Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Canucks Fan Primer to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals

As a lifelong Canucks fan, I look forward to this Final Series immensely. In the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since the 1993-1994 season – way back in the Pavel Bure days of Canuck-dom – this year’s team marks the 40th anniversary season of the Canucks memorably. Though the names so tied up with my childhood excitement in 1994 still ring in my ears – Trevor Linden, Kirk McLean, Dave Babych, and of course, the immortal bad boy Pavel Bure (below) – this year’s team has one big difference over the glory boys of the mid-nineties: composure.

Bure’s expulsion in game three of the finals for slicing open the face of a Ranger with his stick, and his suckerpunch elbow to the face of a looking-the-other-way Shane Churla of the Dallas Stars – which should have gotten him expelled from that one too – showed a Canucks team that had passion, but I now realize they had little respect and composure to reign it in. No wonder Don Cherry (below) hates us. I would have too. But this year I dare say, we are the team my ten-year-old self should’ve been proud of.

Don’t get me wrong. We love our agitator/pest, Alexandre Burrows, enough to put him on the first line. And our early season enforcer, Rick Rypien – yes brother of that Mark Rypien – totally tried to kill a fan earlier this season. During a game. Actually after getting kicked out of the game for pushing a linesman. The fan was insulting him by sarcastically saying, “Way to be professional.” So yeah, some of the old Canucks energy still exists out there on the ice. All of our enforcers are coming off of injury (Tanner Glass) or playing in Minors (Rypien) right now, so Burrows is doing triple duty as agitator, enforcer (below - he needs a bit of help at the role still though he is getting better), and first-line-game-winning-goal-scorer. If he would fix his douchey haircut I could kiss the guy for that Game 7, OT win against the Blackhawks.

But when I think of the Canucks today I don’t think of our on-ice lessons in why to respect our authoritah, I think of the technical mastery of the twins (below) and Lou, I think of the hard work and dedication of Burrows, Bieksa, Keseler, Torres, Malhotra, Hamhuis, Ehrhoff, and Edler. I think of a team that, despite being outplayed on a night they couldn’t get their game going (except Lou who got 54 saves), worked their asses off and won the Western Conference championships for the first time in 17 years for Vancouver.

So, if you are going to sit down and watch this team for this Final Series, here’s what you need to know: The twins are the best in the league and Burrows backs them up well. Malhotra may come back for game one which would be emotional and exciting for Vancouver fans. Keseler (below) is probably going to stay on fire (any other team and he is their big name superstar - seriously - just Vancouver is so deep) and Torres is due for a goal or two. Lou is the best Goalie in hockey right now, or second best, and I'm pretty sure he is a reincarnated Hector of Troy.

But for me the biggest surprise of these playoffs has been the Canuck’s defensive players getting a lot of offensive points. Where the offensive forces listed above have been sub-par throughout the playoffs (Burrows failures were a big part of why the Blackhawks were one shot away from beating us while the twins have really only dominated the two series’ after that) the defense has stepped forward and gotten games won for the Canucks. From Ehrhoff’s 11 points – 9 assists and 2 goals – to Bieksa’s (below) clutch 5 goals and 4 assists and surrogate enforcing, Edler’s 7 assists and 2 goals, and Hamhuis’ five assists and single goal, the defense has gotten the job done and done it well, staying consistent throughout the post-season. The Canucks are more than the sum of their parts: they’re the best team in hockey right now. They just need to prove it. They've never won a Stanley Cup and this year is hopefully their year.

But Boston offers some stiff competition. This is the first time since the 1990-1991 season they have been in the Finals and they have some really good players leading them there: Nathan Horton, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Chris Kelly, Michael Ryder, Milan Lucic, and Mark Recchi, to name the biggest offensive influences on their team. But they also have hockey's latest – as in the last three or four weeks – wonderkid Tyler Seguin. Seguin was the #2 draft pick in 2010 after some time in the OHL. At 19, this season didn’t show much from him – 22 points in 74 games. A good rookie year, but not great. However, in the post-season, after being a healthy scratch for a few games, he took his best game to the ice when his replacement was injured. In seven games he knocked out three assists and three goals. His replacement is healthy but coach is keeping Seguin. After seeing 21 year old Patrick Kane win the cup for the Blackhawks last year, and 22 year old Sidney Crosby win the Olympic gold for Canada, I’m afraid of the young ones now, and Seguin has been playing well. Boston can also rely on Tim Thomas (below) in goal, who is the only playing goaltender with some experience who can be claimed to be better than Luongo. Canucks have only scored on him once out of three games.

Four of their centers – Krejci, Bergeron, Marchand and Kelly – all have upwards of ten points. GULP. Notice though, that their defense has been lagging in the playoffs in terms of offensive performance. Where the Canucks defense dominates defensively and helps out a ton offensively, the Bruins are a very defined team: defense does defense, offense does offense.

Oh, and one more thing to worry about as a Canuck: we faced them once this year and they beat us, despite some awesome Canucks hits:
Six Minute Highlight Reel


Vancouver Canucks:

The Twins: Has there ever been Two Hart Trophies (League MVP) handed out in one year? No? Well there should be. Or since Henrik got it last year, Daniel should this year. In a total of 82 games this season they averaged a combined 2.4 points a game during the regular season and that is unheard of. Separately, Daniel had 1.27 on 41 goals and 63 assists while Henrik had 1.15 on 19 goals and 75 assists. Yes, that is 7 assists short of one-a-game. (A point is for an assist or a goal) During the playoffs they had a bit of a slow start but have compensated for that. Henrik has had 19 assists and 2 goals in 18 games – 1.17 points per game, including a game where he got 4 assists – while Daniel leads the team in goals with 8 goals and 8 assists – .89 ppg. They were first and fourth in the league during the regular season.

Keseler: He seems to have been made for the playoffs. After finishing the season with 75 points – a third-place .91 ppg, third only to the twins – he has come alive in the post-season scoring exactly a point a game – seven goals and eleven assists – meaning that he splits the twins and sits in second for points. He was 15th in the league during the regular season.

Burrows: After scoring the lone, regulation Canucks goal in game seven against the Blackhawks – who knocked us out of the playoffs for the last two years – Burrows went ahead and scored in overtime to clinch it, and my heart. He sits fourth in post-season points with 7 goals and 7 assists – .78 ppg. He was sixth after the regular season with 48 points in 72 games – .67 ppg. He plays on the first line with the

Manny Malhotra has been injured since mid-March when an Avalanche puck hit him in the eye. He was a big factor in the regular-season dominance of the Presidential Trophy (Best regular season record) wining Canucks. His first practice since then was yesterday, so here’s hoping for Malhotra!

Torres is fiery. He’ll get a goal when the rest of the team is down in the dumps. He’ll work and work and work and create an opportunity out of seemingly nothing – work and good-luck. During the season he really bloomed late – 29 points in 80 games – and during the playoffs he has 2 goals and 2 assists already.

Lou: despite having the coolest hockey helmet graphics ever, this man is probably Hector of Troy reincarnated. He is totally MVP material but about once every 20 games or so he collapses and lets one go. His last collapses were in Games 4 & 5 against the Blackhawks when he let a combined total of 12 past before the coaches put Cory Schneider in for game 6 to let Luongo calm down a bit. Luongo came back in game 7 to hold the Blackhawks to stop 37 shots in the OT win. He has a .922 save percentage going into the finals, certainly helped by his 54 save game against the Sharks – the last game played. He has recorded 2 shutouts so far – game 1 against the Blackhawks and game 1 against the Predators. During the season he was at .928 and had 4 shutouts. Luongo is one of the best goalies hockey has ever seen. He is the second best Goalie, in terms of save percentage, after the immortal Dominik Hasek, for goalies who have faced over 10,000 shots. Third for goalies over 9000.


Boston Bruins:
Tim Thomas’ goaltending is superb – he is second all-time in save percentage for goalies facing more than 9000 shots – behind Hasek, of Course. Because we’ve only played Thomas three times, we’ve only scored on him once – Malhotra was the one to put it in this year.

Nathan Horton is a big, scary good player. His shoulder is sore so he hasn’t been the force he was all season, but he still scares the crap out of me.

David Krejci has tied Horton for 17 point in the playoffs, but has ten goals to Horton’s eight. Patrice Bergeron is the assist master with 11, and a total of 15 points. Brad Marchand has 12 points. Chris Kelly and Michael Ryder each have eleven points while Vancouver native Milan Lucic has 9 clutch points.

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