FROM THE VAULT: GAME 8

Taylor Perry
January 07 2017 11:00AM

Never had a regular season rematch been so highly anticipated and the timing of the game so awkward. Five years ago today - yes, it has been that long - the Vancouver Canucks squared off against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden in a rematch of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final at 1 o'clock in the afternoon (or 10 am PST).

While the excitement in mainstream and social media was palpable, the game managed to do something few grudge matches actually accomplish. Instead of simply living up to the hype, it exceeded it. What transpired was a game for the ages, a classic, and arguably the greatest Canucks regular season game ever played. But it also marked the beginning of the end for the Stanley Cup-contending, Vigneault-coached Canucks. It represented a thrilling final act for the greatest era of Canucks hockey, with one of its most memorable victories also being one of its last.

The Setting

By now, the story is a familiar one. The favoured Vancouver Canucks had lost the 2011 Stanley Cup to Boston, even after building an early 2-0 series lead - and having played Game 7 on home ice. The two teams were often - erroneously, I might add - depicted as teams playing diametrically opposed styles of hockey. The Canucks were the speed and skill squad (with a penchant for diving), and the Bruins were viewed as the stingy, tough, defensive side (with a penchant for violence).

What is often forgotten, however, is that the Canucks and Bruins were the first- and second-best defensive teams, respectively, during the regular season that year, and were backed by exceptional goaltending. The Canucks had an offence concentrated in the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, and Alex Burrows - as well as a mobile defence - while the Bruins had more scoring depth throughout its forward lineup.

By the time the Final rolled around, the Canucks minimal depth at forward had eroded due to injuries, its power play had dried up, and Roberto Luongo had struggled massively in Boston. Unable to generate much offence after the first two games, the Canucks scored less than a goal a game in Games 3 through 7 and fell victim to the Bruins' superior depth and Tim Thomas' impenetrable goaltending, losing both the series and the Stanley Cup.

By January 2012, the two teams were still juggernauts. On the season, this was Game 42 for the Canucks, who came into the game with a 25-13-3 record, good for first place in the Western Conference. The Bruins, meanwhile, were 26-10-1 and in first place in the Atlantic (and second in the East). The Canucks had scored the most goals in the league, but the Bruins had scored more per game. The Canucks again had the league's best power play, but the Bruins were the best defensive unit in the NHL. Both teams were coming off convincing shutout wins - the Canucks with a 3-0 defeat of the Wild and the Bruins crushing the Flames 9-0.

One would have assumed that a Saturday game between two of the NHL's top teams and its defending finalists would be prime Hockey Night in Canada material, but this was, oddly, not the case. The game was an afternoon affair in Boston, and it was carried not on CBC, but on Sportsnet. And because of the NHL's strange inter-conference scheduling at the time, this would be the only time that season the two clubs would meet.

"Obviously, the NHL and their schedule-making didn't think it would be that big of a game putting it at 1 o'clock in the afternoon," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who also surprised some with his decision to start Cory Schneider over Luongo - a none too subtle reflection of Luongo's play at TD Garden back in June. Defenceman Aaron Rome, who had been suspended for the last four games of the Final due to his hit on Nathan Horton, would also be sidelined, but this time due to injury.

The Game

If there was any question whether or not there was still some lingering animosity between the two teams when the puck dropped, it was quickly answered 3:54 into the game with a heated line brawl.


The skirmish would set the tone for a penalty-filled contest. Milan Lucic would also be tossed from the game for allegedly coming off the bench to join an altercation (later replays showed he was actually already on the ice) and the Canucks would take to their first power play of the game with a 5-on-3 advantage. Ryan Kesler would open the scoring with his 11th goal of the year.


The Bruins would claw back to take the lead 2-1 about halfway through the second period, but the Canucks would draw even on another power play - courtesy an Alex Burrows tip-in.


The heated contest would soon boil over with a play that would ultimately turn the game. With the game tied at two goals apiece, Brad Marchand would low-bridge a pinching Sami Salo and earn himself a five minute major for clipping and a Game Misconduct.


The Canucks would score two goals on the ensuing power play. The first was a neat deflection by Henrik Sedin ...


... and the second was perhaps Cody Hodgson's most memorable goal as a Vancouver Canuck (and maybe his entire NHL career).


David Krejci would bring the Bruins back to within a goal, but the comeback would fall short as the Canucks would skate away with a 4-3 victory.

Nearly 26 minutes of the game was played with one team on the power play. Vancouver scored all four of its goals with the man advantage and Boston would go 0-for-7 with the extra skater. The Bruins lost both Lucic and Marchand and played a significant portion of the game shorthanded, yet held a concerted edge in even-strength play. The Bruins held a 55.9% shot attempt advantage at evens, but mitigated that by taking penalties. The Canucks, for their part, won the special teams battle handily, and Cory Schneider was solid - stopping 36 of 39 shots.

The Canucks and Bruins would not play each other again for nearly two years.

Aftermath


The game was an instant classic. The Canucks had gone into Boston and accomplished what they were unable to do back in June - win a game. To many back in Vancouver, the game was a glimpse of what could have happened if the Canucks had a healthy Ryan Kesler and Dan Hamhuis, a power play that fired on all cylinders, and a goaltender who stood his ground. It was fast, it was skilled, it was violent. It featured two excellent teams with little love for each other playing at their absolute best. The game was memorable, in short, because it contained everything we love about the sport of hockey.

Yet the game also came at a cost. I'm reminded me of an old Fred Shero quote, after his Philadelphia Flyers had beaten the Central Red Army team in 1976 (the famous "They're going home!" game). "I noticed something missing from our team after that game," said Shero, "We had defeated the best in the world." We may not have known it at the time, but this was to be the last great victory of the Vigneault era. Mike Gillis admitted as much following the season. A certain Detroit game aside, after beating Boston - in a regular season game, no less - there were simply no worlds left to conquer for these Canucks.

So what happened?

In a general sense, not much changed for the Canucks in terms of their style of play. Through the first half of the season, the club ranked third in even-strength CF% at 53.9%. In the final half of the season, following the Boston game, these figures dipped but only slightly. The Canucks fell to eighth in the league at even strength CF (51.6%). The club's expected goals per sixty minutes (5v5), however, dropped off significantly. Producing 2.50 goals/60 minutes in the first half of the season, the Canucks only had an expected rate of 2.09 in the last 41 games. When put in context, this development is even more salient. The Canucks expected goal rate fell from 13th in the league in the first half, to 27th in the final half.

Nevertheless, that might not have mattered to the degree that it did, if the Canucks were able to continue dominating on the power play. Alas, they did not. After posting an expected goals/60 minutes of 7.05 at 5v4 in the first half, the Canucks dropped to 5.09 expected goals/60 minutes on the power play over the second half of the season. Essentially, the bottom dropped out completely on the Canucks once lethal power play. For a team that relied so heavily on its special teams advantage, falling from the third-best expected goals rate in the league to 24th spelled its doom.

This unfortunate development was triggered partly by luck, and partly by failed execution. While the Canucks shooting percentage on the power play fell from 15.11% to 9.57% over the last half of the season (or from fifth in the league to 27th), after the Boston game, the Canucks were also no longer generating the same number of shots with the power play. The Canucks simply failed to generate shots at a rate sufficient to overcome its depressed shooting percentage. From a second-best 55.12 shots/60 at 5v4, the Canucks fell to ninth at 45.94 in the season's second half. The Boston game, therefore, proved to be the last hurrah for Vancouver's formerly potent power play.

A funny thing happened after that game, however. Despite a listless match against the Florida Panthers two nights later, where the Canucks dropped a 2-1 decision that lacked any and all of the intrigue of the Boston affair, the club continued to win. In fact - perhaps most impressively - the Canucks went 25-9-6 after the Boston game, which represented an improved winning percentage (.700 versus .646, not including the Boston game). Despite the disappearance of its offence both at even-strength and on the power play, the Canucks scraped out wins on the strength of its goaltending. Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider combined to give the Canucks the sixth-best save percentage in the league across all situations in the first half of the season, and then the third-best save percentage in the league following the Boston game. That came in handy as the Canucks would play 27 one-goal games down the stretch, including 13 that went beyond 60 minutes, out of the remaining 40. But it wouldn't help come playoff time, when the Canucks ran into an equally hot goaltender in Jonathan Quick, and lost another series where they couldn't score any goals.

It might be easy to attribute Vancouver's decline to its psychological state following the Boston game, and those critics might have a point. But the personnel never really changed, give or take a late Daniel Sedin concussion. Maybe the power play became too predictable, the Canucks vaunted transition game too relaxed - avenues that would have tilted the ice in its favour and resulted in fewer one-goal games. However you may wish to describe it, the Canucks never really were the same.

But at least they gave us that Boston game.

A1eb9d6515443a890a086ae00f6dce47
Vancouver-born hockey lifer, HIV historian, current UBC nursing student. Follow me on Twitter @tjperry88
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#1 Chris the Curmudgeon
January 07 2017, 11:51AM
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Being that the Canucks started winning more games after this one than before it, don't you think the idea that this was some kind of historic watershed moment is a bit of a contrived false narrative that you're overemphasizing for the sake of turning this look back into a bigger story than it really is? I remember this game of course, and I know the team never reached the same heights as 2011 again, but aren't you overselling just a little, Taylor?

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#2 Bud Poile
January 07 2017, 01:00PM
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Vancouver's decline came about as the best d-corps in the league was dismantled.

Salo retired. Ehrhoff was not re-signed.

Hamhuis had that hip injury that set him back.

The 4 or 4.5 million in capspace hurt the team after Ballards injuries rendered him a shadow of himself.

Then Gillis blew his load on the Booth signing,the Kassian trade and the Luongo mismanagement.

He didn't realise how important the d-corps were to the team's success.

We see how that has played out this season in reverse. Once Tanev and Edler returned the team won.

Throw in Stetcher and Tryamkin's emergence as top-4 d men and you have a successful back end and winning record.

The Canucks do need a set up man but maybe Ollie,Stetcher or even Hutton assume that role next year.

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#3 TrueBlue
January 07 2017, 02:54PM
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I was afraid to read this article at first, but it was really good. Offered up some interesting perspective and did remind me of how that season felt.

For me, the Daniel Sedin concussion was the final nail. Not only did it decimate our top line right in time for the playoffs (at the hands of another hated rival), but the relatively lax response by the league was extremely deflating. It felt like they were saying "don't look at us, we don't like you any more than the rest of the league. It would be better if you just went away."

I don't know if that's true or justified, that's just how I felt at the time. It's one thing to be a hated, targeted team in the eyes of other teams, but for the league to leave you hanging out to dry as well.. it definitely left me with a hopeless feeling. We didn't have the kind of team that could (or even wanted to) stand up to that kind of outside-the-rules physical abuse. That's certainly a depth issue as well, but I don't know how any contender would fare after losing one of their top two players ahead of the playoffs.

Now the league is embracing that skill-focused, less physical style of play and doing everything they can to move in that direction. I guess we were a couple of years too early.

On a barely-related note, that's the core of my reasoning why having Tkachuk on the Canucks probably wouldn't be paying the dividends it does on Calgary. Not to say Calgary gets special treatment, but the Canucks simply haven't entirely emerged from that shadow.

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#4 Dirk22
January 07 2017, 04:23PM
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Chris the Curmudgeon wrote:

Being that the Canucks started winning more games after this one than before it, don't you think the idea that this was some kind of historic watershed moment is a bit of a contrived false narrative that you're overemphasizing for the sake of turning this look back into a bigger story than it really is? I remember this game of course, and I know the team never reached the same heights as 2011 again, but aren't you overselling just a little, Taylor?

The importance of the game big picture may not be there but I know I've never been as nervous/excited for a regular season game. Watch the full highlights - amazing.

You watch the highlights and wonder if Hodgson's career would have gone differently if he had stayed a Canuck? Prob not but who knows.

That was a weird season overall. Presidents trophy but it never felt like they were really clicking.

Bud - Gillis traded for Booth - didn't sign him - actually bought him out. How did Gillis not realize how important the d core was exactly? Our d was probably the deepest in the league back then. He brought in: Ehrhoff, Hamhuis, Ballard, Rome, Tanev.. Resigned Bieksa, Salo and Edler. But you say: "he didn't realize how important the d-corps were to the team's success." Another rubbish statement from the Dud.

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#5 Bud Poile
January 07 2017, 05:43PM
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@Dirk22

Whatever,Dirk.

Homer Simpson could have been the GM signature when Hamhuis made the decision to come back home,same goes for Tanev when Gagner brought him in.

As for Rome-fringe signing. Edler,Salo and Bieksa were all Canucks long before Gillis arrived.

How about you run the numbers,Dirk?

Get back to us in your next post and tell us what the D-corps participation percentage was in scoring and the PP in 2010-2011?

Then tell us who Gillis scouted and signed to replace the first and second PP units pivot men when he blew off Ehrhoff and Salo retired?

Tell us what the d-men % dropped to in overall scoring and on the PP after Ehrhoff and Salo were both gone and how badly the PP fared after their departure.

I've done it for you if you are not capable.

BTW,aren't you the same Dirk22 that posted this past October that this Canucks team had the worst roster in the NHL?

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#6 Chris the Curmudgeon
January 07 2017, 05:51PM
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@Dirk22

I certainly remember watching the game. It was incredible to be sure. But this article is written like the game marked the end of an era, and I think that narrative, which is weaved all the way through, is contrived and phony. To me, the moment that really turned our season (and overall franchise fortunes) for the worse was the Duncan Keith elbow on Daniel Sedin. I am not going to say we would have beaten the Kings in the first round with him in there from the beginning, but having the reigning Art Ross and Pearson Trophy winner and the team's leading goal scorer out of the lineup for the first 3 games (all losses) certainly didn't help. We dominated games 2 and 3 of that series (Quick made 46 and 41 saves, respectively) but couldn't get any power play goals in the games without Daniel, while scoring 3 in the final 2 games when it was already too late. So really, I think this was a fun game to watch, but still just one game.

Cody Hodgson could have worked out way better than he did. I, to this day, think trading him was a mistake, if for no other reason than that he was a bona fide offensive contributor on a team headed for the President's Trophy, and Kassian was not NHL ready. Why not wait until after the season is over to move him, you're trying to tell me the Sabres are going to rescind the offer when their guy is getting healthy scratched in the AHL?

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#7 Dirk22
January 07 2017, 06:20PM
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@Bud Poile

I gotta be honest - I have no idea what you're talking about? Gillis, through trades, resignings and free agent signings assembled the deepest d core in franchise history and your argument is that he didn't value defence. It's ludicrous.

As for your point about me saying they had the worst roster in the league - another false claim from Dud (becoming a habit, no?). What I said, and then restated over and over again is that out of all of the non-contending teams (which we can agree the Canucks are), were there any that had a poorer crop of prospects/worse future outlook. That's what I stated. Many people pointed to the Wild and Rangers as contenders. That doesn't seem to be the case. Maybe some new contenders for this title have come along and I would love to hear an argument for them.

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#8 Bud Poile
January 07 2017, 06:35PM
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#2 Dirk22 October 15 2016, 02:38PM Name a team in the NHL that is in worse shape than the Canucks as far as current roster or what they have in the cupboard coming up. I can't think of any.

Actually,this is what you stated - note 'current roster'.

You are wont to revert to personal attacks instead of doing your homework and making a case based upon facts,Dirk.

Run the numbers.

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#9 Dirk22
January 07 2017, 06:43PM
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@Bud Poile

My goodness - read what I said in October. Read what I just wrote in the previous post. I don't know how else to rephrase it to help you understand.

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#10 Bud Poile
January 07 2017, 06:49PM
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@Dirk22

My goodness,can't do math and can't read your own writing, eh?

"Name a team in the NHL that is in worse shape than the Canucks as far as current roster..." Dirk22

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#11 Dirk22
January 07 2017, 08:15PM
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@Bud Poile

Full sentence Bud. Or go back to the original posts where I clarified numerous times.

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#12 Freud
January 07 2017, 11:02PM
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Dirk22 wrote:

Full sentence Bud. Or go back to the original posts where I clarified numerous times.

Good Gawd Dirk, it's like arguing with a Grandfather with alzheimers.

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#13 TrueBlue
January 09 2017, 02:19AM
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@Freud

No, with Grandpa you get a Werther's Original out of it.

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