Last season, Cup finalists Philadelphia Flyers beat the Stanley Cup champions 4-1 in mid-January. The year before that, Cup finalists Detroit Red Wings lost to the Stanley Cup champions in a shootout in late January and the year before that, Cup finalists Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Red Wings 7-6 in overtime in mid-November. The results in the first meetings of previous Stanley Cup Finals teams have varied over the years, and with the results of the 2010-11 Finals, it was difficult to predict the outcome of the first meeting this season between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks won 4-3 and looked like an entirely different team from the one seen in the Finals. Of course, when a team plays in the Finals, they have just been through an 82-game season and three other playoff rounds and it is no doubt stressful. It is not surprising when a team buckles under that sort of pressure, which is exactly what the Canucks did in the Finals; losing their ability to score and “gaining” the ability to let in many goals.
“We won the President’s Trophy last year and went to the seventh game of the final. We didn’t lose the final because we were pushed around, we lost because we couldn’t score. We are as tough as anyone else here; we are taking hits, giving out hits, and that’s the bottom line,” captain Henrik Sedin told the Vancouver Sun, and continued to make his point clear after Saturday’s game against Boston.
“We were smart. We got down 2-1 but stuck with it and didn’t make the mistakes we made last year. And toughness isn’t an issue…we lost (the Finals) because we couldn’t score.”
One difference between today’s Canucks and the Canucks of the 2011 Finals is their ability to score against Boston. Everybody was able to contribute, and there was no lack in depth, whereas last year, after the Sedins were shut down and the Canucks had to depend on injured and incompetent players to get the important goals. Three lines contributed on Saturday as Henrik, Alexandre Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Cody Hodgson scored the four goals.
On Saturday, the Canucks were also extremely successful with special teams. Last season they were at the top of the league in power play and penalty kill in the regular season, but faltered in the Finals. On Saturday, the Canucks were 4 for 11 and the Bruins were 0 for 6. The Canucks are pretty much at the same point this year as they were in January last year, at the top of the league, with the Sedins near the top of the scoring race and flourishing in special teams. If the Canucks can sustain this all the way through the playoffs then they will continue to be a force to contend with.
As Henrik has continued to mention, the Canucks were not lacking toughness in the Stanley Cup Finals. However, on Saturday, the Canucks played with a certain edge that was not seen in the Finals. They got involved in fights and scrums and had a large physical presence on the ice. Dale Weise got involved in what is possibly his best fight of the season yet, just a few minutes into the first period, which really got the ball rolling for the rest of his team. The Canucks went on to out-hit the Bruins 24-17, showing their physical toughness alongside their mental toughness.
“They came out trying to play a more physical game, trying to push us around. But we did well, stuck up for ourselves and played the game where it mattered,” Cody Hodgson told the Vancouver Sun.
The iffy calls by the referees and chants that taunted them to play Luongo did not rattle the team. They came into the game with the right mindset – they are over what happened in June and played this game for the two points.
How are the Canucks different from the team they were in the Finals? They can score. They can kill penalties. They can fight when it matters. They can push away the pressure from the fans and media. But the biggest and more important question is, can they keep this up till and during the playoffs? Last year they got to the Finals, but fell apart just when it mattered. Now they have beaten the team that is also one of the best in the league and has caused them so much pain. Does this game mean anything if they falter again in the spring?
“It’s a big statement win for our team,” Cory Schneider told the Vancouver Sun. “It’s a bit of a statement to the rest of league that we’re back where we were last year.”
Hopefully they can stay at the same level they were at least year, but this time play that way until they have won it all.