Three fights in three seconds. Was that too much? The Vancouver Canucks blew a 3-1 lead against the visiting Dallas Stars on Friday after a triple dose of fighting by the Canucks’ fourth line. It began with Aaron Volpatti, who took on former Brown University teammate Ryan Garbutt, followed by Max Lapierre, who took on Vern Fiddler, and Dale Weise, who fought Eric Nystrom. All were sent off the ice for the remainder of the second period with fighting majors.
While the Stars’ comeback can not be solely blamed on the fights, they were what sparked their next three goals. However, Cory Schneider has taken responsibility for the first two on those.
“I pretty much gave them two on my own, those first two goals,” Schneider told The Province. “You aren’t going to win too many games in this league when you spot the other team two goals. It’s just frustrating. There were times I felt good and made some good saves. And then, a couple back-breaking goals at the end of the first and the second.”
Ryan Kesler believes the reason for the change in their game was a lack of speed and an increase in sloppy plays. “We stopped taking the puck fast through the neutral zone,” Kesler explained. “We had turnovers, that fed their energy and that was the game.”
“Very disappointing,” Henrik Sedin told the Vancouver Sun. “I don’t really know what happened. I thought we played a good game up to the halfway point and then they took over. Giving up four goals five-on-five, that never happens with this team.”
But the winning team, the Dallas Stars, mainly assert their win to the three fights late in the second period.
“I thought it changed the game,” Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan told The Province. “I thought it changed the mindset of our players on the bench. You could see it. You could hear it. I think it was guys stepping up to the plate who wanted to win and that’s what character does.”
It certainly worked well for Dallas, who shortened the Canucks’ lead to 3-2 just a few minutes later from a goal by Cody Eakin. The Canucks did not look like the dominant team from the first half of the game following the fights. Usually more of an entertainment factor, fights can spark momentum for a team. If only Volpatti had stepped up to the plate his actions could be deemed reasonable; a call to his teammates to continue playing hard. However, Lapierre and Weise also decided to get involved, which could be considered unnecessary. Did they spark momentum for the Canucks? No. Did they have any reason to show the Stars who was boss? No, they were winning by two goals and dominating the play already. The fights by Lapierre and Weise served purely as entertainment, and unfortunately helped sparked the Stars’ comeback. Winning should come first.
This loss marked the end of a tumultuous 24 hours. It began with the announcement that Manny Malhotra would be placed on the Canucks’ injured reserve. GM Mike Gillis made the decision after feeling that Malhotra is vulnerable when playing because of an eye injury he suffered in March 2011.
“I came to this decision last year,” Gillis said. “I wanted to give him the opportunity to get better. He felt the year before, because of the procedures he had in the summer (on his eye), he didn’t have a chance to train. He felt a better opportunity to get in great shape would help him. We wanted to give him 10 games to watch and see if there was any discernible change and felt there wasn’t and felt there were certain instances where he was extremely vulnerable.”
Malhotra, known as a class act and a passionate leader, has a been a champion in the face off circle. In 2010-11, his first season with the Canucks, he finished second best in the league winning 61.7% of the face offs he took. The Canucks hope to keep Malhotra and provide him with some sort of role on the team, possibly in management.
“He had a great impact,” said Gillis. “He was brought here for a lot of reasons. — his play on the ice but also his character and leadership. He did all those things, and he’ll continue to do them. He’ll continue to be part of the organization and his personality, his courage, his leadership doesn’t change because he’s not going to be playing hockey.”
Just as Malhotra said goodbye however, Ryan Kesler returned. In his first game back from injuries against Dallas, he recorded his first point of the season, an assist on Chris Higgins goal, and was an obvious presence on the first powerplay unit, the penalty kill and during even strength. One of the largest concerns following Malhotra’s absence on the ice is his face off prowess; Kesler can easily take over. He won nine of the 12 face offs he took on Friday and in 2010-11, when he had no injuries to recover from and was feeling 100%, finished the season seventh overall in the NHL. Of course, Kesler’s return should also hopefully mean a boost in offense. He was tied with Alex Burrows for the most shots on net against Dallas (4); Kesler played like it was his 13th game of the season, not his first.
The big moment of the night however, was Henrik Sedin in his 905th NHL game, recording his 757th NHL point and surpassing Markus Naslund as the Vancouver Canucks’ all-time points leader.
“It was very special,” Henrik told the Vancouver Sun. “To be a part of something like that and getting a chance to get the record on home ice in front of our fans was an honour and a great feeling out there. It means a lot to me.” The ‘great feeling’ is referring to the long standing ovation he was given in Rogers Arena, which latest several shifts until Henrik skating out on the ice to salute the fans.
The Canucks have seen it all the past few days, the good, the bad and the ugly. But now that one of their stars has returned and another solidified his place in hockey history, they have to bounce back from a lost opportunity.
“The opportunity was there,” head coach Alain Vigneault told the Globe and Mail, “and we didn’t do it.”