May 26 2011 11:27AM
"LET'S GO TO THE CUP, BABY!"
(Photo by Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Image)
The Vancouver Canucks are going to the Stanley Cup Final! It was amazing when Jim Robson said it 17 years ago, and it was just as amazing when Jim Hughson echoed that at the end of the Canucks' Game 5 series-clinching victory.
Now, the final battle in this post-season war awaits them.
While the Vancouver Canucks won this series with some stellar performances by the Sedins and Roberto Luongo, the first question that must be asked is "What happened to the Sharks' forwards?". You can count on one hand, with fingers left over, the number of Sharks forwards who made a noticeable appearance in this series. Joe Thornton was a beast, playing the final game with a separated shoulder and did all he could to drag his under-performing offensive teammates with him. Thornton has proven that he is a playoff performer. Whatever previous labels may have been attached to him can be replaced with "Warrior". Patrick Marleau was very good for the first four games and was the Sharks' best two-way forward apart from Thornton. Logan Couture and Devin Setoguchi both had fleeting spells of brilliance, but were largely unheard. Ryane Clowe was clearly still hurt and was mostly ineffective. Joe Pavelski must have been hurt as well, because he was nowhere to be found until the final game. Dany Heatley was totally absent from this series until Game 5, and even then he was held off the scoresheet. The same can be said for Kyle Wellwood and Torrey Mitchell, Heatley's linemates in Game 5. Of the Sharks' top 9 forwards, I can say that two of them (Thornton and Marleau) played really well for at least 4 games. That's just not going to win you a series, especially against the #1 team in the league.
As for the Canucks, they got everything they needed and more out of the Sedins. Henrik and Daniel were pure magic against the Sharks. Along with Alex Burrows, the Canucks top line was utterly dominant against a Sharks defense that simply had no answer for them. Henrik racked up 12 points in these 5 games, setting a Canucks franchise record for points in a playoff series. While they were largely held off the board, Ryan Kesler and his linemates, Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond, were decent but not outstanding. The Canucks third line made a huge difference in setting the tone for this series early on, and their dominance in the first two games was one of the biggest factors in Vancouver's series lead. Lapierre, Torres and Hansen played smart, tough, and fast, generating offensive zone turnovers and gobbling up huge minutes, keeping the puck 200 feet away from their own goaltender. They had problems getting things going in Games 3 and 4, but they can thank the nonsensical officiating for killing any flow in either of those games, and keeping both teams on special teams for half the game. As for the fourth line, they saw very little ice in this series. While Hodgson and Oreskovich were okay in their limited time, Tanner Glass was not. He took penalties, didn't hit and was completely ineffective. In his one game in the series, Jeff Tambellini was quietly effective, but coach Vigneault made a reactionary move after Game 2, after Ben Eager decided to run around and act like an idiot. However, Eager didn't play again after that so putting Glass back in the lineup seemed like a mistake. Looking back now on that is probably nitpicking but as the Canucks move on, the conversation will come up again.
The Canucks defense in this series as a whole was fantastic from top to bottom. Not only did they stymie much of the Sharks best players, but they chipped in with timely, important goals. And no one exemplified that more than Kevin Bieksa. Bieksa was an animal throughout the series on both sides of the ice and was rewarded with the most fortuitous bounce of his career to score the series-winning goal. But the Canucks success on the blue line in this series goes well beyond just Bieksa. The Canucks D scored 8 goals in 5 games, at least 1 goal from the defense in each game, including 4 from Bieksa... and one from AARON ROME. Yeah, so when Aaron Rome is scoring a goal, you know things are going well. And things for the defense were going very well, in spite of losing both Rome and Christian Ehrhoff in Game 3 to injuries. Insert much maligned Keith Ballard and rookie Chris Tanev, who played together as the third tandem in games 4 and 5. Both played fantastically in Game 4, jumping into the roster right away. Ballard was playing really well in Game 5 until he had a big brain cramp that led to the Sharks first goal, and seemed a bit shaky for the rest of regulation. He picked his game up again when OT started.
And then there's Roberto Luongo. Once again underappreciate. Once again needlessly maligned. Once again quietly solid and got better as every game passed. I know folks are going to look at the second San Jose goal in Game 5 and think that Lu made a massive error. No, Alex Edler made a huge mistake and Lu gambled in trying to get the puck. That's all. If Tim Thomas had made that move, people would simply shrug it off as "Timmy being Timmy". But you know what Lu did? He shrugged it off and turned in a 54 save effort through four-and-a-half periods in Game 5 and was the game's first star. Oh, and he had a .931 save percentage and a 2.49 GAA in this series. Oh, and in the final, series-clinching game, Luongo put up a 1.34 GAA and .964 Sv%. The game was on the line, and Luongo played one of his best games of these playoffs. He IS a big game goalie. Enough said.
The difference in this series was that the best players for the Canucks were much, much better than the best players for the Sharks. The Canucks top line was amazing. Their top 2 defensive pairing was almost perfect on both sides of the ice. And the Canucks goaltending was far superior to the Sharks goaltending.
The GOOD and the BAD
What was GOOD in this series:
- The Sedins and Alex Burrows.
- Kevin Fkn Bieksa.
- The offense from the Canucks defense.
- The Canucks third line.
- The Canucks power play.
- The Canucks penalty kill after the first period in Game 3.
- Roberto Luongo.
What was BAD in this series:
- The Sharks defense other than Boyle and Murray.
- The officiating.
- The Sharks power play after the first period in Game 3.
- The Sharks in any third period.
- The series-clinching goal (I loved it because the Canucks won, but MAN was that a weird one).
The Canucks will now have 7 full days off before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final begins. That is plenty of time for some bruised and battered bodies to heal. Kesler looked like he had been shot in the leg in Game 5, but returned to play regardless. Bieksa took a knock in Game 5 as well, so he's probably still smarting. Chris Higgins is likely still fighting a bruised foot. Aaron Rome and Christian Ehrhoff can definitely use this time to get healthy. And most importantly, it gives them fewer games to play and less chances to suffer more injuries. Just look at what it did for the Canucks having 6 days off between Nashville and San Jose. With a healthy Kesler, Bieksa, Ehrhoff and others along with the Sedins, Burrows, Hamhuis and Luongo rolling like they are, Canucks fans should be chomping at the bit to start watching the most important hockey of the last 17 years.