On paper 4 games to none looks pretty damn good, but as is often the case in Sports, the final score does not a complete story tell … this was probably the closest 4-game sweep in the Stanley Cup Playoff history and felt more like a 7-gamer.
Make no mistake, the better team in this opening round series was fully deserving of being the first team to get to the second round, but this was an all-out war and the St Louis Blues were never out of any the games.
Here's what I wrote after the Canucks won Game #1 one week ago …
Much like the Canucks' 5-game loss to the Ducks in the 2nd round two years ago, the final score in games won won't tell the whole story. The Blues know they have nothing to be scared of against the Canucks as the chances of being totally dominated are slim to nil, even if the Canucks were to do the unimaginable and sweep this opening round series.
Every game will be like last night's, a grind to the end with hard-fought battles all over the ice, but I just think that the Canucks have such a strong belief in their Team-Game and have shown tremendous character, in what can only be described as a roller coaster of a season, that they will prevail in the end.
I generally try to stay out of the prediction games, but this one was an easy one to see. I certainly didn't think they would sweep them, but after seeing the first game last Wednesday I just knew things would fall the Canucks' way regardless of what the Blues would be able to throw at them.
The Canucks have won hockey games this year in almost every imaginable and that has given the guys in the room an undeniable self-belief and inner-confidence to just play their game, be patient, and stick to the system and things will work out for them more often than not.
When you lose 9 straight games on home-ice and are able to immediately rebound from that and win the next 11 at GM Place and are able to produce the best winning percentage in the league coming from 12 points back in the Division over the last 9 weeks of the season you have a lot of character.
No one panicked. Not the players. Not the coaches. Not management.
As a group they stayed together as one, and that resolve they displayed through tough times served as a galvanizing agent to the Nth Degree that has created a very special feel to this team … they know they're good and that they have a huge opportunity to reach their life-long goal in these playoffs.
Canuck fans can sympathize with their counterparts after this series came to an early conclusion last night as how many times have we felt our team deserved a better fate? And conversely, how many times have we felt that our team failed to do what we thought they were capable of?
Way too many to count, that's for sure, and that makes this season even more special.
The Blues simply ran into a better team and good teams find a way to get it done, and get it done the Canucks did.
Last night's 3-2 win in OT was probably their worst game of the series. After Game #3 I felt that almost every player had played better than they had in Game #2 (a 3-0 win), and last night through two periods I was thinking the complete opposite after they had given up a 2-goal lead and were lucky to be heading to the final frame not trailing.
The Blues took over the game in last 10 minutes with their best hockey of the series scoring two quick ones and pressing for more. It actually looked like they had the go-ahead marker with 3 minutes left, only to be foiled by Roberto Luongo's left pad and “intent to the blow the whistle” from the referee behind the net.
Alex Steen's wrap-around attempt was thwarted by Luongo's quick lunge of his leg, but the puck was snugged up against his pad just outside the line. Jay McClemment whacked at the puck and it crossed the line before Lui pulled it back out with that same left leg. The referee ruled that he tried to blow the whistle before it crossed the line and the Canucks hung on to get to the intermission even though it looked like Luongo may have re-aggravated his groin injury on the play.
Apparently it was just a cramp from dehydration (Lui spent a half hour on intravenous after the game) and Vancouver came out in the 3rd and played a strong period to stem the tide that St Louis had created in the 2nd. The Blues still got 15 shots in the period, but it was no where close to the assault they put on the Canucks in the latter half of the 2nd and, once again, the calm demeanor of their Captain rubbed off on his mates and those of us watching on TV … no panic, just play it out.
At one point in overtime the Blues had an 8-1 edge in shots, however Alex Burrows missed a golden chance to end it very early and Jannik Hansen wrung a wrister off of the post on a 3-on-1. Again the Canucks held strong, having to kill off 6 minutes of powerplay time and the PK ended up a perfect 7-for7 on the night, and a stunning 23 of 24 (95.8%) over the 4 games.
The hero of the night of course was Mr. Burrows who scored with 19 seconds left in the extra session, his second goal of the game. I thought he was very poor in the first period, but he got better as the game went on and by the end he was their best forward on the ice.
By now everyone knows the story, and last night was just another chapter in what even Hollywood would find hard to believe.
Undrafted in Junior. Undrafted in the NHL. Three stints in the ECHL. Given a tryout contract with Winnipeg in the lockout season only because AHL teams were allowed an extra roster spot to accommodate the influx of NHL'ers that had no where to play.
Then exactly two short years ago Alain Vigneault told him, and us, that he was very close to playing his way off of this team after scoring just 3 goals. Burrows, always a hard worker, took some time to reflect before rededicating himself over the summer of 2007 and now he's on the team's #1 line with the Sedins, helping them as much or more than they have helped him.
After last night's win AV was asked if he was surprised at what Burrows has accomplished …
“No, you know, I had him in Winnipeg, and you could sense there was a determined individual who would do whatever it takes to get to the NHL, and when Dave [Nonis] decided to sign him — that year he wasn't under contract yet, he was just on a Winnipeg contract — he had been our best player until Christmas when they called asking for our best forward, and he was the guy. I knew that once he got up to the NHL, I'd probably lose him, and I did.”
His path to being a huge part of this team is not just about what he has done on the ice. Before this year he lost his best friend on the team in Luc Bourdon and dedicated this season to his fallen comrade and has been the key figure in Bourdon's Mother and Girlfriend's support group that is trying to help them through their loss.
Burrows scored 2 goals in the first game of the season and celebrated by sending the Bow & Arrow to the heavens saluting Bourdon. We saw that same celebration the day he signed his new 4-year $8 Million Dollar contract, again after he scored 2 goals, and we saw it again last night in St Louis after he scored another pair.
He has repeatedly said that he knows Bourdon is here with him and it is Bourdon's spirit that is pushing him to these new heights in this, the league's best feel-good story of the season … he has set new career-highs in all categories this year and his 28 goals, oh-so-fittingly, match Bourdon's Jersey number.
As if the Bourdon tragedy was not enough, three weeks ago his roommate Taylor Pyatt tragically lost his Fiancee only to put more sorrow in his life, and all he has done is continue to play a huge role in his team's success.
Last night in the break before overtime he spoke in the room, as sure a sign as there is to his “place” on this team, a team that has a very strong Leadership group, and he talked
about overtime in the playoffs being “where legends are made.” Then he goes out on the ice scores the goal that gives this Franchise its first ever sweep in a 7-game series … and after all he's done to this point, just like his team overall, you know there's more to come.
Now they have an extended break before the next series: a minimum of 8 days and as much as 10, which justifiably puts a little fear in Canuck fans as the potential for losing momentum and gathering rust is very real. However, this was a very physical series that took its toll and having time to rest and re-energize far outweighs any downside.
Both Mats Sundin and Sami Salo missed last night's game and Willie Mitchell was more than just a little lame in the 3rd, and at one point could barely put any weight on his right leg. Of course being the absolute warrior that he is he still played 35 minutes on the night assisting on both of Burrows' goals, but he had a very noticeable limp after the game so having a week-plus off is just what this team needs right now if they are going to have a long run.
Not only is “rust” usually shed after a period or two for teams that have extended rest, history has shown that teams who are able to sweep playoff series have done pretty well.
Last year Detroit and Pittsburgh were the only teams to win a series in the minimum number of games and they of course were the only teams that made it to the Finals.
Two years ago the Anaheim Ducks became the first team that plays in the Pacific Time Zone to ever win the Stanley Cup and everyone knows the Left Coast teams face a brutal travel schedule … the Ducks won that Cup playing a grand total of 21 games along the way, just over 5 per series.
Now the Boys can do a little scouting of their own watching games like you and me on TV while hoping all the teams still playing beat the snot out of each other taking their respective series to 7 games. Two years ago that was the Canucks against Dallas, and they had no time before facing the Ducks in the second round.
Also, the flight home from St Louis has the possibility of being their last plane trip in 2 weeks if Anaheim can hold off the Sharks, as the Canucks would host the winner of the Chicago Calgary series should the President Trophy winning San Jose'rs fail to advance. For a team that spends so much time in the air criss-crossing the continent to and from games that would be huge as the grind of the post-season (hopefully) continues into late spring.
Another bonus for this break could be getting Pyatt back into the fold and on the ice to start the second round. Reports are that he is now back in Vancouver and with nothing but practices coming up it will be the perfect way for him to try and transition from his personal hell to being where he belongs, on the ice with his extended family.
The only potential significant negative I can come up with for all these days between games is that their best player loves to play and hates days off.
Luongo's work ethic is as legendary as his 4-0, 1.15 GAA and .962 Save % stats in this year's playoffs that have boosted his career post-season numbers to an eye-popping 1.63 and .946 respectively, but the team is bringing in his coach Ian Clarke and he will keep him busy, and knowing Lui, he may play even better in Round #2.
There is also a little history here for Luongo to fall back on as he hadn't been on the ice for a full two weeks before he started practicing for the Canadian Team that he back-stopped to a Gold Medal at The World Championships in 2004 after his Florida Panthers season ended. This time around he will have a few days off, but will still be on the ice often and will obviously be in a very good frame of mind after playing, perhaps, the best hockey of his career going 7-0 with a 0.86 GAA and .973 Save % with 3 shutouts in the last 2 weeks.
Things are as good as they've ever been for this team (27-7-2 in their last 36) and its fans over the last 39 years, and I for one, am going to enjoy it and keep thinking Happy Thoughts!
The Grades …
A +++ … Luongo
A … Ohlund, Burrows
B … Mitchell, Bieksa, Johnson
C+ … Edler, Henrik, Daniel, Kesler, Wellwood, Raymond, Bernier
C … O'Brien, Vaananen, Hansen, Rypien, Hordichuk
C- … Demitra
About the Author
Written by Mark Gage