Stanley Cup Finals: Vancouver Canucks Injuries Caught Up to Them

Alan O'Sullivan@@rollingpucksContributor IIIJune 18, 2011

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 15:  Manny Malhotra #27, Sami Salo #6 and Raffi Torres #13 of the Vancouver Canucks react after being defeated by the Boston Bruins in Game Seven of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4 to 0.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Before delving into the tangled guts of the now very deceased Vancouver Canucks, it should be stated clearly and succinctly that the better team won. Congratulations to that team, the Boston Bruins.

It had to be said—there are some elements of the Canucks' demise which will be stated here that will appear to lessen the Bostonian victory.  Although untrue, I’m sure it will not stop anyone from crying foul anyways.

So either read carefully or don't read at all.

With that, the first incision.

At their peak, the Vancouver Canucks were a high-mobility, high-speed team which specialized in rapid and efficient puck-movement. Take this away and you're left with a team which would generate roughly the same amount of scoring chances as a pocket protector at a graduation party.

Their opponent in the Finals was a deep and bruising Boston Bruins team.  They specialized in administering relentless and punishing force and committing to team defence.

Of these two styles, one was decidedly more fragile and susceptible to impotence, requiring a particular cluster of physical and creative skill-sets and in relatively large numbers. The other required an unflinching commitment to will-power and systems.

Both noble, both worthy and deserving of victory, but not requiring the same mixture of tools. Just different.

While not an excuse unto itself, the problem of being injured was an undisputed large first crack in the Vancouver offense. This compounded all of the other problems they faced and, taken together, these problems grew exponentially in effect.

Like any team surviving the first three rounds of the NHL playoffs, they entered the Finals already broken and battered. But once up against the Bruins, the injuries and their effects multiplied and accelerated at an astonishing rate.

By the end of Game 6, the situation was as follows: Ryan Kesler (groin tear and hip problem), Dan Hamhuis (“core problem,” requires surgery, will miss beginning of next season), Henrik Sedin (back problems, since Round 1), Christian Ehrhoff (shoulder problem, may require surgery), Kevin Bieksa (bruised MCL from Rich Peverley slash), Alex Edler (back problems, two broken fingers on one hand), Chris Higgins (broken foot), Mason Raymond (fractured vertebrae), Sami Salo (groin tear), Andrew Alberts (undisclosed), and Mikeal Samuelsson (out since Round 2).

Ten players of a possible eighteen, either missing in action or playing on fumes. 

It’s not an excuse, but a reality.

But that was Game 6.

It’s likely that the injury situation would never have reached that tipping-point had the Vancouver Canucks managed to continue their proficiency with the man advantage. Prior to the finals, Vancouver had been the best in the league for the entire season. 

Instead it fell completely to pieces, giving full license to the Boston Bruins to pulverize them with impunity. This only accelerated the effects of their injuries and solidified the Bruins already stifling team defence.

Astonishingly, in the face of all this, Alain Vigneault decided on the bold strategy of making zero adjustments at all.

Where injuries are uncontrollable and beyond excuse, this lack of adaptation is a legitimate and justified ground-zero for blame and responsibility.

The power-play was the engine of the Vancouver offensive machine all season long. If it worked as well as it had prior to the finals, the Boston Bruins would have been forced to respect it and take less liberties—and it’s an entirely different looking series.

Certainly one in which the Canucks score more than 8 measly goals.

Instead, they stuck with the same methodology from Game 1 through Game 7: patiently teed-up peripheral point-shots with no traffic in front and no one doing fly-by's. All this while up against a red-hot goaltender and a Norris finalist defenceman with the wingspan of a brontosaurus.

And so the compounding began. An already battered and hindered team that was having trouble cracking the suffocating Boston defence was battered and hindered some more. The Boston defence was emboldened by the rapidly degenerating Vancouver power-play.

A vicious spiral to Hell, which culminated in a Game 7 gas-out.

Eighteen professional NHL’ers—who had dreamed of such a moment and possibility their entire lives—offered up next to nothing in a 4-0 hop, skip, and jump to victory for the Boston Bruins.

It just doesn’t happen that way—on home ice, with that much at stake—unless there’s nothing left in the tank...or the muscles and the bones.

There are, of course, the usual accusations of “choking,” and that’s to be expected. But in the end, the truth of it is that the better team won.

The Vancouver Canucks were spent, broken, and finished—a dying carcass dragging itself through the desert for no other reason than keeping up appearances.

It’s not an excuse—it can’t be. The Boston Bruins took advantage of a weakness, exposed it, and made it worse.

It was stated by many before the series, myself included, that the Vancouver Canucks would never win a war of attrition with the Boston Bruins. The longer the series went, the more it favored the Bruins.

For a series that was so full of drama, intrigue, and surprises, the final result was really that simple and predictable.

The Vancouver Canucks were just flat out destroyed and dismantled—physically, figuratively, officially.


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