It wasn't the Canucks best game of the year; it was the best Hockey Game of the year PERIOD!
Unfortunately if you live in Canada east of the Alberta Border you didn't get to see the best period of the 2008/09 season as you were still watching the Pens and Flyers battle it out in OT. I'm sure that was exciting, but I guaranty it didn't match what the Blues and Canucks were doing at GM Place here in Vancity.
There were only 12 shots total in that epic first period, but it was the most action-packed, thrilling end-to-end 20 minutes of scoreless hockey you could ever hope for, especially in comparison to the referee-induced coma that was Game #1 of this first-round series.
Including official timeouts, the opening frame in the Canucks' 3-0 win took a total of 28 minutes to play … and play they did! Over 8 minutes of the first 9:20 was without a whistle and the period itself had a grand total of 8 faceoffs.
Oh, and then there was all that hitting, 22 of 'em in the first 9 minutes and 33 in all. It was two teams going head-to-head putting everything on the line and it was obvious that the first-game jitters were long gone for both teams. There were “only” 22 hits the rest of the way, but the game didn't lose any of its luster over the final fourty.
There were a combined 38 players who saw the ice in this game and every single one of them, with the exception of Ryan Kesler, David Backes and Barret Jackmman who were all as good as they could be in the first game two nights earlier, and had no where to go but down, were far better than they were in Game #1.
Rest assured, the fact my team won the game has nothing to do with me calling this the best game of the year … the Blues easily could have won this one and I still would be making the same proclamation. As a hockey fan you couldn't ask for anything more and this one was the absolute definition of why Playoff hockey is so different, or at least can be so different, than regular season play.
Both teams gave it everything they had for the full sixty minutes and the individual performances for most were at least a step up from what their respective fans are used to seeing, and definitely above what we saw in Game #1 .
Of all the individuals, none were better than Roberto Luongo who made at least 10 spectacular saves in the 30 shots he faced to register his first official shutout in the post-season, his third in the 4 games played over the last 7 days. In the last 300 minutes of hockey to end the season and start, what is hoped to be a long spring on the Left Coast, he has let in a whopping 2 goals in 5 games … not too shabby!
Like Game #1, he started early, and it was obvious he was once again on a mission. 15 seconds in Keith Tkachuk pasted Kevin Bieksa into the boards, stole the puck and fed Dan Hinote in front whose one-timer met the right pad of the Canucks' Captain.
Less than 5 minutes later he lunged and got a piece of an Andy McDonald deflection with his blocker to send the puck off the cross-bar. In the second he made back-to-back saves off of McDonald and Backes with his left pad that were both off-the-charts.
In the third, while moving to his left, he stretched out his right leg to once again thwart McDonald and then later got just enough of his glove on yet another McDonald shot to nudge it up high enough to hit iron again.
I could go on and on … the guy is just absolutely amazing when he's on his game and the saves he is making, especially on deflections of which there were numerous last night, are just phenomenal.
Nobody has the ability to “get in their heads” like Lui does. The only other goaltender that I ever remember who could single-handedly change the way players play so much was Dominik Hasek, who in his prime, could make players look like they had actually given up on doing what they do best and would force them to try foolish things.
The Blues haven't gone that far yet, but you gotta feel sorry for them as they worked so hard in this game and had so many guys playing well, yet no matter what they did, they couldn't beat Bobby Lou. McDonald could have about 6 goals in this series already and instead his team has 5 less than that.
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Written by Mark Gage