Monday, April 12, 2004

Hedberg Holds the Line!

Yo, Johan you’re the Man! Well ok, it probably didn’t go like that on the Canucks bench in the late stages of the first period. As Marc Crawford, his coaches and the players on the bench watched Dan Cloutier writhing in pain in his goal crease and then helped off the ice. The words were probably more suitable to a Snoop Dog video.

For a few seconds most Canuck fans probably went, oh oh, there goes the post season. But an interesting thing must have happened between the bench and the goal crease; somebody forgot to tell Johan Hedberg it was all over. With Cloutier gone, on crutches and off for observation, Hedberg now becomes the horse the Canucks must ride in the playoffs. And after being thrown into the fire in the first period, he proceeded to be the difference in the Western Quarterfinal game Sunday night in Calgary. As the Canucks took a 2 games to 1 lead in the series, with tonight's 2-1 victory.

Things didn’t get off to a great start for him; a goal early in the second period had all the ingredients of a long night for Johan. A giveaway deep in the Canucks end resulted in a two on none. Just Hedberg, Lombardi and Simon, with Simon burying the puck in the back of the Canucks net for the go ahead goal. If Marc Crawford had urged his team to be a bit more conscientious in their defensive play, they neglected to take notes, leaving Hedberg alone a couple of times to face the Flames attack. And he stood up well, making the big saves when required and adding a new dimension to the Canuck attack, a puck handling goaltender. The days of the Flames dump and chase may be gone for the next few games.

Vancouver got goals from Markus Naslund and Matt Cooke who had another strong game, crashing the Flames zone, making some pinpoint passes and getting in the face of many of the Flames players. His goal in the third from a Brendan Morrison pass, a textbook example of how to headman the puck into a scoring position.

For Calgary it was a matter of not taking advantage of their power play opportunities the Flames went 0-7 with the man advantage including one period where they had a four minute power play on a double minor to Marek Malik. The hard hitting affair took on tones of outright hostility at times, with a number of questionable hits from both sides. The most glaring one a hit from behind, by Mattias Ohlund on Jarome Iginla late in the third, which went unpenalized. Not impressed with the refs decision, Iginla took matters into his own hands and roughed up Ohlund a bit, not so much as a fight as a wrestling match. But sending a message to Ohlund and the Canucks that game number four won’t be a cake walk.

Vancouver will head into that Game four a rejuvenated lot. Despite losing their starting goaltender they fought back, circled the wagons and put together a gutsy display of playoff hockey. Knock these guys down for a bit, they’ll manage to get back up and come at you again. With full confidence in Johan Hedberg, the Canucks won’t let Cloutier’s injury be used as an excuse for poor play. While they wait for further information on his status, and it didn't look too good Sunday night, it's Hedberg to the rescue! For Vancouver fans that uneasy feeling late in the third gave way to a belief that a Stanley Cup may be possible after all. It’s a long road to go yet, but the team aspect that they seem to have recovered in the last month is going to go a long way to keeping them on track, whatever misfortune gets thrown their way

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