“Everyone knows the Sharks are in town. Everyone knows they're one of the best teams in the league. We really want to have a good effort and show every team around the league that we're for real and we can compete with the best.”
Heading into last night's game against the Sharks the Media kept saying that this would be a statement game, a game thatÂ would tell us if the Canucks were for real or not, and apparently the players agreed with that assessment as the words of Alex Burrows above would indicate.Â
Personally, I thought it was an important game, but win or lose, it was only another game and at this time of year they are all important games.Â
If they had played well and lost would they have failed? Would their 11 wins in the previous 13 contests all of the sudden become irrelevant and the team would then fall into some sort of death spiral in the standings because they lost a hockey game to one of the elite teams in the league?Â
Of course not.Â
Much like individual stats for players, or the lack thereof, the final result does not always tell the whole story. What many look at as being solely black & white issue always has a lot of grey in between. A player can get numerous points in one game and not play well, and conversely can play very good and come up with sweet didly on the score sheet.
Having said all that, it's pretty tough not to conclude that this team, after this exceptional performance against a team that had out-scored them 26-9 in winning 7 straight over the last two seasons, didn't make a strong statement that they should be considered as one of the best teams in the league.Â
The last time Vancouver faced San Jose they lost a heartbreaker 2-1, giving up the tying goal in the last minute and losing in OT on a Patrick Marleau power play goal. Taylor Pyatt had scored early and the boys desperately tried to hang on for the last 50 minutes with little or no effort put forth beyond centre ice.Â
Not this time, not this team. Only 7 weeks later they have shed their fragile psyche and were committed to taking the play to the Sharks throughout … no more hoping and praying that forming a cocoon around Roberto Luongo and just waiting for a chance or two would be enough.Â
Last night the start to the game was as clinical a performance as we've ever seen from a Canuck team. They came at the Sharks in waves, line after line, and made them look more like they should be in the middle of the mediocrity at the bottom of the western conference instead of the front-runners they have been all season.Â
Six minutes in the home-side had a 2-0 lead and it easily could have been double that.Â
For the rest of the night they kept pressing, using their speed and physical forecheck to keep creating scoring chances while playing solid in their own end. That's not to say that San Jose didn't have periods of play where they never looked dangerous and that Lui could have played this one as if it was a night off, but it is to say that the Canucks truly believe they can force the opposition, no matter how good they are, into making mistakes by keeping their foot on the gas pedal the whole way.Â
They know they have one of the best stoppers in the game. They know they have one of the best, most versatile 6-man groups that patrol the blueline in the NHL. They know that they have enough talent up front spread over the top 3 lines to create chances and provide a very good balance playing a puck-possession style of game.Â
Most of all they know they have a good hockey team that can win games in every way imaginable and that anyone who thinks all they have is a great goaltender is sadly mistaken.Â Â Â
24 out of a possible 28 points over the last 5-plus weeks has them playing better than any other team in the league over that same stretch, and unbelievably, not one of those wins has been a game that Luongo has stolen for them. In fact, his nod last night as the game's 2nd star was the first time he had been named a star in any game since before he got hurt in November … take that Hockey Pundits back east who are paid to opine on the Canucks, yet seem as if they rarely actually watch them play.Â
Lui was very good last night, stopping 28 of 29 shots thrown his way with the only negative being a somewhat fluky Joe Thornton power play marker with 3 seconds left in the middle frame that brought the Sharks within one heading to the 3rd, but make no mistake about it, this was a team win from top-to-bottom with almost very single player dressed contributing in one way or the other and they are now 21-0-3 when leading after two periods.Â
On the back-end they were led by Kevin Bieksa, Willie Mitchell and Sami Salo, who I thought played his best game of the season without getting a point. Shane O'Brien and Alex Edler were also good and Mattias Ohlund tied the franchise mark for scoring amongst defensemen with his 321st point as a Canuck.Â
Up front Ryan Kesler was an absolute beast all night skating tirelessly in all three zones of the ice and winning almost every puck battle he entered. His energy not only spurred his linemates Pavol Demitra and Mats Sundin on, but the rest of the team as well.Â
The much maligned 3rd line of Kyle Wellwood between Taylor Pyatt and Steve Bernier had their second straight very strong game, while the Sedins and Burrows combo definitely made themselves noticeable and even the 4th line stepped up to the occasion contributing in their limited minutes.Â
As I said in this space a couple of days ago, I think the patience that GM Mike Gillis has shown with this team is the right way to go and the troops are looking and sounding as if they are trying to repay their boss for his belief in them. They didn't shy away from the buildup to this game, and they weren't shy in talking about it after the 3-1 win either.Â
“This one feels good. We don't like them and they don't like us. We really wanted to make a statement tonight. It was a measuring stick on how well we were playing.
We came out and really wanted this game, we were physical, we were skating well and we were generating offense, which we haven' the past couple of games against these guys. We dominated a pretty good team over there.”
“That's what we believe in this locker room. Now it's a matter of proving it to everyone else.”
“The last seven games were totally irrelevant (vs San Jose). If anything, this was about sending them a message that if we do meet in the playoffs, it won't be an easy series.”
“It maybe does [send a message] around the league a little bit.”
“I think it was a statement game. We've been winning for the last little while, but to beat a quality team like San Jose, a team we haven't beaten all season, is huge for us and definitely something we needed going into the playoffs.”Â
How much of a Statement game it was and the actual definition of what was really said remains to be seen, however, with less than 20 games left in the season the Canucks are now closer to 4th place in the standings (5 points) than 9th (6 points) and almost everyone would have said that would have been an impossibility less than two months ago … enough said!
The Grades …
A … Luongo, Bieksa, Salo, Kesler
B … Mitchell, O'Brien, Demitra, Pyatt, Bernier, Burrows
C+ … Elder, Ohlund, Sundin, Henrik, Daniel, Wellwood, Johnson, Hordichuk
C … Raymond
After winning the
ir 7th straight at GM Place it's off for a little 2-gamer in Southern California starting tomorrow against the Kings before a visit to the Pond to face the Ducks on Wednesday.
This will be a special trip for the boys as their Mothers will be a part of traveling Canuck over the next 4 days, just like the Fathers of the players got to enjoy last season … let's hope the Moms are as good as the Dads were last year when the team went undefeated with the worser halves in tow.
About the Author
Written by Mark Gage