Stanley Cup Finals 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Vancouver Canucks Ed.
Hits, fights, misconducts, match penalties, suspensions and nine goals—all of them in the final 40 minutes.
Eight of them for one team.
Two short-handed goals, 10,000 squandered power plays, massive saves, a goaltender throwing a body check at the top of his crease and, oh yah—the Boston Bruins are back in the series.
With a bang.
The game on Monday night was so topsy-turvy that nobody really knows for sure where the Vancouver Canucks washed up on shore, or if they did at all for that matter. All we can do is pick apart at the debris and see what we can infer.
Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad, some of it’s ugly…
The Good: Cumulatively, Canucks Have Been the Better Team
You lose a game 8-1 and generally you label it a meltdown. A team failure from top to bottom.
But the Canucks were the dominant team again in the first period on Monday night, and coupled with Games 1 and 2 can say confidently that they’ve been the significantly better team for six of nine periods in this series (Boston takes the second period in Game 2, and the second and third periods in Game 3—the 11-second overtime isn’t considered).
There are no moral victories, to be sure, and the games which the Vancouver Canucks won were tight, one-goal affairs. But the feeling in the Vancouver room would have to be a positive one; they’ve been the better team for a larger proportion of the series, and Game 3 became a nightmare only when they abandoned what they’d done in the first seven periods of the series.
The Bad: Injuries Starting To Take Toll
The longer the series goes the more it favors the Bruins. They’re bigger and stronger and as much as the Canucks love to hit and act the belligerent—never shying away from the rough stuff—they can’t keep up in a war of attrition with the Bruins.
Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Henrik Sedin are clearly playing through significant injuries. Kesler and Henrik from series past, Bieksa from this one courtesy of a Rich Peverley slash to the back of the leg in Game 2.
(But the Canucks are the “dirty” team because someone puts up a few fingers and smiles.)
Add that to the already MIA Dan Hamhuis and the picture is beginning to darken on the Canucks, as you have to wonder how much more isn’t being broadcast, even in subtle ways, like a slow backcheck. How much is lurking just beneath the surface? How much does each hurting player degrade with each shift, hit and game? How long before the “better” team becomes the “broken” team?
The Ugly: Playoff Goal Differential Is in the Minus
It’s not a particularly telling stat, in that the meat of it is stuck on the bones of three measly games (out of 21) but the Vancouver Canucks have now allowed more goals in these playoffs than they’ve scored: 55 for, 56 against.
Small margin, but ugly. Compare it to the Bruins: 68 for, 50 against.
Blame it on Monday night and two back-to-back blowout losses against the Blackhawks in Round 1, where the Canucks lost 5-0 and 7-2.
The Good: No Intimidation
If there was one thing the Canucks weren’t lacking on Monday night it was belligerence. They were aggressive all game, whether the score was 0-0, 5-1 or 8-1.
They did not go quietly into that night.
It’s a style that has been a source of many positive corollaries for them; it forces turnovers and odd-man rushes and goads teams into taking liberties, which leads to power plays—of which they are (normally) extremely proficient in capitalizing on.
It was a measure of their game they’ve had all playoffs and it wasn’t missing Monday night, despite the score.
They got embarrassed, but they didn’t get pushed around or intimidated.
The Bad: Special Teams Power Outage
What was missing, however, was their power play.
And it’s been missing all series.
It takes the sting out of playing a team hard and physical and game-planning to burn them for their retaliations while they’re sitting in the box. If you don’t score and punish a team for taking penalties against you, the respect level deteriorates and you get throttled left, right and center.
Give the Canucks credit, they throttled back, but scoring on the man advantage is less bruising.
In the first two periods of Game 3 the Canucks had four power plays, and converted on none of them.
In the series to date, they have a single power-play goal.
The Ugly: They Lost Their Cool
Belligerence and not backing down is one thing. Losing your cool and focus and stepping outside your game and comfort zone is quite another.
The Canucks have made a point all season to remove themselves from the extracurricular shenanigans between whistles and focus instead on playing the game in front of them. All of that disappeared in Game 3.
By the end of the game they'd been duped into playing the Boston Bruins’ game, and it was readily apparent that few if any of the Canucks were happy about it. They were incensed, annoyed, frustrated and unfocused.
When you see Daniel Sedin involving himself in a post-whistle scrum you’ve achieved your mission of getting him off his game. And he wasn’t the only one, as the rest of the team was right behind him.
It’s a sight Vancouver fans know well. The previous two playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks have done the same, getting under the skin of the entire team and specifically the Sedins'. Then, like Monday night, it was a rare sight: One or both of the twins dripping with emotion, beaking, pushing, shoving, wrestling. If you’re the Boston Bruins, mission accomplished.
The Good: The Fall of Rome
There have been ignorant musings from around the league which generally begin and end with the fact that "Rome is a bottom-tier defenceman who plays a handful of minutes a night and a suspension to him is meaningless to the series itself."
Bottom-tier, yes. Meaningless, hardly.
He averaged 18 minutes in each of the first two games, and was playing on the top defensive pairing with Kevin Bieksa after Dan Hamhuis went down with injury.
Yes, Nathan Horton is the more valuable player, but for the Canucks, losing Rome is still considerably worse than not losing him. He's not marginal.
Despite that fact, the Canucks are better off with the four-game suspension. With him out of the series for good, a potentially volatile spark plug for the Boston Bruins is removed from the equation altogether, and puts the focus back on hockey and that only favors the Canucks.
The Bad: The Hit Itself and the Spark It Produced
Having said that, there’s no question that the Horton hit and injury sparked the Bruins to an 8-1 drubbing. This despite the fact that the Canucks owned the first period, even after the hit itself.
But the Bruins were fired up the second Rome was ejected and with a full intermission to digest what had happened, they came out flying and didn’t look back.
It’s too early to tell, but the terrible hit on Horton (which deserved a suspension) might be a tangible rallying cry for the Bruins for the rest of the series as well.
The Ugly: Potentially Being Labeled the "Team That Won Dirty"
The last piece of this "Good, Bad and Ugly" adventure is a generally meaningless one; it has no impact on the ice and won’t affect the series.
But, unfortunately, the Vancouver Canucks have developed a reputation as being a team of divers, whiners and cheap-shot artists.
In a position deserving of a completely separate article, that reputation is overblown and undeserved.
(See: Canucks are dirty because Lapierre put two fingers in Bergeron’s face, but Bruins aren’t when Peverley two-hands Bieksa to the back of the leg and, it would appear, breaks something—Bieksa hasn’t skated the same since. We digress.)
Legitimate criticism or not, it’s ugly nonetheless. And it’s there, no question.
The Canucks might get their moment in the Sun, but few outside Vancouver will be there to enjoy it with them.
Conclusion: Good, with a Chance of Difficult
The positives gleaned from the series and specifically the Game 3 disaster are still significant, and the bads are all correctable.
Except for injuries, which seem to be taking a toll.
If the Canucks want to win the Stanley Cup, they have to win Game 4. Plain and simple.
If the series goes to six or seven, the Bruins' chances increase exponentially as the Canucks break down further and further. And as injuries grow, in multitude and significance, corners are cut, penalties are taken and games are lost.
But if the Canucks can correct what they lost between the first and second periods in Game 3 their prospects look as bright as they did after Game 2.
With that in mind, it's not a stretch to suggest that whichever team wins Game 4 will win the Stanley Cup.