April 24, 2007

Linden A Great Playoff Warrior

Trevor Linden had a great game, scoring the game winning goal and an assist to lead the Vancouver Canucks to a thrilling game 7 victory over the Dallas Stars.

Linden has played in every game 7 in Vancouver Canucks history. He now has 6 goals and 6 assists in 9 career game 7s. His 6 goals and 12 points are the most among any active player in NHL history.

This game was particularly gratifying for me, a life long Linden fan. He is an aging warrior, his best years gone by. The Canucks are no longer his team, at least not on most nights. But when the big game is on the line, who raises his game to legendary playoff status - Vancouver's adopted kid-turned-greybeard. He was on the first power play unit. He took key faceoffs. He scored the game winning goal, and perhaps could have had a hat trick if he didn't miss the net on 5 occasions. He also could have hit an empty net, but in typical Linden fashion, made a unselfish pass to a more open Bryan Smolinski.

Linden is the kind of player whose true value can never really be measured by any statistic. He's not a great scorer but has always done the small things so extremely well - a big reason for his playoff success. Linden is a big game player. In the big games its those intangible things - faceoffs, defensive excellence, physical but disciplined play, always making the safe if unspectacular play - that make the difference between winning and losing.

Shades of 1994?

While Trevor Linden may be playing like it was 1994 all over again - hitting everyone in sight, leading the team in scoring with nearly unstoppable will - there are some other interesting comparisons I have.

First off, Roberto Luongo's game 7 and series saving larceny on Stu Barnes was perhaps the greatest save in franchise history, or at least since Kirk McLean robbed Robert Reichal in game 7 against Calgary in 1994. There is no doubt Luongo is this team's MVP.

Also, Bryan Smolinski reminds me in some ways of Murray Craven from that 94 team. Very cagey, very versatile. Like Linden neither Craven or Smolinski do anything spectacularly, but do everything capably and more often than not effectively and craftily.

Big Taylor Pyatt has really impressed me with his stepped up physical play in the playoffs. Occasionally I'll watch him rub out an opposition's undersized defender and think of Sergio Momesso.

Thoughts on Dallas:

Though he has quiet and unassuming personality, I'll never understand why Sergei Zubov has never truly achieved superstar defense status a la Scott Niedermayer, Niklas Lidstrom or Brian Leetch. But Vancouver fans have known that dating all the way back to '94 when Zubov was a star with the Rangers. The Stars missed Zubov immensely in game 7. Without his break out passing and puck clearing skills, the Canucks were finally able to establish a heavy forecheck which left the Stars scrambling and taking penalties. Zubov was Dallas' best player, with Marty Turco right there too.

I know a lot of people hate him, but I've always tremendously enjoyed Eric Lindros. His brief appearance in the series showed flashes of what once was. I keep thinking to myself that with his size, hands, and face-off prowess, he'd sure look good on right wing with the Sedins.

Stu Barnes and Jeff Halpern always impress me.

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