Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Big Save, a goal post and a much desired victory.

The scoreboard doesn’t correctly identify the drama of a Monday night in Vancouver.

With a 4-1 victory over the Dallas Stars, the Vancouver Canucks have advanced in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but make no mistake this was a nail biting, nervous tic, no trip to the bathroom 2-1 victory. The two empty net goals in the waning minute of play, a mere closing door for the Stars season.

For Vancouver fans it was a roller coaster ride of emotions, the Canucks once again coming out in the first period and playing far too tentatively, afraid to take chances, not taking the Dallas zone, in fact it was a first period that resembled far too much of this series, a plodding, boring affair that threatened to do the unthinkable put an audience to sleep in a game seven showdown.

Dallas once again got off to an early lead, and in a series that produced few in the way of goals, there were many no doubt thinking that a 1-0 lead thanks to Joel Lundqvist was all that Dallas would require to put away the Canucks for another season.

It was the second period that proved to be the turning point of the series, a welcome change of attack for Canuck fans with a much desired result posted after sixty minutes. It was careless penalties that proved to be the downfall of the Stars, allowing the Canucks to begin to untrack a power play that had been held off the board for far too long.

The Sedin’s not only had been held scoreless for most of the last three games, they had been rendered almost invisible, with the Stars parading to the penalty box in the second the twins began to find the room that makes them effective and the result was a Henrik Sedin wrister that beat Marty Turco, tying up the game and returning the GM Place crowd back to its boisterous best.

From that point on the Canucks seemed for the most part to take control of the flow of play, the bulk of which seemed to be in the Turco end of the rink. The Stars goaltender who had been under the microscope for most of the series, had nothing to be ashamed of after his game seven appearance. His goaltending was the only thing left in the Dallas arsenal to at least keep them close for 59 minutes, time and time again he was called on to knock down a blast from the point, deflect a streaking puck for the corner or rescue a dribbling puck goal line bound.

If anyone in Dallas is tying the can to the Stars goaltender for the series loss, then they probably haven’t watched too many hockey games. If they feel that Turco is to be a scapegoat in Dallas, we’re pretty sure that there are at least 26 other NHL teams that would be drooling at the prospect of him donning their colours for next season.

The Stars lost when they spent far too much time killing penalties and not near enough time directing shots at Roberto Luongo. The Canucks who took their own share of pointless penalties at inopportune times, seemed to fare better when it came to keeping the Stars at bay, and when they failed Luongo was there to bail them out.

In the third period, Luongo became a Canuck of legend with his nerves of steel save on Stu Barnes, a Star left alone in the slot with a gaping upper right piece of net waiting for his shot, a shot which Luongo somehow snared much to the disbelief of Barnes.

Moments later, Luongo would hear the re-assuring clang of a cross bar hit and a puck deflected out and away from the nets, an oh so close miss that pretty well defines the margin of victory in a game that was everything a playoff game could be for two of its three periods.

Trevor Linden the long time workhorse of the Canucks and perhaps one of the teams most popular players added to the fan club on Monday, his redirection of an Ohlund shot from the point would be the winning goal, a fitting candidate for perhaps one of the more important game seven goals in his long and illustrious Canuck career.

The two empty net goals late in the third, were but the siren call for Canuck fans to breathe again, the Stars tired, frustrated and defeated could only watch on as the clock ticked off the final seconds and they prepared for their game end handshakes.

The final scene at centre ice post game was a moment that no doubt few in GM Place will forget, as Luongo and Turco met to acknowledge each other’s contribution to a low scoring and goaltender dominated series, which saw Turco record a remarkable three games of shut out hockey before the Stars surrendered the hard fought ice they had conquered in games five and six a remarkable comeback that came up just short.

There will without a doubt be many conversations about penalties in the wake of the game seven decision. The Stars will be feeling rather victimized by the NHL zebras, while the Canucks will counter that they to had some calls made against them that were not helpful to their cause.

If nothing else, the officiating of Game Seven will send a message to the league that penalties will be called, regardless of the timing, the flow or the criticism of the teams.

For teams like Anaheim and San Jose that have made regular pilgrimages to the penalty box in the opening round, the message is out there, transgress at your peril, if in doubt ask the Stars…

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