Thursday, May 03, 2007

For Vancouver it’s, Game, Series, Season…

It was a most improbable ending to a most bizarre game. Roberto Luongo who had stared down the Anaheim Ducks for almost all of the 84 minutes, took his eye off the puck for a nanosecond, and before he knew it, his and the Canucks season had come to an end victims of a self inflicted 2-1 loss to the Ducks.

Perhaps expecting a penalty on a hard hit by Rob Neidermayer on Jannik Hansen, Luongo seemed to not expect the long distance shot from the point by Scott Neidermayer which zoomed by the Canuck goaltender and registered in the back of the net, much to the surprise and delight of even the Duck who shot the puck.

In a way it’s not fair, not because Vancouver deserved the win, as they clearly didn’t. Rather because we won’t be able to watch any more goaltending clinics from one of the most exciting goaltenders to put on a Canucks sweater.

Game Five in Anaheim was all Duck in the chances department, 63 shots were fired at Vancouver goaltenders, 58 at Luongo and 5 at Danny Sabourin in what must have been a terror filled 3 minutes and thirty four seconds of emergency work. For fifty minutes of the regulation time of this game, Vancouver could provide little in the way of offence. They displayed an innate ability to not clear a puck, unable to force the Ducks out of the defensive zone, free to fire at will at Luongo who single handedly kept his team battling for a win that they probably had no right to expect.

Vancouver skated as though in quicksand, they had no speed, and could find no positioning. Far too often they were beat to the puck in their own end, far too often they had it taken away as they crossed into the neutral zone. Far too often they couldn’t get more than a shot away in the Anaheim end. By the games end, Giguere would have faced 27 shots, compared to Luongo's workload JS was hardly called to action.

And yet, as the last ten minutes of regulation played out, there was every indication that they might very well steal one away from the Ducks, take the series back to Vancouver and launch an unlikely run for a game seven victory.

When Alex Burrows put away the tying goal, there seemed to be a renewed energy on the Vancouver bench, a sudden realization that Luongo’s remarkable performance would not be for naught.

The game which seemed as lopsided as one could find for fifty minutes, suddenly turned into a back and forth dash for a winning goal. Anaheim lucky to claim victory in a way as the Canucks finally found the range of the Duck net, only to have J S Giguere show that he too could make a difference when the time came.

The first overtime presented one of the most bizarre incidents seen in a hockey game in a long time or at least since the last Domenik Hasek incident, as the two teams took to the ice Vancouver sent back up goaltender Danny Sabourin into the nets. Luongo still ensconced in the dressing room suffering some kind of “equipment problem”. One must wonder what kind of terror might have flashed through Sabourin's head, having been used sparingly in the regular season, suddenly the season was on the line and he was the last man between victory and defeat.

To his credit, Sabourin stood tall, knocking back five Duck shots refusing to be the historical footnote to a rather strange game. With Luongo’s equipment issues resolved he returned to the nets, taking a few seconds to talk to his back up and express his gratitude and maybe respect of a tough job at a tough time.

From that point on he Luongo was back on track, a few close calls came and went, just as many stellar saves denied the Ducks their opportunity to win.

When the second OT began, there were no more equipment problems to worry about; both starting goaltenders took their place. The Canucks slipped into a few bad habits for a bit, letting the ducks gain control of the game. But then Vancouver would break out and have a few memorable chances to end the game and start the Ducks to thinking.

As things turned out, the Ducks won’t need to contemplate anything other than who is to be their next opponent.

The better team won the series, the Ducks outplayed, out hit, out shot by laughable measures and outscored the Canucks. When the need for key players to step up their game arrived, too many Canucks sat out the invitation. While Trevor Linden seemed to turn back the clock and compete as though it was game seven against the 94 Rangers again, too many others turned the other cheek or the other way, allowing too many Ducks to have too much space and too much time.

There will probably be no more disappointed Canuck on the way home than Roberto Luongo, who carried this team as far as he could only to see a cruel fate played out on a mistake.

It’s not the way a season should end, but most figured the season ended two days ago anyways, when the Canucks threw away a two goal lead and then lost in OT. Game five was supposed to be just a formality, in the end that’s what it was, but not before Luongo gave his team one more chance to get untracked and deserve a win.

Vancouver will continue to rebuild this team; Luongo is the foundation for the future. There were glaring needs this year, a more seasoned defence is required, a bit more desire to go into a corner and take a puck away as well.

Changes will come, players will leave. Every team grows from disappointment, but once they look in the mirror the Canucks will realize that without their goaltender, they wouldn’t even have been close in either one of their 2007 playoff series.

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