Monday, March 31, 2008

Linden’s leadership leads Canucks back into playoff contention

One of the darker days in Trevor Lindens career, was when Mike Keenan took over as coach of the Vancouver Canucks and began his usual demonization process. Every team in Keenan’s past to that time, had a player which the celebrated Iron Mike would use to enforce his rather autocratic stylings of the day. Keenan’s first salvo was to remove Linden’s captaincy when the Canucks acquired Mark Messier, a move that to this day remains controversial in Vancouver.

Linden escaped the wrath of Iron Mike in 1998 through the then celebrated Bertuzzi trade with the Islanders, which brought the hulking winger to the Canucks and on to subsequent infamy, long after Keenan had moved along.

While leaving the Keenan regime was a relief for Linden, he was destined to always be a Canuck, even if he wasn’t actually wearing the uniform.

Long a crowd favourite, his departure from the only NHL team he knew at the time, was probably the key point of the decline of the Keenan empire, as history would show, Keenan never endeared himself to the Canuck faithful. Who probably will never forgive him for the forced exit of the franchise’s popular former captain.

So, Sunday night must have been a remarkable moment for both Linden and Canuck fans, as the former captain showed much of the same leadership of the old days as he propelled the Canucks on to a desperately needed victory.
Linden accounted for two goals and whole lot of intensity as the Canucks sent Keenan’s Flames off to ponder just how ready they are for a playoff round, providing they survive the next week to make it.

Sunday’s game was one that Canuck fans have been waiting a few weeks for, showcasing the ability to come back from another dispiriting early deficit as the Flames scored within the first two minutes.

The Canucks however, seemed to be a more motivated squad on Sunday, shaking off that early setback, and a second one that would follow to finally take charge of a hard hitting, occasionally nasty match up at GM Place. There was intensity from many quarters, from Captain Markus Naslund’s performance, through the refusal of the Sedins to be intimidated by a physical flames team. And after two worrisome outings for Roberto Luongo, the blue chip goaltender for the Canucks found his game again, shutting down the Flames once his team mates had finally shown the mettle to battle back.

But it was Linden’s two goal performance that seemed to turn the Canuck’s around, giving them back a sense of control in their quest for a playoff spot. The win moved them back into eight place in the West, and more importantly provided the much needed confidence boost that this team sorely needs.

It ironically came from the one player that could have been excused for not particularly caring if this season were to end next Saturday or in June. Linden has been a frequent healthy scratch this year, seemingly out of favour with head coach Alain Vigneault, an infrequent scorer and most likely wondering if perhaps his final year has arrived.

Sunday the farewell skate might have been postponed just a bit, it was the Linden that Canuck fans remember fondly still, the one they will most likely want to see more of if Vancouver is to be a playoff bound club.

Keenan is perhaps best remembered in Vancouver for his treatment of Linden, it may be a lesson that the current coach takes heed to. Leadership was a Linden trait before the Keenan years and as Sunday night delivered its outcome, it was once again back in vogue in a Vancouver uniform.

Vancouver’s very playoff life will hinge on whether his team mates can build from Sunday’s pivotal game and follow Linden’s lead to claim their place with this years version of the Canucks.

A few ghosts were exorcised on Sunday night, the Canucks have three more games to chase the final one out of GM Place.
Vancouver Province--Linden, Naslund lead Canucks

No comments: