At first glance, there was nothing pretty about Andrew Ebbett’s overtime game winning goal against Calgary on Saturday. But Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault may not have seen a more beautiful goal all season long.
In his first game back after missing three months with a badly fractured collarbone, the hard-luck Ebbett simply went to the net and deflected a Sami Salo slapper for the win. It was beautiful if only for its simplicity. Vigneault had benched second liners David Booth and Mason Raymond in the third period and all of the overtime. Known for their individual play and lack of production, it was a direct message to the two offending forwards and an indirect message to the team. The playoffs are near, and style points do not matter. Only winning does.
Ebbett was promoted with more ice time, and ultimately the game winning goal. It was a triumphant story for Ebbett, who had his collarbone broken in two places. His teammates were so happy for him they celebrated with emphatic helmet taps to the point that the Vancouver Province website claimed he was injured as an April Fool’s prank.
But hopefully the Canucks picked up on the underlying message. Gain the zone. Puck back to the point. Traffic to the front of the net. Shoot the puck. Get your nose dirty. Get the goal. Get the win. Keep it simple, stupid. For all the fancy goals the Canucks have scored in the past few years, Vigneault would love to see more goals like that this post-season. Especially coming from Booth. The Canucks have failed to find compatible linemates for Ryan Kesler. The secondary scoring needs to emerge, especially since the top line has slowed and leading goal scorer Daniel Sedin is out for who knows how long with a concussion.
The goal pulled the Canucks back into first place overall in the west, leap-frogging over St. Louis. They also tied the New York Rangers for the league lead, though the Rangers hold the tie-break. The Canucks have a significantly easier schedule to finish the season than either the Blues or Rangers. A second consecutive NHL regular season championship is attainable and would be nice, but is really not important. Expect the Canucks to continue to rest players and experiment rather than go all out for first place.
Ebbett’s goal also officially eliminated the Flames from the playoffs, which is always a nice feather in the Canucks cap. The Canucks have done their best to ruin the playoff dreams of their opponents as of late. Their current six-game winning streak has all came against teams desperate for playoff points. Those teams supposedly are playing their best, and the Canucks brushed them aside, arguably while never finding their “A” game.
The 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs are a little more than a week away, and no one seems quite sure what to make of the Canucks. Their record could nearly equal last year’s record setting campaign, though no one seems nearly as confident in the Canucks’ chances this year. The team has shown many more warts this season than last. Throw in Daniel Sedin’s concussion, and no one seems confident in picking the Canucks as Stanley Cup favourites.
At the same time, most of the other contenders have also shown inconsistencies and weaknesses – Detroit, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago included. This year more than ever the league has become so incredibly hard to predict (other than Maple Leafs and Islanders will suck). The Stanley Cup is truly up for grabs, with no obvious contender emerging as a favorite. Vancouver has every bit as good a chance as anyone else at winning the Stanley Cup. Probably better than most, actually.
Yet somehow it still seems unlikely.
Next week we will offer a full Stanley Cup preview.
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