Thursday, June 16, 2011

This Is Vancouver

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We Are All Homers

Green Men Unite!

Although the Vancouver Canucks have not looked like champions on the road in the 2011 Final, there is some strong historical data backing a win tomorrow. No team has won three Game 7s in a single playoff year and there's some hard evidence of bouncebacks in Game 7s for teams with that one-game home-ice advantage.

Of teams in the Final who were beaten in Game 6 by a margin of at least three goals, all those Game 6 "losers" came back in Game 7s to win the Cup.

In the 1954 and 1955 Finals the Detroit Red Wings were beaten 4-1 and 6-3 respectively in Game 6s in Montreal. In '54 they had to go to OT in Game 7 but Tony Leswick flipped the puck at the Habs' net and Hall of Famer Doug Harvey accidentally gloved the puck into his own net for a 2-1 Wings' victory. In '55 the Wings had a bit more breathing room with a 3-1 win in Game 7 over the Habs in a series in which all home games were won by the home teams.

That's ancient history really and you have to fast-forward to '94 when as many of you may remember the Canucks beat the New York Rangers 4-1 sending the Final back to Madison Square Garden where we all know what Lafayetted out there.

In '03 the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 in Game 6 before heading off to the New Jersey swamp to be shut out by Martin Brodeur for the third time in the series in a 3-0 Devils' Cup win. That '03 Final saw all home teams win their home games.

Even the Canucks' division annoyances the Edmonton Oilers beat the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 6 4-0 before the Canes took Game 7 at home 3-1.

Bruins Fans Not Cuddly Bears?
As you'll have read or seen on the Net, B's fans gave traveling Canuck fans in the crowds at the TD Garden plenty of verbal, and even some physical, abuse. Of course, no sane fan condones this but here's a news flash: Sports fans, especially in East Coast cities, are rabid (and you don't need a player to bite you to know what that means). Yes, you may have money to burn. Mr. Yaletown or Mrs. Point Grey, but you have to realize you were going into enemy territory and once Aaron Rome pancaked Nathan Horton, the worse came out in New Englanders.

This is one reason once Tampa Bay lost, our own plans here at Canucklehead HQ to try to attend Games 3 and 4 of the Final were scotched. Boston may be a great city to visit but not dressed up in any opposing teams' colors in any sport. So, basically, win or lose, where's the fun in spending thousands of dollars to expose yourself to getting at the very least a verbal takedown. We've been in European soccer crowds so we at least know what to do and what not to do. I'm sure the vast majority of Canuck fans who flew out to Boston, despite years of watching hockey on TV, had ever really comprehended what opposing rinks are really like come playoff time outside of Canada or the laidback West Coast.

Being Puckheads
Being a hockey fan I get the whole bandwagon thing, and I get people who don't understand what the neutral zone trap is (let alone icing) being on board. The thing is there's blind optimism, and there's reality. Sure, we all want the Canucks to win it all, but some of us "hockey" fans were really hoping if that day finally came that they'd do it with style. Oh well, joining the likes of the '06 Hurricanes or any of the Devils' Cups isn't all that bad, is it?

Can't complain too much as the '94 Final will always go down as one of the all-time classic finals in hockey history. It's just was it asking too much that if Boston can carpetbomb the Canucks 8-1 and 4-0 that the Canucks couldn't reciprocate?
Of course, Tim Thomas is playing goal at a level not achieved since the age of the Dominator, but Tampa were able to ventilate him for 5 goals in four different games in the semifinals. Even Montreal put 4 past Thomas in one of the games in the first round.

Boys, time to stick it to the B's

Which Sedin's Not Scoring?
Yes, the 2010 Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Toews had only 3 points and was -5 in the Final for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Yes, Sydney Crosby got only 3 points and was -3 in the Final as the Pittsburgh Penguins took the Cup in 2009.
There's also another Conn Smythe winner in Henrik Zetterberg but he did lead the Wings with 6 points in 6 games in the Final as the Wings won the 2008 Cup.
I get it--checking is tougher, the goaltending can be insanely great and the penalty killing is more intense--but after taking so long to actually get good, couldn't the Sedins fight (and I don't mean this after-the-whistle nonsense) through all that and at least look like the Art Ross Trophy winners they are supposed to be.

Bingo Bango Bongo Indeed
Roberto Luongo is certainly the surliest and most inconsistent goalie the Canucks ever rode to the Final with. As bizarre as that is, he's one more walk around the Seawall from leading (and it looks like he will have to lead given the lack of offence) the Canucks to the Holy Grail.
He's also one more game from walking the plank on the flip side of that equation.
That's sports. One minute you're the hero, four minutes later you're being fitted for goathorns.

Shh, Don't Mention The Wounded
What is amazing about the Canuck run is the players now out of the lineup for Game 7. We all know all playoff runs that players play with injuries. The key word is "play" which Ryan Kesler will do even if it's on one leg (or is it one groin?). Given no Mikael Samuelsson for most of the playoffs, no Dan Hamhuis after Game 1 of the Finals, no Aaron Rome after Game 3, no Mason Raymond now, maybe that's why the Canucks have struggled in the Final. It's hard enough winning it all with everyone healthy but Nathan Horton aside, you take away Zdeno Chara's D partner, Dennis Seidenberg, and, say, either Andrew Ference or Johnny Boychuk and one more forward like a veteran somewhat in Samuelsson's vein per chance Michael Ryder or Mark Recchi...and now go out and play Game 7. No excuses but should the Bruins take the Cup, just imagine what could have been if these Canucks could have "played."

What Does It All Mean?
I suppose for many Canuck fans it will be a dream come true, a relief and a cathartic experience all wrapped in one. Given how truly awful the hockey has been in this Final, all I'm hoping for is please let Game 7 be a classic and, if the Canucks actually blow this, let it be one where they go out with their guns blazing.

Let's see some goals.
Let's see a few lead changes.
Let's see the Canuck powerplay score a couple of goals.
Let's stop making what was possibly the worst playoff powerplay unit going in look now like the '50s Habs.

And, please, Lord Canucklehead, whatever happens, make sure Luongo does not impersonate Frank Caprice anymore.

Lastly, if the worse all you litterbugs who are heading downtown tomorrow do is leave trash on our city streets, I'll be OK with that. Just don't trash our city's reputation or anything else by being a yahoo. That's just so '90s, dude.

Win with class and, should worse come to worse, lose with class. In between feel free to crosscheck the opponent in the head after the whistle. The refs won't call it anyway.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Doubting Thomas Or Loser-ongo?

Shoot The Puck!
Tim Thomas is approaching Kirk McLean's '94 record for saves in a single playoff run. This is incredibly positive news for the Canucks' chances. You remember '94, McLean faced all those shots in a heroic playoff effort but the New York Rangers won the Cup.

Have a gander at the list of the top five in this odd category:
1. Kirk McLean (Van '94) 761 saves
2. Tim Thomas (Bos '11) 700
3. Ron Hextall (Phil '87) 698
4. Olaf Kolzig (Wash '98) 696
5. John Vanbiesbrouck (Fla '96) 685

Notice anything common among the four goalies not named Thomas? Yep, none of their teams won the Cups in those years. Eventually all that rubber catches up with you and you may even win a Conn Smythe like Hexy did in '87 but odds are you can't win it all.

Keep shooting the puck and eventually Thomas will give up more than one goal in 60 minutes of he has in all previous series in 2011. Just pray the goalie at the other end gives up one less is all any Canuck fan asks.

From Orr to Park to Chara?
Yes, Mike Gillis's plan to recreate the Carolina Hurricanes '06 Cup winning defence-by-committee may fail vs. the usual have a Norris Trophy type D-man and ride him to the Cup. Yet is Zdeno Chara so "dominant"?

Being able to shut down the Canucks' top scorers, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler, can be answered more as follows--Dominik Hasek, Jr. It's simply the Zach GalapagoDaskalakis lookalike (go see my movie Hangover II playing now in a theater near Rogers Arena! Tuesdays--$7.50 all day!) in the B's nets is playing as well as the Dominator in his prime.

Chara and his D-partner, Dennis Seidenberg, are a collective +24 in the playoffs, but they better be buying Timmy Boy a few dinners should the silverware end up in Boston.
Daniel has had 16 shots on goal in the four games and, even if skewed by his eight shots in Game 1, that's still a pace that would place him 4th overall in the regular season for shots on goal.
Kesler has ten shots on goal so far through four games. That's pretty much his pace in the last series vs. San Jose. Maybe he is playing hurt but again maybe Thomas is making the saves that Antii Niemi did not, especially in those last two games of the Sharks' series when Kesler had a key goal in each game.

Woe Is The Powerplay
This often repeated mantra that special teams are soooooo important in the playoffs is ignoring the fact that the vast majority of games are played five-on-five. Powerplay goals are few and far between when teams get to the Final because most of the time the goalies teams face are actually very good. We won't even get into how good the penalty killers themselves are on good teams.

So then why don't the offensive players dominate?
Simply put, defence wins championships and has even when the Air Hockey Oilers or Flying Frenchmen dynasties were in vogue.
Yes, it'd be nice to see the Canucks score on the powerplay but more importantly is how teams play at even strength and NOT giving up backbreaking shorthanded goals at the most inappropriate points in the games.

Let's have a unscientific, but randomly fun look at how "important" the powerplay is in the Final:

'87 Final
Edmonton Gretzkys vs. Philly Keenans

Philly outscored Edmonton on the PP 6 goals to 4 but gave up 3 shorthanded Oiler tallies.
At even strength the Oil outscored the Illka Sinisalos 15-11 in the series.
The powerplay was a factor in Game 2 with the Oil's lone PP goal in regulation being part of a 3-2 OT win. Other than that is was pretty much a wash in each game. Philly even potted its lone goal in Game 7 on the PP yet lost 3-1.

'91 Final
Mario Penguins vs. Not Dallas Stars
In the series Pittsburgh scored 7 powerplay goals but gave up 3 shorthanded goals.
Minnesota scored 3 PP goals and gave up 2 SH goals.
Yet the statistics don't tell the whole story as 3 of those Pens' PP goals were in the Game 6 clincher which was an 8-0 blowout.
Go back further, with Minny up 2-1 in the series they outscored the Pens 2-0 on the powerplay yet lost Game 4 by a score of 5-3.
At even strength the Pens outscored the Stars 27-16 in the series.

'08 Final
Detroit Zetterbergs vs. Pittsburgh Crosbys
The Pens outscored the Wings on the PP 5-4 in the series but gave up a shorthanded goal so that's a wash.
The Winged Wheels outscored the Flightless Birds 12-5 at even strength.
Game, set and Osgood to Detroit.

'09 Final
Datsyuk Wings vs. Malkin Penguins
Pens again outscored the Wings on the PP 4 to 3 plus this time the Pittsburghers potted a shortie of their own. This was a decided advantage in Games 3 and 4 where the Penguins' special teams helped win both games 4-2 as they scored that shorthander plus 3 of their powerplay goals vs. the Wings in the two home games.
Yet in the decisive Games 6 and 7, neither team scored on the powerplay in consecutive 2-1 wins by the Pens.
In the end at even strength the Wings outscored the Pens over the seven games 13-9 yet lost.

Draw your own conclusions, but of these four high profile Finals featuring winning teams that had the most offensive talent in the NHL at the time, only the one Final in 2009 could you say the powerplay was significant enough a factor to swing the series.

So far in the 2011 Final the tally is:
Boston 3 PP goals to Vancouver's 1.
Boston has scored 2 goals shorthanded.
At even strength Boston has a 9-4 advantage.

Even if Vancouver scored two more powerplay goals than Boston in each game, well, it'd still be 2-2. Just in case you're wondering.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Having A Final Eight Ball

If you think there are not many teams that give up eight goals or more in a Stanley Cup Final game and then go on to win the Cup, you'd be obviously right.

Strange thing, though, the first team to get an eight-spot scored against it since the NHL was involved in the Stanley Cup Final, actually rebounded from that huge loss and went on to win the whole kit and kaboodle...and there's a Vancouver connection.

In the inaugural 1917/18 season of the NHL the predecessor of today's Maple Leafs, the Toronto Arenas (I guess "Rinks" was already spoken for as a team nickname?) got thumped 8-1 by the Vancouver Millionaires (the Pacific Coast Hockey Association champs) in Game 4 of the then best-of-five Stanley Cup Final. The Arenas came back and won Game 5 2-1 to take the Cup.

In other weird bits of trivia, the two leagues that battled for the Stanley Cup back then played under different rules. The PCHA was a 6-on-6 skaters league and the NHL was like the current 5-on-5 skaters. The games alternated between being played under the two leagues' rules with the Cyclone Taylors winning the two games played under the PCHA "rover" rule and the Team That Would Become Leafs winning the three played under NHL rules. Due to biplanes not being a feasible form of commerical transportation yet, the entire series was played in Toronto that year after the Millionaires took the Pierre Berton Transcontinental Railway across to the Centre of the Then Much Smaller Universe.

Only problem is, if history does repeat itself and the losing team of this 8-1 defeat wins it all in 2011, hopefully next year's Final will not be a repeat of the Final which followed 1918's and resulted in no team winning the Cup, a flu epidemic and a player dying. And you thought this year's Final has had a lot of drama?

In modern times, only the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens have rebounded from getting ventilated for 8 goals against in a game.

In the Isles' first of their four Cups in a row, they lost Game 2 in 1980 to the Philadelphia Flyers 8-3. The Bob Nystroms bounced back to win three (all home games) of the last four to take the Cup in six games.
Hey, Sedins, technically I am "Swedish"

The Habs in one of the wackiest playoff games ever lost 8-7 at home in Game 5 to the Chicago Black Hawks (pre-"Blackhawks") in the 1973 Final. The goalies in that game--Hall of Famers Ken Dryden for Montreal and Tony Esposito for Chicago. This series does come with one Big M rejoinder. The Habs won Game 1 8-3 so technically giving up 8 in a one-goal game when you ventilated the opponent for 8 in another game that was a blowout sort of makes a moot Yvan Cournoyer of a point to all of this.

For those with your Stanley Cups half full of champagne, the Canucks could be headed for an '80s Islanders dynasty if they take the Cup in 2011. That could be helped along, if Coach V stops coaching like the Yogi Bear he looks like, and starts dressing seven defencemen. As canucks fans would like to see some insurance of the backline, you know in case an Aaron Rome gets tossed or a Dan Hamhuis gets injured during a game. Just a suggestion.

For those with your silver chalises half-empty, there have only been three teams (if we count the '73 Habs among them) out of nine who have given up 8 or more goals in a Cup Final game who've come back to win the Cup.

Even scarier is the fact no team since the '09 Pens (what?) has come back from 0-2 down in the Stanley Cup so.... we're long overdue ....Oh, forget it! The Canucks are toast. Doomed, I say.

Just to ring off on another low note here's something to overload your hockey trivia memory banks:
The famous 0-3 comeback Leafs destroyed the Detroit Red Wings 9-3 in Game 5 on the way to reeling off those four straight wins to take the '42 Stanley Cup.

Monday, June 6, 2011

So Tired . . . Tired of Waiting . . .

"I've waited all my life for this. We want the Cup!"
--random 24 y/o fan on Granville Street after Game 2

Yes, as soon as any person born in a B.C. hospital comes out of their mother's womb, they do put them in a "waiting" room which might have been decorated with Vancouver Canucks' memorabilia. Technically, then it has been possible you've been waiting for all 24 of your years for a Canuck Cup.

Without pulling too much rank, the rest of us who've actually been around the entire 40 seasons (well, 39 as we lost the 2004/05 season thanks to the lockout), I think we've been waiting most of our lives more for a team that could actually win more games than it lost in a season.

Consistently doing that seemingly simple task that even the St. Louis Blues have managed for most of their team's history would have been a start. Going on deep playoff runs more than every 12 seasons were things one could only dream of happening for the Canucks. To think we'd actually waste any precious time on Planet Canuck "waiting" for a Cup to actually be won is more something a fan with little grasp of reality had like, say, a Toronto Make Belief fan.

Honestly, since Roberto Luongo came over in a trade with Florida is probably when this particular Cup waiting period truly began for most fans. Finally, the Dan Cloutier era was over! Rejoicing could be heard from Burrard Inlet to the last spike at Golden that finally the missing cog in the Canuck machine was filled. After all, it's not like a lot of us expected the Luongo-era Canucks to win the Cup in 2011 given the lack of deep playoff runs to build a base of confidence on. The Canuck past playoff woes have been a hard nut for even this version of the team to crack.

Hey, Dan, the puck went five hole

That sad playoff history has been hard to shake. Back in 1975 it was a totally different story as two expansion teams made the Stanley Cup Final. Vancouver's '70/71 expansion cousin, the Buffalo Sabres, took on one of the "Expansion Six" in Philly's Broad Street Bullies, who were the defending Cup champs.

That '74/75 season saw the Canucks have a winning record for the first time in their history and actually win a playoff game against the mighty Montreal Canadiens. Things were looking up in Vancouver.

Then the Canucks fell to just a game over .500 in the following season and continued the fall from playoff grace to the "never bad enough to draft Mario Lemieux but as mediocre as they come" era. Even in the King Richard-led run to the Final in 1982, the Canucks were three games under .500 in the regular season.

No one expected anything of them in the "come one, come all" playoffs of that particular Air Hockey season. Thanks, though, to the Los Angeles Kings riding that Miracle on Manchester to a massive upset over the Gretzky-in-his-prime scoring machine Edmonton Oilers, the Canucks took full advantage of sudden home-ice advantage (getting to play the 17th placed Kings and then the 15th-placed Chicago Blackhawks in the next two rounds). Obviously, expectations to actually win the Cup vs. the two-time defending champion New York Islanders were close to zero. Well, if Harold Snepsts had not passed the puck to Mike Bossy (of all people!) in OT in Game 1, maybe...(oh, who am I kidding?) the Canucks would have won a game and lost in five instead of being swept.

Another nine seasons of under .500 hockey would come and go interrupted by one lone semi-highlight in 1989 taking the 1st overall Calgary Flames (who would go on to win the Cup that year) to a Game 7 OT before Joel Otto kicked the winning goal in while standing in the crease. Check the video.

It really wasn't until Pavel Bure in '91/92 came onboard would the Canucks have a legitimately good team...and an actual "I'm on the edge of my seat every time he touches the puck" hockey player (all due respect to Ron Sedlbauer's 40-goal '78/79 season). So I guess I will cut any Bure fan slack as their wait has been at least 20 years for the Canucks to win a Cup.

The rest of us are pretty happy we've finally got a team that has been winning on a fairly consistent basis. When I say "consistent," I'm talking in Canuck terms as the team has had seven losing seasons out of the past 19 since the day Pavel descended from Moscow to the West Coast.

Call me greedy, but should the Canucks finish the job in 2011 (please sweep...I can't handle a seven-game gutwrenching put the knife in, pull the knife out near Shakespearian tragedy), here's hoping that they don't turn into a Carolina Hurricanes' "one Cup and done" team.

Who's going to complain all that much because one Cup is more than our expansion buddies the Sabres have as well as the Kings, Blues, Capitals and Winnitoba Moosejets or Phoenipeg Jetyotes who also have no Stanley Cups...yet? I won't even mention the delusional fan base in the Centre of the Universe on their blue-and-white's post-expansion Cup drought.

Let's just say to all fans out there, there's "waiting" and then there's "waiiiiiiiiting" when it comes to Lord Stanley and the Vancouver Canucks. Just stop by Cyclone Taylor's grave and ask him how long he's been waiting for the Cup to return to Vancouver.
I'm tired of standing here since 1915!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Still Bruin Some Serious Love For Boston

As someone who grew up a Bruins fan (now very much a lapsed one--thank you, Jeremy Jacobs) I've had numerous Canucks fans over the past few days baffled that they have come across B's fans whether at work or play.
A tribute to Maxim Lapierre

First we must take a time machine back to the fall of 1970 to understand this phenomenon. That was, as many of you might have noticed from the "40" logo above, the start of the NHL Canucks. Prior to that the Canucks did exist but played in the Western Hockey League. Not today's major junior WHL of which our Vancouver Giants are a part of but a professional league with most teams up and down the West Coast of North America (apologies to the inland member clubs the Denver Spurs, Salt Lake Golden Eagles and Phoenix Roadrunners).
Andy Bathtub in Canuck colors

The WHL Vancouver Canucks won the league championship in both '68/69 and '69/70 so Vancouver hockey fans knew what winning was all about. When the franchise entered the NHL it was able to keep but a few of its WHL championship roster. So you had a Canucks team that was arguably the best team outside the NHL with some real stars (Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate being one) in the spring of 1970 morph into an NHL expansion team in the fall of that year that had zero chance of competing for any sort of championship. (That '70/71 team did give it a good ole college try and were in the playoff hunt until captain Orland Kurtenbach got injured late in that inaugural NHL campaign.)

The novelty of the NHL was one thing but many local hockey fans gravitated towards either stars or winning teams in that first season. Since the '70/71 Boston Bruins obliterated NHL scoring records at that time, so many kids got hooked on the B's. You had the greatest player in the world in Bobby Orr running the whole show. A defenceman who was the Hart Trophy winner that season.
Just have a look at these raw numbers for Orr in '70/71:
37 goals, 102 assists, +124

Yet statistics do not fully explain how Orr controlled games. Watch this remarkable penalty killing job here.

Centerman Phil Esposito spent the whole season stationed in the slot and set about annihilating both the single season goal scoring record and the points record. Espo had 76G and 76A for 152 points. The previous records were 58 goals by Bobby Hull (Chicago) and Phil's own 126 points both done two seasons prior.

Espo's season record stood until a kid called Wayne Gretzky came along about a decade later.
Phil Espotato's sideburns ruled the slot

The top four point producers in the league were all Bruins that season! Johnny Bucyk and Ken Hodge joining Espo and Orr. The Bruins, as a team, scored 399 goals. The next best team scoring-wise was the Habs with 291 goals.

To get a somewhat fair comparison prorate the Bruins '70/71 totals to our current 82-game (they played a 78-game schedule in '70/71) context as well as converting all the Canucks '10/11 OT/SO wins and losses into one-point ties so we're using the pre-OT/SO point system and here's what we get:
'70/71 Boston Bruins 127 points, 419 goals for
'10/11 Vancouver Canucks 110 points, 262 goals for

This Bruins team was so dominant and dynamic offensively in an era that was most definitely not the air hockey '80s led by the best all-around player maybe in hockey history in Bobby Orr and kids just gravitated to the Bruins...until a fateful quarter-final vs. what was to become the B's arch nemesis--the Montreal Canadiens.

Just as "everyone" also loves an underdog, the Habs (or any team that would have faced Boston in the 1971 playoffs) were that team. Throw in the mix a rookie goalie by the name of Ken Dryden (thanks also to a stellar all-star defense crew that included J.C. Tremblay, Guy Lapointe, Terry Harper and Jacques Laperriere...and no, I didn't forget Serge Savard but he was injured and did not play in that year's playoffs) and the rest is history.

Suddenly, you had the school playground divided into Bruins and Habs fans pretty much throughout the '70s and well into the '80s.

It really wasn't until Pavel Bure arrived that Canuck fever took off like a rocket (apologies to the '82 run to the Final team but that fire fizzled out quickly right from the '82/83 season after).

So, there you have it, recent Canuck fans. Don't take offence with any older folk around who may still be Boston Bruins fans. It's not that they don't love the Canucks. It's just like all older people, they never forgot their first love no matter how boring a style the current group wearing the "B" on their chests play.