April 27, 2011

Hockey Gods Smile Upon Vancouver

"Canucks win the cup! Canucks win the cup! Canucks win the... wait, what? Oh."

First round victories are not supposed to mean this much.

Roberto Luongo, deep in the heat of the moment, admitted this might be better than the Olympic gold medal. I compared it loosely to the 1972 Summit Series - a dramatic victory that really should almost be looked at as a loss, saving tremendous face and to be celebrated for a long, long time.

Fans from other teams may not understand what was at stake in game 7. This was not just about advancing to the next round. It was not about keeping the Stanley Cup dream alive. It was not even about exorcising the Blackhawks.

This particular match was a watershed game for a franchise, a defining moment for its players and coaches. To blow a 3-0 series lead, embarrassing themselves in the process by not showing up in games 4 or 5, was throwing away the greatest regular season in franchise history. The team had provided so much promise and hope to a long suffering fan base that badly needs to believe. But to lose again in the playoffs, to lose in such fashion, would have been beyond devastating.

In many ways, this was the greatest win in franchise history. That may seem silly to say, I know. A loss would have defined the players and the coaches for years to come. The long term implications of losing game 7 would have been immense. Fascinating maybe, but earth shaking. The defining moment of this generation would have been utter collapse.

Yet somehow they found a way to win. Barely. They were, somewhat marginally, the better team in game 6 and deserved a better fate then. But the hockey gods - the only ones who could dream up such an impossible series' script - allowed for a game 7.

Vancouver was increasingly dominant in game 7, deserving of victory far earlier than the hockey gods allowed. They shone their light down on young Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford, who was as good as any goalie in hockey history on that night. He should have been arrested for robbery. How he stopped Ryan Kesler, the Canucks best player on this night, late in the third, we will never know.

His counterpart at the other end of the ice - the much more decorated Luongo who was desperately clawing and fighting from being the latest dragged into Vancouver's infamous goalie graveyard - was solid, but, yet again, let in a devastating goal in the final moments, forcing overtime. Yet again, it wasn't really his fault. But yet again, he let it in. At the worst possible time.

Head to the drama of overtime and cue Alex Burrows, who, as Justin Bourne wrote on Twitter, "had goat written all over him." In the third period he missed on a penalty shot. Then he missed, quite remarkably, on a breakaway. He takes an penalty in the opening minute of overtime, giving the Hawks rested superstars a clean sheet of ice to work with. Had it not been for an amazing Luongo save on Patrick Sharp, Alex Burrows may still be sitting in the penalty box, wondering what if.

Not on this night. I was almost unable to watch that power play. But after that Luongo save, after the successful penalty kill, I almost allowed myself to believe the hockey gods were finally going to relent and reward the Vancouver Canucks. They did, at 5:22 of overtime. Alex Burrows may have scored the most important goal in franchise history, with an assist from the hockey gods.

 "Somewhere, Luc Bourdon is smiling down at his pal Alex Burrows"


Temujin said...


Derek O'Brien said...

When describing the ways Burrows could have been a goat, you neglected to mention that it was he who turned the puck over in the neutral zone on the PP that led to the tying goal, but I digress . . .

You're right to say that it might have been the greatest win in franchise history, for the simple fact that if they lost, it would have been the most crushing defeat in franchise history. It was a great victory due to what it spared them from. So for now, that honour still goes to the 2003 team that collapsed against Minnesota.

Price per Head said...

I think the hockey gods have always smiled upon Vancouver! They just didn't know it...

Price per Head said...

I think the hockey gods always smiled upon Vancouver! They just didn't know it...