It is not often a regular season hockey game matches all the pre-game hype, the Canucks vs Bruins Stanley Cup rematch on Saturday sure did. What an emotional clash of differing hockey ideologies, an all out war.
Good on the Canucks. In the days leading up to the game the Canucks downplayed the importance of this game, claiming it was all about two regular season points. Clearly it was worth much more, and more to the Canucks than to the Bruins. They had to make a statement, answering the bell and defeating their nemesis.
Kudos to Boston, too. They stay true to their old school approach that they have always adopted and it serves them very well. They play dirty and, heck, it won them the Stanley Cup. You do not have to like it but you have to admit it is effective, and almost admirable. In this game they were clearly the better team at even strength (they owned the Ryan Kesler line) and had they not gotten into penalty trouble they could have been full value for another demoralizing victory.
Not enough people say this very often, but great job by veteran referees Don van Massenhoven and Dan O’Rourke. They handled this impossible powder keg excellently, something not enough people have given them credit for. Everyone knew the Bruins would try to bully the Canucks right from the opening puck drop. The Canucks answered the bell, but the referees then cracked down their unnecessary after the whistle antics on both sides.
Unlike last June, this time the Canucks power play won them the game – textbook Canucks hockey. Only it was not the usual suspects coming through this time around. With the Canucks trailing 2-1 and needing badly to score on the power play to a) get back in the game and b) slow the Bruins bullying, coach Alain Vigneault twice went the second unit to start power plays. Cody Hodgson came through brilliantly, setting up the 2-2 goal and netting what proved to be the winning goal.
The Sedins and Ryan Kesler have been cold on the power play for the past several games. Vigneault made the right call in sitting them and letting Hodgson, Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins get the job done. In fact the Sedins were more or less nullified in this game and Ryan Kesler was disappointingly invisible. Vigneault has been guilty far too many times of his formulaic coaching. To see him come up with a mid-game plan B was a refreshing and badly needed change. It won him the game.
Kevin Bieksa also deserves major props, logging a game high 28 minutes and getting two assists. Manny Malhotra had his best game of the season, in my opinion, with extensive penalty kill time and 11 of the 15 defensive zone starts, more than any other Canucks player by far.
But ultimately with Sedins having mixed results, Kesler having a terrible game at even strength (Tyler Seguin’s line owned the Kesler line) and Roberto Luongo on the bench, the questions surrounding this team’s ability to win the Stanley Cup. That being said, the Canucks depth and specialty teams really shone through.
The game was obviously a very spirited affair, complete with a line brawl less than 5 minutes in and several dirty incidents. Milan Lucic was kicked out of the game, Andrew Ebbett broke his collarbone, but none was nastier than Brad Marchand’s cowardly low bridging of a completely unsuspecting Sami Salo. It remains to be seen if Marchand, who did the exact same thing to Daniel Sedin in the Stanley Cup playoffs last June, will face any supplementary discipline.
An avid user of Twitter I was horrified at the response of many of the Boston fans. They saw nothing wrong with “a clean hip check” and a couple even told me Salo dove on the play. Mindless Neanderthals. How these Bruins fans can demonize Alex Burrows and Matt Cooke yet hypocritically defend Brad Marchand is beyond me.
On the whole it was a big win. I come away still firm in my belief that had the Canucks been healthy and had the Finals last June be called with the actual NHL rulebook that Vancouver would have defeated Boston for the 2011 Stanley Cup.
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