown of these numbers:

1st PERIODVANCHI
EVPPSHTOTALEVPPSHTOTAL
SOG130013125017
BLOCKED30141203
MISSED10014105
TOTAL170118178025
2nd PERIODVANCHI
EVPPSHTOTALEVPPSHTOTAL
SOG840128008
BLOCKED71086006
MISSED03034004
TOTAL158023180018
3rd PERIODVANCHI
EVPPSHTOTALEVPPSHTOTAL
SOG300338112
BLOCKED01013104
MISSED30033205
TOTAL6107911121

It’s easy to see that the Blackhawks only outchanced the Canucks in the first period when they were on the powerplay, and in the third period when the Canucks already had a five-goal lead (and even then most of the Blackhawks’ chances came on the powerplay). As we know, of course, Luongo held the Canucks in the game in the first period, and then the offense took over.

Despite what the Blackhawks players say, the Canucks deserve full marks for winning Game 1. Though to be honest, I don’t mind them continuing to underestimate us.

Apr 292010
 

Every day for the past two weeks, the NHL has announced candidates for each of its individual hockey awards. I’m not quite sure what the NHL’s logic was behind this daily media blitz. Why give the media something to cover instead of the Stanley Cup playoffs? Wouldn’t it make more sense to announce the award nominees when there was a lull in the playoff action, say, right before the Stanley Cup final?

I’m no public relations guru but I’m pretty sure what sells hockey is great hockey, not Selke or Lady Byng nominees.

Thankfully the first round featured some tremendous hockey, competed at a speed and intensity two notches up from regular season play (sadly, for the Toronto Maple Leafs, about 10 notches higher).

Since the NHL is handing out awards, so will I, prior to making my second round predictions:

Hart – Best First Round Playoff Performance: Jaroslav Halak
Runners-up: Sidney Crosby, Mikael Samuelsson

While I’m betting Halak is the next Steve Penney (rather than Patrick Roy or Ken Dryden), there’s absolutely no way the Montreal Canadians win their series without Halak in net. Red Fisher says it was one of the greatest goaltending performances in Habs history. Red would know. He’s been following the Habs for something like 200 years.

Norris – Best Defenseman: Dan Boyle
Runners-up: Drew Doughty, Hal Gill

Drew Doughty was the bigger offensive threat, and Hal Gill was a dominant shutting down (or blocking, for that matter) Washington’s attack. But Boyle turned a crippling moment (the OT game winning own-goal) into an afterthought for a team that seemed resigned to a first round playoff defeat. Four points and a +6 in San Jose’s next three wins, Boyle demonstrated veteran, championship leadership for a Sharks squad that desperately needed it.

Adams – Best Coach: Alain Vigneault
Runners-up: Jacques Martin, Dave Tippett

A tough call. The Coyotes game plan was so well executed that they were the better team for most of the series. And Jacques Martin did lead the Canadiens to perhaps the biggest first round upset since the Kings beat the Oilers in 1983. That being said, the Coyotes weren’t expected to win, and the Canadiens won mostly on the individual, heroic performance of their goaltender. I’ll go with the guy who made some smart lineup changes (Samuelsson to the first line, Demitra demoted lower in the lineup) and managed the most out of a banged up, shallow d-corps to overcome a game Kings team.

Best Thing About the First Round

Great individual performances. Terrific crowds for the most part. Lots of goal scoring. All of these are the wrong answer. I’m going to go with the fact that Coyotes fans threw snakes and Predators fans threw fish onto the ice, similar to Detroit’s legendary octopus throw. Nice to see what might be new traditions in very untraditional hockey markets.

Worst Thing About the First Round

With all due respect to the amazing tradition and crazy fans that fill the Bell Centre, the worst thing about the first round is that the Montreal Canadiens won. In a league that has tried to put greater emphasis on offense, skill, and speed, the Habs won their series based on a very pre-lockout, very defensively-oriented Jacques Martin game plan. Coaching to win 1-0, the Habs lined-up in front of their goal like they were defending a soccer penalty kick every time Washington turned up the heat. It’s kind of sad to see a team steeped in Flying Frenchmen tradition playing this way.

Second-round predictions

Pittsburgh vs. Montreal

The veteran, Cup champion Penguins have the killer instinct Washington lacked. And while Montreal should win the goalie matchup again, Pittsburgh has two dominant players, whereas Washington only had one. Have I mentioned the Pens have been to the Finals in back-to-back years? It will be fun to see Crosby play in Montreal. Pens in six.

Boston vs. Philadelphia

Don’t look now, but the Bruins might be the best team left in the Eastern Conference. Tuukka Rask outdueled Ryan Miller in the first round, and Claude Julien is a fine defensive coach. Add to the mix a healthy Marc Savard, and suddenly this Bruins team looks like one that can play any type of game. Meanwhile, the Flyers are banged up (Simon Gagne, Ian Laperriere and Jeff Carter are all likely out for the series) and they’re still relying on Brian Boucher to win games. It was enough to get past an over-the-hill Marty Brodeur and the Devils in round one. Not enough this time. Bruins in 5.

San Jose vs. Detroit

Interesting series on paper, as San Jose and Detroit play similar puck possession games at a similar pace. I took Phoenix in the first round, and I wonder if the Coyotes weren’t a Shane Doan injury away from beating the Wings. Detroit, while still the class of the NHL, are a veteran group, and really struggled to keep up with the Phoenix forecheck. Lidstrom was pedestrian until Game 7, and the team’s best defenseman on most nights was Brad Stuart. Meanwhile, San Jose won a series without a significant contribution from any of their top line. They’ll need Thornton and company to step up, and goalie Evgeni Nabokov to make a few key saves. Both of those happening are as likely as me owning a unicorn. Red Wings in 6.

Chicago vs. Vancouver

The rematch from last year and quite likely the most entertaining of second round matchups. The edge in goal goes to Vancouver, but the edge on the blueline goes to Chicago in a landslide. Both teams are solid up front, and it will be interesting to see who Vigneault matches the Kyle Wellwood line with. Can the same performance be expected from the Sedin Twins in Round Two? I’m not sure it can, which means Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler need to have an impact 5-on-5. Chicago was outplayed for most of their series against Nashville, but grew stronger as the series went along. ‘Hawks in 7.

First-Round record: 5-3

[Editor's note: As y'all know, Tom is a good friend of mine, but he's a Leafs fan. Go easy on him for picking the Hawks. Don't worry - the rest of us believe in blue.]

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